Latest articles from Aaron Winsor

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! After a brief hiatus to reflect and recharge my spiritual wine energies, I am back this week to talk about a deliciously fruity style of wine known as Sangria! If you’ve ever contemplated trying Sangria but don’t know where to start, this is the perfect place!

What is Sangria? The term Sangria or Sangrial (translated as bloodletting) first started to appear around the 18th century and originated in Spain and Portugal. This mixed wine drink or “punch” if you will, made its USA debut at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and since then, North America has enjoyed this fruity beverage on hot days and while on Summer vacations. The drink known as “Sangria” was/is traditionally made by blending red wine with chopped fruits, spices and often uses a fortifying spirit of some kind to boost the alcohol content. Think of it like a mulled or spiced wine but served chilled with an emphasis on fresh, fruity flavors.

Even though Sangria is traditionally made with red wine, a plethora of styles have emerged throughout the years made with a variety of base ingredients including red wine, white wine, rose, sparkling wines (Prosecco, Lambrusco or Cava), and even obscure beverages like hard cider or Sake. There are several brands available for purchase which often feature either red or white wine blended with a mixture of different flavors and fruits. Girl’s Night Out is an extremely popular choice and the white usually outsells the red while the Carlo Rossi brand is another affordable option which focuses on sweet, red wine.

While buying a pre-made Sangria is a fantastic and easy method of trying this style of drink, consider making your own by letting your imagination run wild. Start with a base wine (either red or white) and add chopped fruits like oranges, limes, lemons, pomelo, grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, pomegranate, cherries, grapes, pineapples, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, pears or apples.

To add some spice and depth, try star anise, cloves, basil, rosemary, thyme or cinnamon sticks. Like a good cocktail, simple syrup does wonders here as well, and you can easily infuse your syrup by cooking in some of these ingredients or essences. To inject a bit of kick to your Sangria, Brandy is the traditional spirit to add a velvety weight and luxurious flavor of apricots and buttery spice, but you can easily experiment by adding your own liquors or liqueurs into the blend.

Another factor to consider when making your own Sangria is the desired sweetness level of the drink. Many of the pre-made brands will be quite sweet so I recommend only adding ingredients with natural sugar like fresh fruit. If the blend becomes too sweet, try diluting it slightly with the addition of sparkling drinks like soda water, seltzer and ginger ale or get crazy and mix in some kombucha for that extra tangy flavor.   

Sangria is so easy to drink on its own, but it also pairs wonderfully with all types of snacks like charcuterie plates and foods cooked on the grill. Fruits like strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, watermelon, grapes and cherries are perfect options to match the sweetness while salty options like cured Genoa, Cervelat, Soprosetta, Proscuitto salamis aid in countering the sugary flavors of Sangria.

I really enjoyed tasting both wines from Lolea but especially liked the white version which tasted amazing with strawberries and watermelon. The red tended to overwhelm the lighter fruits but was delicious with salami. Here are my wine picks of the week!      

Lolea No.1 Red Sangria Frizzante: (Catalunya, Spain). Sweet effervescent red with a deep ruby appearance and no visible fizz/bubbles. The nose has some fruity intensity with tangy red fruits (strawberry, raspberry and cherry) with an undertone of mineral. On the palate, this red sangria is immediately sweet, tangy and fruity with high intensity. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity however, the wine has a heightened sense of buzz or acidity due to the effervescence which lends a tingling sensation to the overall flavor. Flavors are simple with sweet red fruits and plenty of intensity from the medium-plus concentration. Tannins are non-existent and hints of lemon and lime peel appear on the quick finish. While this was enjoyable enough, it did remind me a bit of red Kool-Aid as the wine is quite out of balance and overly sweet for my personal tastes. Despite these facts, the wine is tasty with cured salami and mature cheddars. I would prefer to blend this wine next time and make my own Sangria mix. I would have liked to have scored this higher, but the wine misses the mark in several ways. Average. $20, 7% ABV

Lolea No.2 White Sangria Frizzante: (Catalunya, Spain). Sweet effervescent white with a medium-lemon appearance and no visible fizz. Fruity scents pop from the glass with high-intensity apples, pears, oranges, white grapes, strawberries and ginger stem. The sensation of fruit-flavored ginger ale is the first thing that jumps out on the flavor profile quickly followed by a fruity midpalate of stone fruits and citrus (pears, oranges, lemon, lime, apples). While the fizz is not visible, you can feel it as a texture in the mouth almost like a tingling minerality which lends freshness. Medium acidity adds just enough zip while the concentration of fruit is high. The finish is medium with a lovely note of lemon/honey/ginger candy sticking to the tongue. This frizzante pairs exceptionally with all types of fruit such as melon, strawberries/raspberries and salty snacks like Cheezies, Triscuits or meats like Genoa salami or Proscuitto. I highly recommend trying a melon ball wrapped in Proscuitto to experience the combination of salty meat and sweet tropical fruit. When tasted together with the wine, it creates a harmonious flavor. The wine is slightly out of balance, but I enjoyed the white more than the red and would try it again by itself. Good! $20, 7% ABV      

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! It’s that time again where I take two Chardonnays and put them face to face to see which reigns supreme. Of course, this is based on my personal taste, but I also take into account the technical aspect of each wine. In the end, the one I enjoyed most is crowned the winner. Are you a fan of Chardonnay? The only way to find out is to get out there and taste it!

In most of these Chardonnay Showdown columns, I compare a budget-friendly wine with a premium option. This week, I took a taste of two premium Chards from the USA: the Josh Reserve 2021 and a newer brand from Washington called Substance (2020 Vintage). The marketing on the Josh is very simple and clean with its cream-colored label and elegant writing while the Substance Chard uses the minimalistic aesthetic of the periodic table for inspiration (the letters Ch with a simple square border).

What is the difference between the Josh Reserve and the regular Josh Chardonnay? I don’t have a specific answer but one difference between reserve and non-reserve wines is often the quality of grapes, heavier use of MLF (malolactic fermentation) and oak aging. Reserve wines tend to be richer, fuller, more complex and they also have a longer finish which means more flavor to savor.

The Josh Reserve is from an AVA (American Viticultural Area) called North Coast which contains some of the most famous regions of California including Napa, Sonoma, Marin, Lake, Mendocino and Solano counties. The North Coast AVA has a close proximity to the Pacific Ocean which cools the region with chilled winds, plenty of precipitation and regular fog. Winters are mild which means the yearly swing of temperatures from season to season is moderate. Due to all of these factors, grapes generally grow slowly in the North Coast and develop softer, fruit forward flavors with less acidity and more roundness.

How do the wines of Washington compare to California? The region known as Columbia Valley is the biggest vineyard-planted AVA in Washington, producing 99% of the grapes in the region in over 50,000 acres of vineyards. Like the North Coast, Columbia Valley is a large area with many sub-regions or “micro-zones” inside, including Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley, Yakima Valley, Ancient Lakes, Snipes Mountain, Lake Chelan and Rattlesnake Hills. Each sub-region has its own AVA status and grapes that they specialize in, but Chardonnay and Cab Sauv are widely planted.

Wines of the Columbia Valley (or Washington in general) are focused on fruit-forward flavors with some of the European style. The wines lean more into acidity and barrel-finishing, lending a touch of balanced bitterness to its wines; this is achieved due to the colder winters and long, dry, growing seasons with lower precipitation and lower humidity levels. This region also doesn’t have a mitigating factor like the Pacific to absorb and redistribute warmth and thus, diurnal (day to night) swings are higher with warm days and cool nights. Due to this swing in temperatures, acidity levels become slightly elevated and the fruit sometimes needs more help from oak-aging to soften and shape the style of the wine.

Both Chardonnays this week were excellent and while close to $40 for a bottle of white can be high, the wines bring the quality and flavor I expect at this price range. I adored the creamy fullness and coconut inflected fruit of the Substance while the Josh was crisp and spicy (baking spice) with a touch more acidity (more to my liking). It’s a difficult decision this week but I would choose the Josh Reserve over the Substance. To be honest, I would be happy to drink either wine! Here are my wine picks of the week!            

Josh Reserve Chardonnay 2021: (North Coast, California). Off-dry white, medium lemon color. The bouquet of this wine is crisp and clean with intense lemon curd, stone fruits (peaches, pears), brioche, vanilla and a hint of creamy cheese. Medium-intense on the palate with bright lemon, floral notes, apples, pears and peaches. Medium acidity adds enough zip for the wine to taste crisp and a touch of soft buttery flavor comes in right after the fruit begins to fade. The floral notes stick beautifully to the sides of the cheeks and linger into the long finish of spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla). Joining these warming baking spice notes is that clean stone fruit character, and a gentle buzz of acidity. The full-bodied textures of this Chard are soft and fruity at first, but the additional notes of spice and flowers combined with balanced acidity make this an interesting sipping wine. Focusing the mind helps pinpoint individual flavors but everything blends together exceptionally well. Pair with crab salad, seafood chowder or creamy cheese. Very good! $36, 14.5% ABV     

Substance Chardonnay 2020: (Columbia Valley, Washington). Dry to off-dry white, medium lemon color. The medium-intense nose is fruity and buttery with aromas of coconut, orange candies, apples, juicy pineapple and vanilla. The creamy character carries over onto the palate with a full-bodied mix of deliciously ripe fruits (pineapple, orange, apples) and a buttery, soft mouthfeel. Creamy notes of coconut intertwine with flavors of Campino candies (orange and tropical fruits) on the mid-palate, but the wine doesn’t taste too sweet. Medium intensity allows the fruit to sit gently on the tastebuds and medium-plus concentration adds a touch of vibrancy. Once the fruit flavors have settled, medium-plus acidity refreshes the mouth and quickly cleans the palate. Meanwhile, the wine ends on a bit of a spicy note (a hint of pepper or cinnamon) and a twist of floral flavor. The long finish makes you want another sip of fruity/creamy goodness which makes this Chard difficult to put down. Very good! $36, 13.5% ABV   

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! When I want a good deal on a bottle of wine, the Spanish section is often one of the first places I look. Prices can vary from $12 a bottle (for the cheapest options) to hundreds if not thousands for the pricier wines. The key factor in Spanish wine is the consistency of the wine, no matter the price you end up paying. Besides this, there are many regional single varietals and unique wine blends to discover, so the only thing holding consumers back is a willingness to try new flavors/grapes that they may be unfamiliar with.

Speaking of grape varietals, what kinds of wines can we expect from Spain? Since Spain is quite hot in general, red grapes with thick skins and long growing seasons excel, and produce ripe, fruity wines full of complex layers of flavor. The most common red grapes from Spain include Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mouvedre or Mataro), Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Lesser-known varietals exist as well, which are more often seen as small amounts in blends; in this category, you will find Graciano, Bobal, Mazuelo or Carinena.

Lovers of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape will often find something to suit their style such as wines containing both Tempranillo and Garnacha which brings a combination of intense, dark fruits (blackberry, currants), gripping tannins and balanced acidity. Wines containing Monastrell are also often blended with either Garnacha or Tempranillo (sometimes both) to add a grapey layer of flavor with an inflection of smoked meat/leather.

I didn’t get my hands on any Spanish white wine this week, but the country is full of amazingly accessible and affordable options like Macabeo (also used to make Cava), Albarino, Verdejo, Xarel-lo (Cava once again) or Pedro Ximenez (a grape used primarily for Sherry production). Other grapes in the white varietal category are Airen, Albillo or Godello.

White wines from Spain are usually crisp and fresh with subtle flavors and moderate acidity. These types of grapes/wines pair exceptionally well with regional dishes like seafood and freshly prepared vegetable dishes. My personal favorite pairing is ceviche with a Macabeo/Albarino white wine blend, but these wines are also excellent choices for pan-seared whitefish or scallops.

Moving on from Spain for a moment, I’d like to talk about a style of beer that confuses many kinds of beer drinkers: sour beer. The Cuvee des Jacobins is a lambic beer from Belgium and its one of the best I’ve tasted in a while. Technically, the Jacobins is a Flemish Red Ale which is renown for its mouth-puckering acidity and beautiful balance of toasty, biscuity and fruity flavors. AKA as “lambic” beer, Flanders Red Ales are spontaneously fermented which means the yeast is not added or manipulated and instead, wild yeast from the surrounding area (including yeast floating in the brewery air) inoculates the mash and begins converting sugars into alcohol. This results in funky flavors in the beer. Which beverage would you choose? Here are my wine picks of the week!        

Cuvee des Jacobins Flemish Red Ale (Rouge). (Belgium). Sour Belgian beer with a reddish/brown color and cream-colored foam. There is a layer of light foam on the beer at all times with thin lacing sticking to the glass. Intense scents jump from the glass like pureed stone fruits (pears), red fruits (strawberry/cherry) and fruity, sour funk. The beer is dry to the taste with a tart, tangy character and high acidity which makes the mouth pucker. The mid-palate is packed with intense flavors of cherry, green apples, pears and that beautifully complex dank, sour funk. Carbonation is crisp and refreshing which makes the beer incredibly balanced and drinkable. Medium tannins build slowly and come in on the long finish. This Belgian ale is created using spontaneous fermentation which contributes to the sour, funky flavors. To finish the beer, it has spent 18 months in oak barrels. A must-try for sour beer fans. Very good! $9, 5.5% ABV

Bodegaverde Organic Garnacha/Syrah 2020: (Carinena, Spain). Dry to off-dry red, deep purple with garnet tones. The nose is fruity and jammy with cherry and raspberry compote, earthy cocoa, hints of toast and red licorice. The first few sips reveal a medium-intense red with blended, fruity flavors, smoky notes (smoked meat), sweet violet flowers and medium acidity. The wine never tastes too sharp and is quite mellow on the palate. Near the end of the mid-palate comes a bite of black pepper spice which carries into the long finish. Some bitter notes come in with tight, high tannins but the bitterness is softened by flavors of black licorice, toast and earthy cocoa. While the wine can seem slightly astringent at first, the palate adjusts quickly, and the wine becomes very easy to sip. A faint note of olive brine twists in and out of the mid-palate and finish. An excellent choice to pair with Manchego or Coastal cheeses. Very good! $23, 15% ABV  

Campo Burgo 100% Tempranillo 2021: (Rioja, Spain). Dry red, medium purple color. The nose is simple but fruity with bright notes of red fruits (strawberry, candied cherries) as well as dark fruit like blackberries and preserved plums with a trace of vanilla. To the taste, the flavors are medium in intensity with a bit of sharpness from the medium-plus acidity. The higher acidity creates a mouthwatering effect which allows the simple flavors of preserved plums and cherries to jump out. The wine could use a bit more concentration and tastes somewhat thin, but the fruity flavors make the wine an easy sipper with juicy blackberries, red grapes (grape juice) and a touch or pepper after the fruit. Since the tannins are around medium, the wine doesn’t taste too bitter but there is enough grip and texture in the wine for it to pair well with salamis or slightly sweet olives. The finish is quick and leaves a small touch of fruit and vanilla. Good! $22, 13.5% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! Most wine drinkers are familiar with the usual fortified wines like Port, Sherry and Madeira but one specific style of fortified wine often flies under the radar and like Port, it is also made in Portugal. I’m talking about a wine from the Southern Peninsula of Portugal known as Moscatel de Setubal which is a legally defined and protected production zone. Is it worth the money and time to search out a bottle of this fortified wine? Let’s find out!

Moscatel de Setubal is made primarily from the Muscat de Alexandria grape varietal, but some additions of Moscatel Roxo are also used. As with all fortified wines, the fermentation of the wine is stopped early using a high-alcohol spirit (often grape or beet spirit) which leaves high levels of sugar in the wine. Of course, a wine full of sugar is not always a palatable thing so the balance is a necessity for the creation of an enjoyable product. In this case, balance comes from higher acidity levels which lend a crispness and mouthwatering effect to the wine, balancing out the heavy body and sugary flavors.

Moscatel is one of the many grape varietals related to Muscat and is known for flavors like apricot and honey when young but as it ages, oxidized flavors like raisins, caramel and nuts develop as well. Further complexity and body is added to the wine by aging it in oak barrels; this gives the wine flavors of baking spices and also darkens the color of the wine. In fact, most bottles of Moscatel de Setubal are a light to medium amber color and wines made with 100% Moscatel Roxo are much darker, leaning into the deep-brown spectrum of color.

The effect of oak-aging on white wines is very interesting as white wines gain color from the oxidation process turning from pale colors to gold and then to amber and eventually brown. To see the effect of oxidation on fruit, simply slice an apple or pear and watch the color of the white/yellow fruit quickly start to change. In contrast, red wines lose pigmentation with oxidation; a great example is Port which can start ruby-red or deep purple and as it ages, the color begins to fade at the edges, eventually moving its way into the core of the wine.

Many fortified wines have their fermentation arrested and then the juice is quickly separated from the skins in the tank. With Moscatel de Setubal, the juice is left to sit on the skins which greatly enhances the flavors of fruit like grapes, apricots and peaches. Once the wine has rested for several months (or sometimes years), the wine is bottled for further storage (if the quality is high enough) or sent out to stores for sale. It should be noted that wine continues to age in the bottle, so the combination of oak-barrel aging and bottle aging produces both the oxidized flavors and colors. When done properly, the consumer is left with a luxuriously thick liquid that is transformed from mere wine into a spiritous beverage of lasting quality.

The Moscatel de Setubal wine is a steal of a deal right now and is currently $10 off the regular price at one of the liquor stores I frequent. Even at the regular price, this is a wine worth sharing and will make the perfect aperitif (before a meal) or digestive (after a meal). The wine can be served cold (10 degrees C) or at room temperature (between 16 or 18 degrees C) depending on your preference. When chilled, the wine is crisp and refreshing and when it is served warmer, the wine seems thicker and rounder with the sugar standing out more.

You can also pair this type of wine with a plethora of cigars or foods, so if you’re looking for a wine to celebrate with, consider picking up a bottle. Here are my wine and whisky picks of the week!         

Camolas Moscatel de Setubal Reserva 2018: (D.O. Moscatel de Setubal, Portugal). Very sweet white with a hazy, amber color. The bouquet is full of honeyed fruit, candied citrus peels, honey/lemon black tea and dried fruits (dates, raisins and apricots). The first sip reveals a full-bodied, luxuriously thick wine with a high sugar content balanced out beautifully by high acidity. The flavors tingle on the tastebuds including apricots, peaches, honey, citrus peels and sweet, brewed tea. The flavors are intensely concentrated, and each sip is rewarding. Medium tannins build on the palate and the long finish brings a touch of spice along with vanilla, sweet honey and lingering fruit flavors. This wine can be served cold or at room temperature with salty snacks like nuts, cheeses or fresh fruit. Try bacon or prosciutto-wrapped melon balls for a special pairing treat. Will also pair well with cigars like the famous Montecristo No. 2 (a Cuban classic) or the Rocky Patel Decade cigar in Robusto size. Very good! $21 (Regular $34), 17% ABV

Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky: (Highland, Scotland). Slightly sweet Scotch whisky with a medium-gold color. The nose is light and delicate with butterscotch, candied fruit slices, honeycomb and digestive biscuit. The malty character carries over onto the palate with notes of toasted cereal and sweet malt followed by oaky bitterness and a touch of spicy bite. This Scotch has a medium-plus body which adds a satisfying texture to the spirit. After the brief bitterness, comes smooth flavors of vanilla, biscuit, golden honeycomb and a hint of roasted barley. A few sips will adjust your palate to the oak flavors which are more apparent on the 12-year whisky. Most bottles on the shelf are now NAS (Non-Age Statement) which often indicates less oak aging time. Whiskies that receive less oak aging may be slightly smoother, but they lose the silky texture that the 12-year whisky demonstrates. Very good! $100, 46% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy: budget wine breakdown

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Hello Prince Albert! Spain is a fantastic wine section to hunt for good deals and delicious wines. In many instances, Spanish wines deliver some great flavor at affordable prices; the red wines are often balanced with a decent amount of dark fruit flavor and the whites have a crisp, tropical and green fruit style. If you’re searching for some new varietals to taste, you’ll find versatile red wines like Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and Syrah, which are usually blended together to create drinkable, fruity wines that won’t break the bank. Fans of white blends are also in luck with grape varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, Albarino and Macabeo.

I came across the El Abuelo brand this week on the bottom shelf in Spain and saw the affordable price of $13.99 (before tax). Since there were both red and white wines in this brand, I thought I would try them out. One immediate positive attribute to the wine is the fact that both the red and white come from the D.O. of Almansa, Spain which is located to the East near the Mediterranean Sea. When a wine has a specific designation or DOP, it often indicates higher quality grapes and production methods. With this is mind, let’s take a quick look at the Almansa region aka Castillo de Almansa (castle of Almansa).

The Almansa region earned its D.O. status in 1966 and viticulture has been practiced there since the 16th century. The area is known as a “Continental” region due to its very hot summers (growing season) and cold winters. The Mediterranean Sea has a slight moderating effect on vineyards which helps balance sweetness and acidity in the grapes. The resulting wines from this region display rich, fruity characteristics and tangy acidity while the generally higher altitude (around 2200 feet above sea level) ensures that the grapes don’t overdevelop in the heat.

Rainfall is relatively low in Almansa but this is countered by the geological makeup of the soil which is often poor with loose rocks and limestone-flecked soil. This type of soil is ideal for moisture retention and the roots of the vines grow deep to gain access to water. Since the roots grow deeply for water, they are also protected from the hot sun which allows the grapes on the surface to grow big and full with thick skins and an excellent combination of both sugar and acidity (both perfectly suited for winemaking). Wines of the Almansa region are exported to over 30 countries around the world and their reputation for quality, affordable wines is growing.

So how about this El Abuelo brand of wines? In my opinion, the red had an off-flavor which ruined the experience for me. The dark fruits and smooth style of the red are alluring at first, but I quickly noticed the lack of acidity and tannins quickly followed by the scent and taste of rotting produce/grapes. My score of Average reflects these facts and I wanted to enjoy the red much more than I actually did.

On the other hand, the white blend was very tasty, and I loved the tangy flavor aspect that sticks to the tongue. Good acidity and a delicious combo of tropical and green fruits gave it a score of Good. The wine lost a few points due to its lack of complexity and its somewhat short finish. All in all, I recommend picking up a bottle or two of the white as it will pair well with many types of food, but you may want to give the red a skip. Here are my wine picks of the week!

El Abuelo de Piqueras Tempranillo/Monastrell 2021: (D.O. Almansa, Spain). Off-dry red, deep purple color. The nose is simple but fruity with juicy notes of cherry, raspberry, black plums, blackberry and a whisp of smoked meat or smokey leather. On the palate, the wine is satisfyingly full-bodied with a fruity mid-palate of juicy dark fruits. There is a slightly meaty note which moves in and out of the fruity flavors and a strange mineral buzz almost like a light carbonation at the edges of the flavors but in general, this wine packs a lot of smooth, fruity flavors of cherry, plums, dark raspberry and blackberries. The wine lacks balance however, with medium tannins and low acidity while tasting flat on the palate and the flavors of intense fruit are marred by the aftertaste which is slightly off (lingering notes of rotten fruit or garbage). A bite of pepper hits the tongue on the quick finish which blends in with the dark fruit and garbage note (it doesn’t sound pleasant because it isn’t). This Spanish red tastes cheap and the lack of balance and complexity mixed with the off-notes and lack of texture (tannins) drop the score significantly. Average. $16, 14% ABV

El Abuelo de Piqueras Verdejo/Sauvignon Blanc 2021: (D.O. Almansa, Spain). Dry white, pale lemon color. Simple fruit scents waft from the glass with medium intensity including tropical fruit (passion fruit, papaya), hints of green veggies, and fresh garden. To the taste, this white is less fruity on the palate than the nose, but the wine has a tangy, crisp character that is refreshing and delicious. Medium-plus intense tropical fruits hit the mouth first (pineapple, passion fruit) followed by fresh greens (green pepper and vegetable stalks). The medium-plus acidity buzzes enjoyably and creates a lively mouthwatering effect while the wine never feels too heavy with a medium-minus body. The medium-length finish carries a slight lemon/citrus fruit flavor blended with subtle green pepper. Tangy flavor sticks to the mouth and makes me come back for more. This would make an excellent food wine and will pair perfectly with Greek or Caesar salads, Asian foods (spring rolls and bird’s nest dishes with peanut sauce) or fish cakes with fresh dill/cream sauce on top. A delicious blended white wine that is well worth the money. Good! $16, 12.5% ABV     

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! One of the most interesting categories of wine is fortified wines which includes Port, Madeira and Sherry and what better time to discuss this style of wine then December, where the snow starts to cover the city and families and friends begin to prepare for holiday celebrations. For these cold times, nothing warms the body and soul like a sip of Sherry. What is Sherry and what are the differences between the different styles? Let’s take a look!

Sherry traditionally comes from Spain and one of the most prominent locations for top-notch Sherry production is in Jerez. Sherry is made almost entirely from the Palomino grape varietal and can be found in every sweetness level from bone-dry, to luxuriously sweet. Another grape which is used more rarely is the Pedro Ximenez varietal, aka PX. I tasted the incredible Gonzalez Byass 30-year V.O.R.S. (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum or Very Old Rare Sherry) which is made entirely of PX grapes, but this incredibly sweet wine is more often used to add sweetness to drier wines.

You will find several types of Sherry on the shelf including Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream and PX. After basic fermentation of the grapes, the wine is fortified with pure grape spirit and then added to oak barrels for aging. Space is left at the top of the barrel for air and a film of natural yeast called “flor” grows and protects the aging wine from oxidation. This style is known as Fino and is always bone-dry with a salty, yeasty flavor. Manzanilla is similar and has a coastal influence and pairs well with seafood and olives.

After several years, the flor dies and oxidation begins to affect the wine, creating Amontillado. This type can be sweet or dry and is usually the most balanced style of Sherry with flavors of caramel and nuts, perfect for pairing with Spanish hams and hard cheeses. Moving onto Oloroso, extra grape spirit is added which doesn’t allow the flor layer to develop. Without the protection of the yeast covering the wine, Oloroso becomes dark brown from heavy oxidation and rich flavors of prunes, toffee and walnuts form. Oloroso can be dry or sweet, but PX Sherry is often added which creates the Sherry known as “Cream”.

To make PX Sherry, Pedro Ximenez grapes are dried in the sun until they are raisin-like and then the wine is made into an oxidized, lusciously sweet, dark brown Sherry with flavors of dates, figs, toffee, raisins and caramel. As it is intensely sweet, this Sherry is best when shared with friends or family in small amounts.

Another ingenious use of PX Sherry is the aging of whisky in the leftover PX casks. This can be tasted in many special edition whiskies of the world like Redbreast PX, Bowmore 18 years and Peat’s Beast. Peated whiskies seem to work exceptionally well due to the interplay between smokey, malty and sweet flavors. There is something cathartic about the flavors of dessert mingling with leather, peat smoke and flavorful memories of campfire smoke. The feeling of nostalgia comes back with every sip. Here are my wine and whisky picks of the week!        

Gonzalez Byass NOE 30 Years V.O.R.S. PX Sherry: (Jerez, Spain). Very sweet, fortified wine with an oily, dark brown color. The nose is resplendent with a reductive quality of balsamic raisin/soya sauce, dried fruits (raisins, prunes, sultanas), brown sugar, caramel sauce, toffee and fresh leather. To the taste, this Sherry brings an extremely concentrated and high intensity rush of flavors from the first sip with a sharp zip of reduction followed by heavily oxidized flavors. Once the tastebuds adjust, the full-bodied fruits are on display throughout the long mid-palate (raisin puree, prunes). There are plenty of dessert-like flavors to explore here with creamy caramel sauce, sticky toffee pudding and dark treacle. This is like drinking liquid butter tarts with a thick, luscious mouthfeel and a bit of balance brought by medium-plus acidity. The finish is long with rich, fruity dates, raisins, prunes and crème brulee. The wine is somewhat out of balance due to the high sugar content and slightly reductive style, but overall, this Sherry is an indulgent treat meant to be shared with friends and family. For a fantastic experience, pair this V.O.R.S wine with all kinds of soft and hard cheeses, olives, dried meats/salamis, salted/roasted nuts or pour it over creamy vanilla ice cream. Very good! $70, 15.5% ABV

Peat’s Beast Batch Strength PX Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky: (Scotland). Peated single malt whisky with a finish of PX Sherry. Mahogany/caramel color with long, thick legs in the glass. The first flavors to jump out from this Scotch are prickly spices such as cinnamon candy, Cinnabon rolls, pepper, vanilla and then sweet scents of raisins, dates and campfire smoke. Additional aromas of sweet and smoky peat mingle with seaweed and maple bacon. On the palate, the whisky has a medium-plus body with a slightly oily texture and hot flavors at first (due to the higher alcohol content). Once your tastes adjust to the intensity, a blast of spices greets the tongue with cinnamon sticks, cloves, cracked black pepper and vanilla. Things are quickly smoothed over with the luscious presence of PX cask flavors like figs, dates and sweet raisins. The sweetness drops off after the mid-palate and the finish is long and smoky with a savory edge of peppered beef jerky, smoky earth and crispy bacon. Traces of dried fruit and smoldering cook-smoke embers leave us on a flavorful high. Further sips reveal a hint of malt character mingling with raisins and dates. Smoky and sweet, this Scotch excels with cigar pairings like the Kentucky Fire-Cured cigar from Drew Estate, the Swamp Thang Candela cigar (a green, fire-cured cigar from Drew Estate) or the Alec Bradley Prensado Churchill (a sweet and spicy, long, box-pressed cigar). Very good! $125, 54.1% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! My formal and technical training has always been centered around wine and viticulture but besides my love for vino, I’m also a huge fan of whiskies and beer. This week I wanted to discuss a category of whisky that is beloved around the world: Bourbon.

American whisky has quite a history and many families homesteaded in the USA with basic supplies like grains, tools and often with their handmade family stills which provided extra nutrition in the form of calories, cleaning or sanitizing supplies and of course, something to take the edge off at the end of a long, hard day. Many styles of whisky emerged initially, but the most well-known or recognized styles were rye whisky and corn whisky. Bourbon was born when distillers aged their corn whisky in newly charred American oak barrels and discovered the delicious additional flavors in their spirits like vanilla, caramel and butterscotch.

The unique character of Bourbon became legally defined when the codification and legal language began to state what exactly made a corn whisky, “Bourbon”. To begin, the mash bill or milled grains used to make Bourbon must account for at least 51% of the total bill. Other grains are used to fill in the mash bill such as rye or wheat and you can often find “Wheated Bourbon” or “Rye Bourbon” in the whisky section. The Legent Bourbon has a mash bill of 77% corn with the rest of the blend made of rye and wheat whisky. This blend was then finished in red wine and sherry barrels to add a quirky twist to the usual Bourbon style.

Another necessary guideline for producing Bourbon is aging the whisky for at least 3 years in newly charred American oak which has created a production loop with Scotch whisky and also with winemakers who re-use these barrels by re-charring them and then adding their own spirits or wines to finish them. You can taste the influence of Bourbon in the Stave and Steel Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cab Sauv as it adds a luxurious thickness or heaviness to the wine. 

If you’ve never tried Bourbon, there are several reasons why it is worthwhile: the cost is decently affordable (especially compared to Scotch), they are readily available for purchase since we live right above the USA, and the flavors are extremely approachable; Butterscotch, buttered corn, caramel, vanilla and peppery spice flavors are delicious and will perfectly compliment a good cigar. While there is so much more to say, here are my wine and whisky picks of the week!        

Stave and Steel Bourbon Aged Cabernet Sauvignon 2020: (California, USA). Dry to off-dry red, deep purple color. The high-intensity nose excites with a blast of dark fruits, black cherries, ripe blackberries, caramel, vanilla, hints of pepper and stewed plums/prunes. To the taste, the flavors of ripe dark fruits (blackberries, boysenberry, cherries and plums) explode on the palate while the full-body weight of the wine creates an enjoyable texture. Medium-plus tannins are masked somewhat by the fruity style, but the finish brings the oaky tannins back with the warming taste of fine baking spices and a small bite of pepper. Medium-plus acidity contributes a touch of zip which balances the wine nicely and that rich, oaky flavor envelops the tongue on the medium-length finish. This wine is not complex or age-worthy, but it does deliver a ton of intense flavor with those oaky tannins, and you can taste the caramel/vanilla combo of the Bourbon finish. Pair this wine with a juicy steak or a spicy Nicaraguan cigar like the My Father Le Bijou 1922. Very good! $25, 14.5% ABV 

Legent Kentucky Straight Bourbon: (Kentucky, USA). Bourbon whisky with a caramel-red hue. The nose is spice-filled with sourdough, rye toast, caramel, pepper, baking spices and red forest fruits. On the palate, this whisky is medium-bodied, with an initial wave of fruity strawberry and cooked red apples accented by notes of spiced sourdough and pepper. The flavors of fruit fade quickly on the midpalate and are replaced by charred oak, nutmeg and hints of sweet caramel as the profile moves into a finish of peppery spice. Oak bitterness kicks in and seems to swirl with red wine notes and a touch of vanilla. Overall, this Bourbon needs a bit of time to breathe in the glass which allows the red fruit accents to stand out, but I found the texture and weight of this spirit to be a bit thin or light. This whisky will pair well with smoked meats or charcuterie, and it will also taste great with the smaller Punch London Club Natural cigar. Good! $60, 47% ABV        

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon: (Kentucky, USA). Bourbon whisky with an oily appearance in the glass and a reddish, amber color. The nose is lively and fruity with dried fruits (apricot, peach), pecans, pecan oil, polished oak, spicy caramel, brown sugar and dessert-like vanilla fudge. The whisky is drier than expected on the palate, but the concentration of flavors is excellent, especially for the price point. The medium-plus body adds a satisfying mouthfeel while spicy black pepper and chilies tingle on the tongue. Flavors of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla and tangy fruit impact on the tastebuds with high intensity as fine-grained tannins stick to the tip of the tongue. Cinnamon heat like Red Hots candy joins in on the transition into the finish. The long finish is waxy and lingers with cocoa nibs, nutty pecan and caramel, all blending with oaky bitterness. This is a fantastic whisky for the price and will pair beautifully with a slice of pecan pie or several types of cigars like the Acid Blondie from Drew Estate (an infused, flavored cigar), the Rocky Patel Vintage 1999 (a smooth, Connecticut-wrapped cigar) or the Brick House Double Connecticut cigar which uses the Connecticut tobacco for both the wrapper and binder portions of the cigar. Very good! $50, 43% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! In case you missed it, the 16th annual Rotary Club Wine Premier took place at the Plaza 88 event center on Saturday, November 4th. This event brings together like-minded people who not only enjoy fine wine and food but also support and represent the many important businesses throughout our city. Events like this create funding for initiatives like the newly completed Rotary Adventure Park in Little Red (opened on September 15, 2023) and many other facilities and projects which enhance and enrich the people and families of Prince Albert. Here is a recap of what you may have missed!

As soon as guests arrive, they are greeted with a welcoming glass of Fiol Prosecco which bubbles lightly in the glass. This is the perfect opener with flavors of lemon, pears, biscuit and off-dry apples. Due to the lively acidity, this Italian bubbly pairs well with the pre-meal amuse-bouche (small tasty snack) of antipasto featuring fresh peas, pearl onions, mushrooms and peppers in a tangy sauce. While the initial wine is sipped and food is sampled, guests will often introduce themselves to the table and lively chatter ensues (aided somewhat by the tasty Prosecco). Appetites are whetted and everyone eagerly awaits the first course.

Speaking of Italian wines, it soon becomes apparent that this wine premier is Italian-themed with its red, green and white lighting, Italian-themed wine selections, Italian food pairings, and an opening opera performance of the classic song, “Time to Say Goodbye” performed by the talented Megan Fournier. No time is wasted after the beautiful opera song as sommelier Tahnee Fournier (yes, they are related) introduces the first wine of the evening, the Pasqua Pinot Grigio (2022). This white is light-bodied with a crisp character of peach, citrus and tropical fruit all elevated by medium-plus acidity. As the mouth waters from the wine, the accompanying dish of lobster tail, prawn and bay scallops is served on the half-shell with a luxuriously creamy butter and tarragon sauce. Everything was tender and it tasted amazing with the white wine.

After another brief introduction, the next course is announced: the Batasiolo Barolo (2019) paired with spinach and cheese ravioli resting upon a butternut squash puree with Parmesan flakes. I thought this wine was on the youthful side (the tannins were aggressive) but its understated nature of rose petals, tar, anise seed and spiced cherry did not overwhelm the pasta and the combination tasted quite lovely. Some at the table found the wine to be a bit too dry and something meatier on the plate may have alleviated this sensation but as a fan of Barolo, I thought it worked well. The subtle style of the creamy puree and delicate cheese/spinach filling of the ravioli were counterpointed by the sharp Parmesan shards scattered around the plate. The savory element of the dish was reflected and supported by the Barolo. What a great course, what else is next?

The third course is introduced as the Il Grigio San Felice Chianti Classico paired with field greens, peppercorn Roma tomatoes and a sun-dried tomato dressing/vinaigrette. I’m pleased to say that this course was a perfectly harmonious pairing. The bright acidity of tomato is tempered by earthy cheese and tangy bits of pepper. When a bite of food is followed by a sip of wine, the grapey, bright cherry flavor of Chianti elevates the tomato, cheese and pepper and the tangy flavors really pop. Either component of the dish was great by itself (food or wine) but when consumed together, the flavors took on an entirely different dimension. Impressive indeed!

The fourth course was probably the most anticipated around my table with descriptions of juicy beef tenderloin served in a demi-glace with garlic-mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley. The wine served alongside was equally as exciting and my first sniff and sip of the Bolgheri Bell’Aja red (2020) made my heart race with its jammy blackberry, dark fruits and full body. This incredible blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot brought some major tannins which had the potential to dry our mouths but one bite of the perfectly-cooked tenderloin with gravy mellowed those tannins right out. Savory, rich and meaty flavors with creamy skin-on mashed potatoes and a big, fruity red with gripping tannins to pair? Yes please!

Any great evening must come to a close but there’s always room (and time) for dessert, right? This course did not disappoint and the announcement of tiramisu with wine-infused pastry cream and its wine-pairing partner, the Batasiolo Moscato D’Asti brought excited murmurs from my fellow tablemates. Talk about ending on a high note, this course was another harmonious combination where the flavors of wine enhance the textures and flavors of the food. The fruity sweetness (apricot, peach) and acidity of the wine beautifully lift the sweet cocoa, cream and coffee flavors of the dessert. Pairing wines with dessert can be tricky but this course hit the nail on the head as the matched sweetness levels allows the taste of this classic Italian treat to stand out.

I’m thankful I was able to attend and take notes at this amazing event and I’m also grateful for the work done by our local Rotary Club. Their motto is “Service Above Self”, and this is clearly demonstrated by the multiple projects around our city and the huge amount of work required to put on an event like this. We were all treated like royal guests and I encourage everyone to check this event out at least once in their life. I would also like to commend Randy Whitter and his team for their exceptionally well-prepared and thought-out food pairings along with their amazing preparation and service of the meal. This wonderful evening really brought the world to our city and table.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! What’s in a wine label? If a wine had any other label on the front, would the wine inside the bottle taste any less sweet? Would the quality suffer? It’s true that our perception of the outside of the bottle can greatly affect the experience we have when we taste the wine and the information on the label goes hand in hand with a well-thought marketing approach. After all, the customer is never going to read the information if they aren’t enticed into picking up the bottle in the first place.

There are many ways that wine companies market their wines including advertisements on television, in magazines, on the radio and more commonly now, on the internet. Despite all of these tools at their disposal, one of the most important aspects to wine marketing is the look of the label. This comes down to the size, shape and color of the font, the colors of the label itself, the artwork, the placement of the details and a well-designed scheme that draws the eye while still providing useful information.

The marketing of wine goes back several centuries and one of the best examples of focused, intelligent marketing is the Champagne brand, Veuve Clicquot. Under the direction of Barbe-Nicole (the widow/veuve for which the brand is named), the company’s best wines were shipped to Russia near the end of the Napoleonic wars where they came to the attention of Tsar Alexander. When he exclaimed that he would drink no other brand of Champagne, the word spread throughout the Russian court and thus the world that the brand was of the highest quality. This began a massive upturn in sales and the company flourished.

The color used by Veuve Clicquot is a combination of orange and yellow and this unique color, aka Pantone 1387C is fiercely protected by trademark and copyright protections. The color was officially trademarked in 1877 and the brand has the reputation for pursuing legal action when their trademarks are infringed upon. Many companies used to simply write on the bottles to indicate origin, quality and vintage but once the success story of Veuve Clicquot became mainstream, every major Champagne house started using labels and specific marketing to sell their wines.

Personally, I am usually drawn to understated labels with basic but crucial details like origin, aging time (in bottle and oak), vintage and type of blend used. In my experience, more is often less. Other brands will use quirky characters or colorful creations to grab attention and imagination like Yellow Tail, 19 Crimes, Snoop Dogg, Vintage Ink (which uses a tattoo motif) and Fat Bastard (hilarious names can be intriguing). In the end however, does the excitement received from the outside of the bottle translate into the appropriate experience?

I often don’t trust brands with cutesy animals or flashy packaging because it seems like they are trying to make up for something. If I have to be tricked by the label into trying the wine, what will the quality inside actually be like? Does this logic apply to the two wines this week?

Crudo has a sea-like style on the label with a tangly octopus limb reaching onto the label. As expected, the wine is crisp and clean and will pair perfectly with seafood. Understated, simple and to the point. The Laughing Donkey is cartoonish and loud which grabs my attention but the wine is simple and fruit-driven (not a bad thing). The wine lacks depth and tastes a bit thin (despite its full body). Unfortunately, this wine proves my theory that style without substance can be disappointing and I wouldn’t pay $30 again for the experience. Here are my wine picks of the week!

Smiling Donkey 2018: (DOC Douro, Portugal). Dry to off-dry red, deep ruby color. The bouquet of this red blend is fruity and entices with lively notes of dark chocolate, pomegranates, red grapes, currants, woodsy earth, sweet musk and plums. To the taste, the wine opens with a splash of fruity intensity including flavors of raisins, plums, cherries, currants and vanilla. A hint of pepper starts to come through as the palate transitions from the initial flavors into the finish but the taste of fruit also thins out slightly. Medium-plus tannins are felt on the tip of the tongue and teeth which is countered by the juicy, full body. This round, fruity wine has medium acidity which offers just enough zip while chocolate, raisins and currants linger on the medium-length finish. While I enjoy the simple fruit and chocolate flavor profile of this wine, I expected more complexity and staying power at this price point. The price and thinning out of flavors hurt the score slightly. Good! $30, 14% ABV

Crudo Catarratto Zibibbo 2022: (IGT Terre Siciliane, Italy). Off-dry white, pale lemon/green color. The scent of the wine is fresh and crisp with tomato stalk, vegetable roots, pineapple, papaya, lime pith, volcanic stone/mineral and melon rind. The tangy style of the nose carries onto the palate with mouthwatering notes of pineapple and tropical fruit, lime fruit, honeydew and a lovely note of volcanic mineral tingling in the background. Sweet citrus fills out the flavors which is lifted by medium-plus acidity and a light body. This wine is enjoyable to sip on and the combination of tangy fruit with balanced bitterness (from the mineral) is the perfect compliment to the crisp and clean character. The finish is quick and leaves a touch of acidity and tropical fruit. This is an amazing food wine which will pair well with many types of Asian foods, pan-seared scallops, sushi, spicy meals like chicken vindaloo or the perfect pairing option: freshly grilled octopus (a little tough to find in Saskatchewan). This white technically scored a rating of “Good” but it gets a bump up to “Very Good” since I enjoyed it so much. $20, 12.5% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! The closure of all public liquor stores in Saskatchewan was a bit of a shock to me because of how quickly it happened once it was announced and also because the SLGA (Sask Liquor and Gaming Authority) was where I cut my teeth and started my personal and professional journey with wine. I must admit that even though I saw it coming for a long time and I am a supporter of public services, the closures saddened me. No matter what your feelings or opinions may be on this set of events, customers/consumers now have more selection to browse through, updated, modern retail spaces and among many other improvements, patrons of today’s liquor stores have the ability to walk into a store and ask for a small sample of selected liquors and beverages.

If you weren’t aware, some liquor stores in Prince Albert offer the customer an opportunity to sample wine, beer, whisky, rum, gin, tequila, vodka and liqueurs throughout the day. All one has to do is ask an employee for a quick taste and a variety of options will be available for sampling.

In the wine cooler/fridge where both red, white and fruit wines can be sampled, you will currently find some excellent Cabernet Sauvignon such as the Stave & Steel Bourbon Barrel Cab Sauv (mentioned in last week’s column), the Slow Press 2020 Cab Sauv from California (bright clean flavors with medium body, tight tannins and an emphasis on red fruit) and the Little Giant Coonawarra Cab Sauv from Australia (big and full with juicy dark fruits and gripping tannins). For fruit wines, you may want to check out a local producer: Prairie Bee which has several fruity wines to taste. For sparkling wine, the Segura Viudas Cava from Spain is crisp and clean with stone fruits and limestone mineral.

Moving onto beer, take a look at the growler station where you can purchase a bottle for convenient refills or bring your own jug/growler to fill. There are some great beers to taste and the awesome part is that they are always from local producers. Have a sip of the Nokomis Session IPA (Nokomis, SK), the Paddock Wood Pure Insanity (Saskatoon, SK), the High Key Lemon Mint Smash (a lemon/mint wheat beer from Saskatoon, SK), the Rebellion Mega Lazer Cat (a creamy, rich brew from Regina, SK), the Rebellion Banana Pudding beer (also from Regina, SK) and finally, the District Brewing Lemon Ginger Radler (a fresh, tangy beer from Regina, SK). Speaking of beer, I found a great deal on a 12-pack of Happy Lager ($20) which is smooth with a hint of both malt and bitterness. The beer drinks incredibly easily and is perfect with food. 

Maybe beer and wine aren’t your thing and you prefer something with a bit more kick. I’d recommend taking a look at the spirits sampling station where you can sample a variety of vodkas from Saskatchewan and the world including Deuce, Last Call, Zirkova, Provincial, Phantom Light (right outside Prince Albert), Stolichnaya and Lucky Bastard (which has a huge range of flavored products as well).

If neutral spirits aren’t in your wheelhouse, consider tasting one of the many brown liquors on offer like these rums: Baron Samedi Spiced, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (one of my favorites), Bacardi 10-Year or the Brugal Anejo. Whiskey/whisky may suit you best so check out these delicious options: Canadian Club Small Batch 12-Year, Jim Beam Devil’s Cut (where the whiskey is squeezed out of the wood of the barrels), Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, Bowmore Vault Edition Scotch, Kilbeggan Irish whiskey, Waterford Organic Irish, Glenmorangie 10-Year Scotch, Bear Face 7-Year, Mountain Pass, Angel’s Envy Bourbon and Old Grand-Dad Bourbon. Those with a taste for the finer things in life may find pleasure in a quick sample of the one available Cognac, De Luze which hints at caramel, spice and syrupy floral notes.

The spirits category might be a bit much for some so slow things down a bit with a taste of one of the many liqueurs like Frangelico (perfect for adding a nutty character to your coffee), Dr. McGillicuddy’s Butterscotch, Gilmor’s Root Beer Schnaps, Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey (great as a shot), Sortilege Blueberry (reminds me of a blueberry themed breakfast) and a variety of products from Sobreo Artisanal Infusions.

Jumping back to the clear spirits group, you can find many excellent gins to sink your tastebuds into. Try out the extremely popular Empress Gin, Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla or Sip Smiths (a London Dry Gin with that classic juniper flavor). You can usually sample the Patron Silver Tequila as well but it must have been too tasty as the entire bottle is currently gone.

With so many options available for tasting, there’s no way you can try everything in one visit and in fact, staff will often limit you to two or three samples in total. This shows a bit of social responsibility which I’m glad to see and also encourages customers to only sample the liquors/beverages that they might consider buying. That being said, don’t feel bad if you don’t enjoy something as the staff are low on the sales pressure and are there to provide an enjoyable experience.

The word “experience” is key here as liquor stores (for the most part) have transformed into locations that sell food, gadgets/gizmos, shirts, hats, snacks and all kinds of additions for your at-home creations like bitters, cocktail kits and the glasses to serve them in. These liquor stores want you to come in and spend a bit of time looking around and believe me, there is a lot to look at! It’s a smart move that encourages patrons to check out all the cool stuff and make a few impulse buys. In fact, the stores are designed to lead your eyes and body in specific ways to grab your attention. There is always something new to see!

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! Are you the type of wine drinker that endeavors to taste every possible grape you come across? With thousands of grape varietals spread across the planet, trying wine from every single grape is almost impossible but every journey starts with a single step (or sip), so this week I took notes on a varietal I’ve wanted to discuss for quite some time: Bonarda!

Most people will not recognize Bonarda as a single varietal wine as it is often used in blends to soften aggressive tannins in wines like Nebbiolo. The grape itself has many synonyms and genetic variations (at least 5 of these variations are commonly found in commercial wine). The earliest mention of Bonarda is from 1803 and the grape is believed to have originated in Northwest Italy (specifically the Piedmont region). The Bonarda grape was often called “Douce Noire” or “Sweet Black” in France since it was usually mistaken for another famous style of Italian wine “Dolcetto” (a sweet, red dessert wine).

Another type of Bonarda, which is similar genetically to Douce Noire, was grown and made into wine in the Jura region of France where it is commonly known as “Corbeau” aka “Crow” due to the small, dark berries.

Other regions of the world still make wine using the Bonarda grape and despite the genetic differences, the resulting wines are often similar depending on the quality of the grapes and the production methods used. California makes excellent wine from the grape where it is known as “Charbono” and the first official wine made from the grape is in the Napa Valley from Inglenook winery with its 1940 vintage. This grape became a specialty of the region for a time since it is late-ripening and the hot California sun was superbly suited for the growth and ripening of these small, black grapes.

The amount of vineyard space dedicated to Bonarda grapes, aka Douce Noire has dropped over the decades and as of 2007, as little as 5 acres was still being grown in all of France. As of 2008, California had approximately 88 acres of Bonarda vineyards and the number has not increased significantly since then. The real powerhouse and prolific producer of the Bonarda grape worldwide is in Argentina where there are currently around 46,000 acres of vineyards. This makes Bonarda the 2nd most commonly planted varietal after Malbec. The size and scale of Bonarda production in Argentina completely dwarfs the rest of the world and most of the wine made from this grape is used for affordable, everyday wines (usually put into blends).

Some single varietal wines are made from the grape such as El Enemigo which is a single-vineyard wine. This wine is bursting with intense fruit flavors and the dark cherry note found throughout is mouth-watering on the nose and palate. This is a big, satisfyingly fruity wine which should easily satisfy most Malbec fans. Some of the bigger producers to look out for from Argentina are Zuccardi, Anubis, Chakana or Augusto Pulenta. At close to $40, this wine doesn’t come cheap, but in my opinion, it is very much worth a taste.

Lastly, I’d like to mention the Adelphi blended Scotch which I’ve been sipping on these past couple of weeks. This whisky is a fantastic option for those that don’t want to blow their budget on an expensive dram. The flavors of butterscotch, pear, spice and light smoke makes it a crowd-pleaser and my only real gripe is that the whisky seems to be artificially colored. In the end, this doesn’t affect the quality and this blended Scotch is a delicious bottle to share with friends due to its easy drinkability. As I mention below in the tasting notes, this is a cigar-friendly drop so light ‘em if you got ‘em! Here are my wine and whisky picks of the week! 

El Enemigo Single Vineyard Bonarda 2017: (Mendoza, Argentina). Dry red, deep purple color. The bouquet is full and intense with fruity notes of ripe plums, cooked cherries and jammy dark fruit. To the taste, the wine is full-bodied with medium-plus intensity. There is a ton of fruity character here with preserved dark cherries and plums, sweet licorice, vanilla and ripe dark fruits. The tannins seem mellow at first but they build on the palate with each sip and leave a gripping sensation on the tip of the tongue and sides of the cheeks. After the fruit-packed mid-palate, some warmth comes in on the long finish. A hint of pepper spice blends easily with vanilla, licorice and rich cherry flavors. Acidity is medium which means the wine never tastes too sharp but there is enough zip to balance the weight of the fruit and body. The concentration of flavors is enjoyable and each sip deliver a satisfying rush of flavor balanced with the toasty tannins on the finish. I was impressed with this Argentinian red and I would try it again. Very good! $38, 13.5% ABV  

Adelphi Blended Scotch Whisky: (Scotland). Scotch whisky with a medium caramel/amber color. A quick sniff reveals caramel, pears, butterscotch earth, a whisp of peat smoke, chopped nuts and hints of sea air. On the palate, the whisky has a bit of weight with a slightly sweet and smooth character of cola cubes, caramel, a touch of sea salt, chopped walnuts and a bit of spicy heat near the end (pepper/chili). This is an excellent session whisky which gets easier to drink after each sip and the 40% alcohol level keeps it decently light. Some tannins come in on the finish which supports lingering flavors of pear drops, salted caramel, oak spice and nut skins. This is a great whisky to share with friends or pair with a tasty cigar like the AJ Fernandez New World or the Brickhouse Mighty Mighty Maduro (a 6X60 maduro). Very good! $60, 40% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!  

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Italian wine section can be a confusing place! Just as you begin to “figure” out the Valpolicella, Chianti, Barolo, Barbaresco, Montepulciano, Brunello and many other DOCG wines, along comes IGT wines to muddy the waters. You will notice that wines with an IGT designation are not necessarily always more affordable either. What is an IGT wine and why does it matter? Let’s take a look!

IGT stands for “Indicazione Geographica Tipica” and this category of Italian wines is often considered a step between table wines (entry level) and DOC or DOCG wines which are considered the highest-quality wines in Italy. Wines known as “Super-Tuscan” originated from this category as they often include grapes which were not legally allowed in DOC or DOCG wines. A great example of this practice is demonstrated by Tignanello, which is a wine made with the heavy incorporation of Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is known for being powerful and intense but due to the addition of Cab Sauv, which moves away from the classic Italian style of the region, it cannot be given a DOC or DOCG rating.

Wine makers that wish to step outside the traditional boundaries of Italian winemaking were given the IGT rating to allow the freedom of creating interesting wines and not having to label them as table wines. When it comes to IGT wines, its hard to tell what you’re going to get since some wines can be very basic like a simple Sangiovese and merlot blend and other wines can be explosive powerhouses that deliver high-intensity fruit flavors with an Italian twist. This is apparent when comparing two wines like the Spettacolare and the Gran Passione side by side.

At first glance/taste, it can feel like the Spettacolare is mis-priced since the cost of $40-$50 leads to an expectation of intensity and flavor but we must remember that this is old-world wine and even though the winemakers chose to blend grapes not found in traditional Italian wines like Chianti, Barolo, etc., the soul and profile of this wine is incredibly Italian. Give this one time to breathe (a decanter works well) and get it to the right temperature (16-18 degrees Celsius) and the wine delivers a subtle, slow burning experience. It reminds me of reading a complex novel full of intricate characters and plots where it takes time to build the conflict, action and intrigue.

On the other hand, we have the Gran Passione which reminds me of an action-packed science fiction book. The characters and scenes are immediately colorful and everything leaps off the page. This wine delivers a similar experience with a rush of concentrated fruit flavor. These are two very different wines and they will suit different moods which is one of the things I absolutely love about wine in general: there is a wine for every mood and emotion.

The IGT category of wines is incredibly interesting and reminds me of the quote from Forest Gump “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Since the grapes used in both wines are not listed on the label, the customer is left with almost no information except the graphic design, alcohol content and general area of production. These clues give us a general idea of the wine inside the bottle but it all comes down to actually tasting the wine.

The other confusing factor to consider is the pricing of these wines. As I stated earlier, the higher price tag of Spettacolare can lead us to expect a powerful wine but the opposite is true and the defining character of this specific wine is subtlety and class. It is a beautiful thinking wine that demands that you take your time. The Gran Passione on the other hand, delivers flavor right from the get-go and for the price it really knocks it out of the park and the value is amazing! Here are my wine picks of the week! 

Gran Passione Rosso 2021: (IGT Veneto, Italy). Dry red, deep ruby color. The nose is full and concentrated with dried dark fruits, blackberries, balsamic raspberry, rose petal, tangy soil and fragrant cloves. To the taste, flavors of stewed red/dark cherries and tangy blackberry are complimented by warming oak spices. The mid-palate is long which gives time to savor the richness of the wine and the ripe fruit flavors transition nicely into a long finish of toast, biscuit, pepper and cloves. Medium-plus body, medium-plus acidity and medium-plus tannins. Some floral bitterness creates the needed balance to the wine and works well with the smooth, almost oily texture along with layered flavors of cherry (sour and fruity). The savory note on the finish is delectable. Very good! $25, 14% ABV

Spettacolare 2013: (IGT Tuscany, Italy). Dry red, deep ruby color. This red is very mellow when it first opens but with some breathing time, the wine reveals a classically Italian bouquet of bright red cherries, raspberries, delicate herbs, summer foliage/leaves, sweet earth, forest floor and a slight mineral tingle. On the palate, the acidity is quite intense but it backs up the cherry-dominated flavor profile and lifts the mid-palate of forest fruits (raspberry, cherry and currants). After the medium-length mid-palate, the mouth still tingles from acidity as notes of oak toast and light white pepper mingle with intense cherry Lifesaver flavors. The flavor is beautifully vivid with satisfyingly chewy tannins and a delicious saline/savory character under the fruits and spice along with a medium body. This wine takes some time to get going but your patience will be rewarded by allowing the wine to warm up and breathe. Pair with cannelloni filled with ricotta and spinach in a tangy marinara sauce or with a classic charcuterie board (don’t forget the almond or feta-stuffed olives). Very good! $40, 14% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! My experience with selling and talking about wine has taught me that enthusiasts will almost always enjoy a good Cabernet Sauvignon. People love the intense flavors, gripping tannins and full body of a good wine and Cab Sauv delivers that in spades. What customers don’t enjoy about Cab Sauv is the price, which easily tops $20 for most entry-level wines in the USA section. France has some good options in Bordeaux blends but once again, the price has easily reached $20 for most “budget” wines.

I set my sights on Chile this week with the goal of finding a good (I’ll take acceptable) Cabernet Sauvignon that won’t destroy your budget. The initial goal was wines under $20 but when I saw the $10 wines at the bottom of the shelf, I realized I needed to know the truth: are these wines any good or do people drink them out of desperation? I’m surprised to say that even at this price level (the lowest of possible price points in the store), there is some flavor and enjoyment to be found!

My first sip of the week was Antares 2021 which left a sour taste in the mouth. Too much acidity and highlighted bitterness shows that even wines with a D.O. designation can be a let-down. The growing area must have been quite cool for that lower alcohol level and focus of red fruits (green pepper is another telltale sign of under-ripe Cab Sauv grapes).

Next up was my favorite of the week: Gato Negro Cab Sauv. I’ve always passed by this wine in the Chile aisle and wondered what it was like. As this wine is priced low, I didn’t expect much, but the color was deep, the aroma was intense and while this might not replace your other favorites, it makes a good option for a party/BBQ or when someone wants one more glass but doesn’t want to open another bottle of more expensive wine. This scrathes that Cab Sauv itch but still doesn’t live up to the quality of California Cab Sauv.

Finally, I tasted and rated the third budget Chilean Cab Sauv: Fronterra. You will notice a lack of vintage on the label and at this price point, I was expecting a big disappointment. This wine lands in the middle, it’s not bad but it’s also not great. The flavors taste muted like they are waiting to come to life with basic red fruit and just enough acidity to balance the wine. It is drinkable and I like the toasty finish but I would pass on another purchase.

This experiment yielded some good results and each wine won and lost points for different reasons. Overall, the Gato Negro is my top choice! Here are my wine picks of the week!  

Fronterra Cabernet Sauvignon: (Product of Chile). Dry red, deep purple color. The aromas coming from the glass are low-intensity with somewhat muddled notes of cherries and raspberries. The palate has slightly more activity going on with gentle, soft notes of red cherries, plums and raspberries and hints of floral pepper which carries into a medium-length finish of toasted oak and fruit. Acidity is low which keeps the wine mild and easy to sip while the medium body lends just enough weight to make the wine enjoyable. The fruit flavors blur a bit on the mid-palate and overall, the wine is quite simple, but its easy-going nature and tasty finish wine Fronterra a few points. Pairs well with mild, creamy cheeses. Good! $12, 12% ABV

Antares Cabernet Sauvignon 2021: (D.O. Central Valley, Chile). Dry red, medium purple color. The nose focuses on red forest fruits like cherries, raspberries, strawberries and currants with hints of green pepper. Good intensity on the aroma. The flavors on the palate are dry with an immediate burst of tart acidity (high) and sour red fruits (cherries and currants). Unfortunately, this sour style heightens the sensation of bitterness brought on by medium tannins. While not overly rough or gritty on the mouth, the tannins taste quite astringent. The woodsy flavors of cherry, strawberry and currant move into notes of low-intensity oak spice and bread on the quick finish. Simple and off-balance, this Chilean red tastes better with fresh salami or a salty, crunchy snack like Cheezies. Average. $12, 12.5% ABV

Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon 2022: (Product of Chile). Dry to off-dry red, deep purple color. The high-intensity nose announces itself with a juicy bouquet of plums, blackberries, cherries, blueberries, grape juice and a touch of gassiness. The first sip reveals a wine that tastes less fruity than it smells but still delivers a medium-bodied combination of dark cherries, vanilla, plums and red/black currants. The simple but fruity profile leads into a medium-length finish of oak spice and dark fruits. Medium acidity adds balance and soft/smooth medium tannins give a bit of grip. The wine could use some more concentration but for a budget wine it is quite tasty and easy to sip on. There are no points awarded for complexity or length but the wine has impressive intensity and flavor for its price point. I would consider buying this in a box to have on the counter. Nothing fancy but it tastes pretty decent! Pair with bison burgers, grilled steaks or dry ribs. Good! $12, 13% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! As many wine drinkers know, there are typically three colors of wine: red, white and rose. Each type of wine has a slightly different method of production but the most involved method (excluding sparkling wines) is used to make red wine. Since some may not know how wine is made, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the basic procedure used to make red wine and to give some insight as to why each wine can be so different.

Wine is made from grapes which have reached the optimal level and balance of water, sugar, acidity and ripeness (resulting in thicker skins). The skins of the grapes are incredibly important as this is where all the color of wine is found. Once the grapes have reached ripeness, they are transported as quickly as possible to the winery to be pressed. High-quality grapes will often be hand sorted but many wineries now use automated sorting machines which separates grapes into different sizes and also pulls out bad/rotten grapes from the good ones.

Once the grapes have reached the winery, pressing begins with a gentle crush at first. Pressing the grapes slowly ensures that the stems, pips or seeds do not get crushed and subsequently inject unnecessary bitterness into the wine. The first juice to come off the press is prized for its pure quality and is used for higher-end offerings while the remaining juice (which is usually pressed from the skins aka press juice) will sometimes be blended with the first press juice to create the proper balance of fruit flavor and necessary bitterness from the skins.

The color of a wine comes from the skins of the grapes and once the juice (pressed or otherwise) begins to ferment along with the addition of yeast, many methods will be employed to extract color. Some producers pass the juice over the skins floating at the top of the fermenting tank while others might use a method called “punching the cap” which is a process where the “cap” or a covering of grape skins is pushed down into the juice creating movement and extracting color, tannins and flavor (along with antioxidants).

At this point in production, the methods used to make a wine can split into hundreds if not thousands of small decisions. Will the wine rest in oak? How big is the barrel and is it toasted on the inside? Which species of oak is being used? Maybe the wine will rest in stainless steel to be released as a young, affordable option. How heavy is the bottle/packaging? Will we use a funky design on the label or go Classic? Some wine makers may decide to use carbonic maceration which makes an extremely fruity wine like Beaujolais Nouveau and others will stick to classic fermentation methods.

To simplify, you could say that red wine production is split into three distinct stages: pressing the grapes, fermenting the juice and aging/maturing and bottling the wine for sale. Each step contains a myriad of choices and factors and every one of these choices will result in the wine they want to create. A wine like Chianti will have a much different approach to production than a wine from Paso Robles or Napa due to regulations (such as DOCG Chianti) and the chosen style of wine being made. I’ve barely scratched the surface of how intricate the wine-making process is and a lot of information was skipped but one thing to remember about red wine production is the importance of the skins of the grapes. This is what differentiates red wine from the other styles of wine since all the color comes from the pigment found in grape skins. Whether you prefer red, white, sparkling or rose, consider how much work went into making the liquid you hold in your cup! Here are my wine picks of the week!        

Menicucci Governo All’Uso Toscano Chianti 2020: (DOCG Chianti, Italy). Dry red, medium ruby color. The simple red fruit nose hints at sour red cherry, cloves, tingling pepper and licorice. On the palate, the wine is light bodied with a fresh flourish of red cherries, earth, licorice and leather with refreshingly high acidity. This wine will get your tastebuds tingling with its notes of light red fruit and gripping tannins all backed up by lingering cloves and black pepper. The wine is pleasant to taste and fades quite quickly and even though the wine is light, it still contains some flavorful enjoyment. Since the wine is simple, it does lose a point or two but this is still an amazing option to pair with pizza or tomato-based sauces and dishes. Try with lamb meatballs in marinara or pork and beef lasagna. Good! $18, 13.5% ABV

J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon 2020: (Paso Robles, California). Off-dry red, deep purple color with a ruby core. The bouquet of this Cali red opens with intense aromas of blackberry, dark cherry, vanilla spice, plums/prunes and boysenberries. The scents from the nose translate immediately on the first sip and I’m impressed that the wine is so well-balanced. The wine is full-bodied and also has a soft and smooth texture in the mouth. There is a decent amount of dark fruit to enjoy with just a touch of residual sugar and medium acidity to lift the flavors. Blackberries, ripe black cherries and lush plum culminate in a tingly pepper finish. The pepper is tangy and doesn’t overpower with spice as it blends with a hint of cigar box (cedar and spice). Tannins are high but beautifully integrated so it leaves a pleasant sensation on the teeth, tongue and cheeks. Some flavors of black tea leaf stick to the palate on the long finish which creates a tasty contrast between ripe fruit and tannin bitterness. Very good! $35, 13.9% ABV  

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! Summer is the perfect opportunity to try something new and to celebrate the occasion, you should check out a white wine called Viognier (pronounced Vee-on-yay). Let’s take a look at this unique grape varietal!

The Viognier vine is rumored to have been transported to France from by the Croatian emperor Probus several centuries ago and was principally cultivated in the Rhone Valley. The best examples of Viognier come from the AOC of Condrieu, in the Northern area of the valley but over the past 20 years, the cultivation of this golden-hued varietal has spread to many regions of the world including Spain, South Africa, Australia, Chile, Germany, Western BC, USA and even Italy where small plots are planted in Piedmont.

Besides France, Viognier has found a second home in several states of the U.S like cooler areas of California, Oregon (where it is second only to Pinot Gris as the most-planted white grape), Washington, Virginia and even Texas.

During the growing season, grapes bud early and ripen mid-season which means that the grapes can ripen quickly and extensive heat can cause the grapes to become flabby with high sugars and low acidity. When grown properly, Viognier grapes make wine that is full-bodied with dry to off-dry sugar levels and a deep, golden color. Well-made Viognier is highly-aromatic with heady aromas of floral honeysuckle, apricots/stone fruits and ginger/gingerbread.

The addition of Viognier into red wines is sometimes practiced in the AOC regions of the Cotes-du-Rhone, Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages and Lirac but is not allowed in the Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Saint Joseph (which must be 100% Syrah) or Chateauneuf du-Pape AOCs. Viognier lends body, alcohol and fruity flavor to red blends and will also often be blended along with Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne or Marsanne in white wine blends.

Despite the fact that Viognier grapes easily develop high levels of sugar with lower acidity, the wines that are made from the juice tend to be balanced and elegant. As previously mentioned, grape-growers in hot regions like Australia must grow their crops cautiously and watch the heat of their vineyards lest the grapes overripen and become syrupy resulting in unbalanced wine. To combat the heat, many vineyards are planted at higher altitudes, near bodies of water like rivers, lakes or oceans and some vineyards will even use costly measures like giant blowers or fans to keep cool air circulating through the grapes. All of these practices hope to keep temperatures down to allow acidity in the grapes to develop.

You will find several price ranges for Viognier in Prince Albert, including the two I tasted: Cono Sur ($15) and C.C. Jentsch ($30) as well as the La Linda Sweet Viognier from Argentina ($18), Yalumba from Australia ($20) and the St. Laurus Condrieu ($70). There are other brands to find on the shelves besides these so you may have to hunt a while to discover them all.

I have tried several styles of Viognier from the light, simple examples to the more complex, creamy and perfumed versions and they have all offered an enjoyable tasting experience. The Cono Sur Viognier has always been one of my favorites due to the price and its excellent compatibility with foods like sushi or stir-fried vegetables. The full-bodied versions of Viognier are ideal for creamy dishes like curries or risottos but will pair amazingly well with soft, delicate cheese as well.

A quick tip for serving and enjoying your Viognier wine properly: serve the wine at the correct temperature. If the wine is heavy and full-bodied, it will benefit from warming up slightly while the lighter, crisper versions will be more enjoyable at a cooler temperature. To gauge if the wine is the right temperature, think about what you are tasting. Is the wine neutral and lacking specific flavors? It may be too chilled. If the wine is too thick and syrupy or flat tasting, you might be serving it too warm. There’s nothing wrong with trying a small sip or two to decide if the wine is ready to be served. Here are my wine picks of the week!

Cono Sur Bicicleta Reserva Viognier 2021: (Wine of Chile). Off-dry white, medium gold color. The medium-plus intense nose is fruity and delicious with honeyed fruit (apples, apricot), ginger and sweet flowers (fruit blossom and honeysuckle). This Chilean has a quick splash of simple apples and apricots on the mid-palate with a gentle bite of floral spice and a medium-length finish. Medium-plus body with low but balanced acidity. This wine has a bit of weight to it but the fruity flavors and touch of floral character give it some lift. The finish carries a bit of spice bite and a bit of bitterness is noticeable. Medium intensity and concentration make this a simple, but enjoyable sipping wine perfect for pairing with sushi. Great value! Good! $15, 13.5% ABV

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Viognier 2014: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Dry white, pale golden color. The bouquet is simple but focused with medium-plus intense scents of apricot, peach, honey, light florals (honeysuckle/jasmine) and a slightly reduced character. The bright, fruity character of this Viognier resonates immediately on the palate with a beautiful concentration of ripe apricot, apple blossoms and honeysuckle. The wine is silky with an oily texture (medium-plus body) and a tingle is left on the tastebuds as the flavors move from the fruity mid-palate to a long finish, complete with floral spice and honeyed fruit. A tight line of medium-minus acidity runs through the wine and keeps the flavors clean and compact. Excellent focus and defined flavors make this a well-balanced and delicious (if not uncomplicated) Viognier. Pair with creamy dishes like chicken korma or fish like monkfish. Very good! $30, 14% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! When the sun is out, the grill is fired up, the deck is all prepped for lounging and you’ve got friends over for a visit, what kind of wine do you reach for? I know many wine drinkers that will go for intense red wines like Cab Sauv or Shiraz every time or maybe a flavorful white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Moscato but one of the more popular less-intense wines has also become a huge success (especially for the Italian wine industry): Pinot Grigio!

Take a look through the Italian section on your next visit to the liquor store and you’ll find a huge range of Pinot Grigio to choose from. Even though Italy produces a staggering variety of white wines, the planting and exportation of Pinot Grigio has exploded in the last 20 to 30 years. While the number of bottles sold tells a story of success, the grape varietal itself is still often critically panned. Why is this?

Pinot Grigio is also known as Pinot Gris. The difference in style and quality comes from the area, soil and production methods used to make both wines. Pinot Grigio is known for being crisp, light and neutral yet often bland, while Pinot Gris is considered a “noble” grape in many European regions with its rich and weighty qualities which can often improve with a bit of age. In many wine regions of the world, Pinot Gris is given priority over Pinot Grigio. What this means is that the high-quality production methods and soils are saved for the better wines (Pinot Gris) while Pinot Grigio can be cheaply made and quickly bottled for sale. The difference can be tasted immediately when sampled side-by-side.

Pinot Grigio is often criticized for its lack of intensity, concentration and complexity but it makes a great wine to share and drink without getting too philosophical or serious. Many Grigios have a simple, one-dimensional flavor profile and for those that are searching for a “really good Pinot Grigio” as one customer put it, try regions of Italy like Friuli or the Alto Adige region in Italy. I’ve found that once people get used to the style of Pinot Grigio, they usually get bored with it and want something more flavorful or complex. At this point, I’d recommend giving Pinot Gris a chance.

While I didn’t get the chance to try any Pinot Gris week, you’ll be able to find it from many wine-growing regions like Germany where it is sometimes known as Rulander, Switzerland where the grape is called Malvoisie (often made into a sweet wine), Austria where it used in many high-quality blends, Hungary, which calls the grape Szurkebarat, Oregon, with over 2 times the plantings of Chardonnay (Pinot Gris is their signature white wine), in BC where it was the most-planted white grape in 2008 and Australia where winemakers must be careful not to let the grapes over-ripen and become flabby and unbalanced. Typical regions for easy-drinking Pinot Grigio are California, Canada (both VQA and Product of Canada wines), Veneto (Italy), Argentina and New-Zealand. 

What I was able to taste were two Pinot Grigios and the Co-Op white wine. Surprisingly, the wine which technically, should be the best quality (the VQA-certified Henry of Pelham) falls flat and did not impress me. I enjoyed the two budget-oriented wines more as the Heritage Road had nice concentration and fruity flavors while the Co-Op wine had a tangy, slightly floral edge.

The Henry of Pelham is a great brand and the Niagara Peninsula VQA is a fantastic region but this Pinot Grigio is a great example of why some find the style to be too weak or light (neutral). On the humorous side, my wife enjoyed the Henry of Pelham as it was so light and crisp that it was easy for her to enjoy. It goes to show that there is a wine-preference for everyone and after a few sips I could appreciate the Grigio from Ontario for its mild character but I would choose a high-intensity Sauvignon Blanc or a more-interesting Pinot Gris for myself any day. Here are my wine picks of the week!         

Henry of Pelham Pinot Grigio 2021: (VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario). Dry white, pale lemon color. The low-intensity nose carries citrus zest, lemon peel and a vegetal, green scent similar to fresh garden peas. To the taste, the wine is light in body with low-intensity flavors of faint, undefined citrus (mostly lemon) with an overriding mineral rock bitterness. The fruit flavor lacks concentration or definition and as a result, the flavors found in this wine taste flat and fade quickly. Medium-minus acidity with a watery character. This Pinot is too neutral for my tastes but those that enjoy a mild wine may find some enjoyment. Since the concentration is low and there is no complexity with a quick finish, the wine drops a few points. This is recommended as a sipper on a hot day. Pairing with foods will be tough as most foods will overtake the flavors of the wine. Average! $19, 12.5% ABV

Heritage Road Moonstone Pinot Grigio 2021: (South Eastern Australia). Off-dry white, pale lemon color with a tint of green. The nose is crisp and clean with fruity and simple scents of green apple/pear and lemon-drop candies. On the palate, the flavors of fresh pears, green grapes and apples pop with medium acidity. The intensity is satisfying and the concentration of flavors is medium-plus with a medium-minus body. This wine is fruity but never tastes too sweet and the finish is quick but leaves an enjoyable tingling sensation which makes the mouth water. An underlying bitterness reminds me of biting into grape skins with sweet fruit underneath. The wine is delicious with salty snacks and that touch of sweetness creates an excellent contrast of flavors. Pair with pecorino cheese, chips, rice crackers, grilled chicken or chicken alfredo. The concentration of flavors and elevated intensity land this Australian Pinot a decent score. Good! $15, 11.5% ABV

Co-Op Private Collection White: (Product of Argentina). Dry to off-dry white, pale lemon color. The medium intensity nose has an interesting blend of tropical fruit, stone fruit and floral tones. On the palate, pineapple, melon, peach and pear blend together for a fruity mid-palate, rounded out by notes of floral bitterness. The medium acidity in the wine creates some balance and the medium body gives the wine a bit of substance. Pineapple, melon and pear all sit nicely on the tongue with a swirl of floral character on the medium-length finish. The intensity of fruit on the mid-palate is mild overall, but the wine does have a tangy character; this combination makes the wine easy and gentle to sip on but it still delivers some decent flavor. Pair with simple foods like grilled chicken or the original Boursin creamy cheese on crackers. Good! $12, 11% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! This week I took a look at a brand from BC’s first sub-appellation known as the Golden Mile Bench VQA. This region is known for producing award-winning wines near Oliver, BC and this is where C.C. Jentsch was previously located. I say previously because unfortunately, the winery closed its doors in August of 2021. Why am I discussing a winery that no longer exists? To be honest, the bottles I tasted have rested in my cellar for several years and I forgot they were hidden away. In other words, I slept on the brand and after tasting the wines I wanted to share the quality of the wine and share the story of the company.

The Jentsch family started growing apples in the Okanagan around 1929 and eventually moved into growing cherries. After successfully growing fruit for decades, the family began growing and selling grapes to local wineries. C.C. Jentsch (pronounced as Yench) was a newcomer in the BC wine world when they started their winery in 2012 but they quickly made a name for themselves and became a beloved winery creating Bordeaux-style wines with an Okanagan twist.

The story of Jentsch cannot be told without Chris Jentsch who was the owner and head grape-grower for the winery along with his wife Betty. After Chris passed away in April of 2021, the company made the difficult decision to shut down the winery for good as of August 2021. Sadly, this meant the end of production for a winery that focused on small-scale winemaking with an emphasis on quality. Chris had said that he was a farmer at heart and while he loved winemaking, he left that part of the business to his lead winemakers to manage.

Chris loved working with the earth and said that site selection and the grapes chosen for those sites were paramount. Certain grapes work best in certain spots and that was his focus; growing the best grapes that he possibly could. Chris was often described as “Gung-Ho” about grape-growing, an attitude that was contagious for those that worked with him.

Learning that the winery was no more and its story was in the past brought a certain reverence to the wines as I tasted them. The experience reminded me of stumbling onto someone’s forgotten or abandoned project like an art maker or writer that for some reason or another moved onto something else. Do people still appreciate their work? Do their wines still exist out there in the world? It put melancholy in my heart and made me pay more attention than I may have with other wines since there won’t be new wine from this BC winery. The bottle shop is no longer open and the Jentsch website isn’t available anymore which reminds me of the Pink Floyd lyric, “No one told you when to run, you’ve missed the starting gun…”. I missed out on C.C. Jentsch while it existed, assuming it would be there when I got around to reviewing their wines.

The wines of C.C. Jentsch had garnered national and international acclaim with awards from the All-Canadian Wine Championships, International Wine and Spirits Competition, the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Okanagan Wine Festival. The wine company also had a big heart as in July 2020, they donated 100 cases of their award-winning Viognier at $200 a case to raise funds for Highway to Healing, a charity designed to help transport children in need of medical care. C.C. Jentsch was on its way to building a wonderful legacy in the Okanagan but life took a different path.

I wrote about C.C. Jentsch because it connected with my heart even more than my tastebuds. I think talented, down-to-earth people who care about their craft deserve to be celebrated and encouraged and even though this wine will be very difficult to find and not many people are talking about it anymore, it existed, it meant something and it made an impact on the world. I apologize that this wine will not be found in Prince Albert (or possibly Saskatchewan) since I try to taste and discuss wines that my readers can also taste and enjoy but I felt this brand needed a mention or recognition at least one more time. Here are my wine and cigar picks of the week!     

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2014: (VQA Golden Mile Bench, BC). Dry red, deep purple color with garnet edges. The aromas of this Cab Sauv jump from the glass with juicy blackberries, black currants, plums, vanilla, sweet tobacco, petrichor (fresh rain on rocks or earth) and tomato vine. The intensity is high on the palate and dark fruits dominate the flavor profile with those juicy blackberries, currants, brambleberries, berry compote, mellow cigar box and dark cherries. Tannins are medium-plus providing a silky, grippy texture while flavors of cocoa, light pepper spice, chocolate wafer and earthy tar take over after the fruity mid-palate. The wine never feels too heavy or full and sits around a medium-plus body. The powerful flavors of this red are tempered by its balance of intense fruit and earthy finish while medium-plus acidity gives it some zip. Black currants, plums, sweet tobacco notes and gentle spice all settle on the deliciously long finish. Savory oak toast is also present on both the nose and palate adding a further layer of complexity. Will taste amazing with grilled steak in a peppercorn sauce, aged cheddars or cured salamis. Even though the wine is past its recommended drinking date, the wine is still surprisingly lively and delicious. Very good! $50, 14.4% ABV  

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Cabernet Franc 2014: (VQA Golden Mile Bench, BC). Dry red, deep ruby color with garnet tinge at edges. The bouquet of scents from this wine opens with a rush of wild red fruits (red cherry, raspberry, wild strawberry) and currants with a floral edge (potpourri) rose petal, vanilla, oak spice and fruity balsamic. On the palate, the wine is dry but fruity with delicious, mouth-coating tannins (high), medium-plus concentration and balanced, medium acidity. After the initial flavors of cherry, raspberry, vanilla and dark chocolate comes the spicy bite of pepper and cloves. Currants, raspberries, vanilla and pepper spice all carry through into a long finish. I found myself running my tongue along my teeth and savoring the satisfying tannins which blend perfectly with floral notes and white pepper. Medium body and medium-plus intensity remind me of the structure and flavors of the old-world with the fruit of new-world wines. The wine spent 17 months in oak and that can be tasted through the vanilla, clove and pepper notes. Extremely easy to sip on and the medium body keeps it fairly light. Beautiful balance and range of flavors. Not complex, but extremely sip-worthy. Pair with salt & pepper ribs, pasta with Italian sausage or roasted lamb. Very good! $50, 14.8% ABV

El Artista Buffalo Ten Natural Toro: (Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominican Republic). This cigar has a beautiful box-pressed shape and a medium-brown colored wrapper with the scent of toasted hay, hints of sweet earth and nuts. The cigar lights easily and creates voluminous clouds of bright, white smoke. The flavors of the cigar are mild and creamy with notes of toasted tobacco (from the Habano wrapper) and hints of nuts (almonds, hazelnut). The body of the smoke is full and creamy with a pleasant, easy-going finish (no bitterness). This is the perfect cigar to light up on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee in hand and a good book or movie like the 3-hour beast that is Avatar 2. The price point is exceptional for the quality of the cigar. This is considered a “budget” smoke but it definitely holds its own in the premium category (premium meaning high quality and handmade). Very good! $8/cigar

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! As far as wine-producing countries go, Italy is by far the biggest producer for exportation and domestic consumption. With all that wine being made, there are thousands of wines and regions to discover. This week, we’re taking a look at one of the most famous DOC/DOCG wines and regions, Valpolicella. What is Valpolicella and why should you try it?

Valpolicella is the name for both the wine-producing region and wines which come from the northern area of Italy, East of Lake Garda and just North of the Adige River. The wine is a blend of several red grapes including Corvina, Rondinella, Corvinone and Molinara with some additions of Oseleta allowed. The principal wines of the region come in 5 quality levels or designations. The basic or general wine of the area is simply titled Valpolicella DOC and includes the entire region. Valpolicella Classico DOC is wine from the original designated area and is considered a slightly higher-quality wine than regular Valpolicella. The next quality level is called Valpolicella Ripasso DOC which is a good step-up from the regular wine for a bit more money. Finally, the two highest quality wines from this region are Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG which are both made using the “appasimento” or “passito” method of wine production.

Valpolicella DOC and Valpolicella Classico DOC are both similar-tasting wines with a simple fruit profile. These wines are meant to be consumed quickly and are not meant for bottle aging. Things get interesting with Valpolicella Ripasso DOC and Amarone della Valpolicella/Recioto della Valpolicella as the appasimento method is crucial to the flavors and style of the wines.

First, let’s discuss the appasimento method: grapes are hand-picked early in whole clusters while the acidity is quite high and left in aerated warehouses on racks to dry for up to 120 days. During this time, the grapes shrink and concentrate the sugars of the juice. Picking the grapes with higher acidity is important as once the wine is made, the resulting product could easily become syrupy or flabby. Extra acidity aids in balancing out the sugars in the juice/wine. The pressed juice from these dried grapes can contain up to 16 grams per litre of residual sugar! Once the juice is released, it is fermented like most other red wines but the higher sugar levels produce a wine that goes beyond 15% alcohol.

Amarone della Valpolicella can often contain residual sugars after fermentation which results in wines with dry to off-dry characteristics, even though the wine is at 15-16% alcohol. Once bottled and aged for at least 1 year in oak, Amarone is a full-bodied, fruity wine with flavors of dried fruit, licorice and spice. Recioto contains even more sugar and shares a similar flavor profile and is often considered a dessert wine. Amarone and Recioto can be quite expensive due to the rigorous standards and techniques used to create them but the rich, ripe flavors are usually worthwhile.

My advice for those wanting to try Valpolicella but not wanting to spend a lot of money is to take a look at the wines of Valpolicella Ripasso; this is because Valpolicella Ripasso is made by taking some of the unused skins from Amarone (a $60-$120 wine) and adding them back into regular Valpolicella wine. The maceration of these skins adds color, intensity/concentration, alcohol and more depth of flavor. It’s like getting a taste of an $80 bottle by spending $25-$30! The wines of Valpolicella Ripasso will not be as luxurious as the Amarone but with the more-affordable price point, you can enjoy them more often. They will pair well with steaks, cheeses and appetizers. 

I got my hands on a bottle of Amarone from Masi and the much simpler Valpolicella from Bolla. I recommend trying the general Valpolicella, the Ripasso, and if your wallet can handle it, Amarone is definitely a modern classic that should be tried. The prices of Amarone have started to skyrocket (especially older vintages) so grab some and try it now! I bought a bottle of the 2008 Masi Costasera Amarone for $35 about 15 years ago and today, the 2008 vintage sells for around $175! The 2008 is still hiding in my cellar as I decided to sacrifice my younger bottle for this review. Here are my wine picks of the week!      

Bolla Valpolicella Classico 2020: (DOC Valpolicella, Italy). Dry red, medium ruby color. The medium-intense scents coming from the glass are simple and fruity with red forest fruits, cherry, strawberry and hints of sweet soil. On the palate, the flavor profile is simple but well-balanced with medium-plus acidity and light body. As the wine is light, it is easy to drink and can be enjoyed by itself or with a light, salty snack. The flavors found in the wine are sour cherry, hard cherry candies and a quick flash of pepper spice right at the end of the mid-palate. Tannins are noticeable but nicely integrated to the point where they don’t taste bitter; instead, the tannins leave a pleasant coating on the tongue which means the wine will pair well with a light cigar like the Garcia y Vega cigarillo (a small cigar with a green/candela wrapper). The finish is medium-length with red fruits and light pepper spice. There isn’t a lot of depth with this wine but it is an enjoyable sipper. One of the downfalls of this wine is the price which is steadily climbing closer to $20 before tax. Personally, I feel like this wine should be $14. For this reason, I recommend spending the extra few dollars and getting the Valpolicella Ripasso. While this is still a nice wine, the price and absence of complexity drop the score. Try this one out with friends around the fire as an opening wine with light snacks. Good! $20, 12.5% ABV

Masi Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2015: (DOCG Amarone Classico, Italy). Off-dry red, deep purple color with a glossy sheen. This wine has a ripe, rich aroma of dried fruit, dark cherries, sweet cocoa, potting soil, California raisin, chocolate and hints of herbs. To the taste, the wine is full-bodied with a satisfying and round mouthfeel of smooth and silky ripe fruits. Medium-minus acidity with medium-plus tannins results in a wine that is pleasantly gentle but still has some grip to give that fuzzy feeling on the teeth and cheeks. The mid-palate is long and flavorful with intensely concentrated dried cherries and prunes, sweet licorice, earthy/cocoa and juicy raisins. Once the intense mid-palate starts to fade, the long finish kicks in with sweet, delicate spice, cocoa and chocolate. The flavor of sweet raisins sticks to the tongue and leaves a lasting, luxurious impression. This makes a great choice for Cabernet Sauvignon fans looking for something similar but different enough to make it interesting. Will pair well with grilled meats, charcuterie boards, savory cheeses and roasted nuts/dried fruits. I highly recommend pairing this Italian classic with a fine cigar like the Romeo y Julieta No. 2 (Cuban) which offers delicate cedar, spice and dried raisins or the Joya de Nicaragua Black (Nicaragua) which is full of rich cocoa/chocolate and black pepper spice notes. The wine is incredibly delicious but lacks complexity or developing flavors, thus bringing the score down slightly. Drink now or within 5 years. Very good! $70, 15% ABV.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! Are you on the hunt for some new white wines to taste in the hot summer heat? I have a couple of deliciously crisp wines to share with you this week to help compliment some of the foods you may be cooking on the barbeque, including a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and a blended white wine from the famous French region, Cotes du Rhone.

What makes these two wines interesting is that they are both quite different from one another. First is the Sauv Blanc, which comes from the Aconcagua area of Chile. This region is known for its balance of hot valleys, mountainous zones and proximity to the ocean. Even entry-level wines from Chile can be delicious as they usually offer an excellent balance of ripened fruits with moderate to high acidity. The Errazuriz Sauv Blanc displays this balance with its medium-plus acidity and also highlights the coolness of the area with its cool, green-like flavors (green pepper, grass, gooseberry).

The flavors of this wine are not complex but the zip of acidity and cooler fruit flavors make it an enjoyable sipper to pair with pork, salads or seafood. While this white doesn’t have the intensity or tropical fruit ripeness of a Sauv Blanc from New Zealand, the price point is very affordable and makes it an easy choice for meals with company or visiting on the deck on a hot day. My personal favorite pairing with Errazuriz is either scallops or asparagus spears wrapped with bacon and grilled on the barbeque.

The French wine (Brunel de la Gardine) may be a familiar brand to those who regularly peruse the French wine section, as two of the bottles sold by the same producer are highly recognizable with their weird bent shape; this would be the Chateau de la Gardine red blend from the Cotes du Rhone AOC and its fancier (and dustier) counterpart La Fiole du Pape from the more specific Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC. By using the Cotes du Rhone AOC designation on the bottle, white wines must be made using designated varietals from the region such as Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Viognier, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc and Picpoul. This specific blend contains Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Viognier amond others.  

The heat of the Rhone valley can produce some big, heavy wines but the best wines are made when producers understand the delicacy and freshness that can be achieved by properly growing the vines and fermenting the resulting fruit with care and attention. Grapes like Viognier and Rousanne can become heavy and syrupy at times but the Brunel de la Gardine is restrained in its display of fruit. Since the wine contains 14.5% alcohol and its quite full-bodied with an oily roundness, it can be deduced that the grapes contained a lot of sugar prior to fermentation (sugar is consumed by yeast and turned into alcohol which means the more sugar, the higher the alcohol). The producer could have left some sugar in the wine and stopped fermentation around 13 or 14% but the skill of the winemakers is indicated by the resulting wine (crisp, dry and restrained with a full body).

Side by side, I believe many people would choose the Sauv Blanc over the Cotes du Rhone due to its higher intensity and more immediate flavor output. Those that appreciate subtlety and intricacy in their wine will find more enjoyment from the French wine but food pairings will have to be carefully thought out as to not overwhelm the medium intensity of the flavor. The other factor to consider is the price comparison between the two products. The Errazuriz is a great deal for $16 but the French wine is still worth its $25 price tag (it really should be closer to $20). For its accessibility and price, the Errazuriz wins despite the fact that I technically rated it lower. It goes to show you that sometimes simple can be good!  

The Errazuriz is readily available around Prince Albert but you may have to hunt for the French wine a bit. Lake Country WSB should be getting another shipment sometime soon so put it on your list! Here are my wine picks of the week!       

Brunel de la Gardine Blanc 2019: (AOC Cotes du Rhone, France). Dry white, medium lemon color. The medium-intense nose is fresh and crisp with plenty of citrus notes (lemon peel, lemon curd), fresh pastry, yellow pear, honeydew melon and nutty tones. On the palate, the wine is gentle with medium-minus acidity and full-bodied with an oily, buttery texture. While the wine is round and full, it still tastes crisp with quick notes of pear, citrus and melon. After the brief mid palate, comes a long finish of delicate bitterness and spice. There is a slightly vegetal tone underneath the initial fruit flavors with lingering melon rinds and white pepper. Interestingly, this blended French white does have some tannins which indicates some barrel age or pressing techniques which squeeze tannins from the skins into the wine. Overall, this wine is subtle and crisp with subdued fruity notes and some medium tannins. The bitterness is never overwhelming and the oily texture from the body is pleasant and satisfying. Very old world and typically French. Pair with fresh fish like walleye or rainbow trout, cervelat salami or almond-stuffed olives. Very good! $25, 14.5% ABV

Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc 2021: (DO Aconcagua, Chile). Dry white, pale lemon color. Herbaceous aromas of gooseberries, grassy citrus, green pepper, fresh garden greens and mild, earthy minerals waft from the glass with medium-plus intensity. This light-bodied Chilean wine has a bright burst of flavor with a grassy, herbaceous mid-palate and tangy medium-plus acidity. Each sip brings out fresh, green notes like green pepper (capsicum), fresh grass and gooseberry which quickly moves into a slight mineral bitterness on the quick finish. The bitter flavors bring balance to the wine which mingles well with the citrus/grass notes and light buzz of acidity. This white is an excellent choice for food pairings/appetizers like spinach dip, grilled vegetables, scallops or fish tacos. The wine is simple but delicious and affordable (the perfect BBQ wine). Good! $16, 13% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! One of the challenges of being a wine enthusiast is the fact that we can’t always drink the good stuff. For instance, a “good” bottle of wine for some people is $20 while for others, only $60 to $100 bottles will suffice. For those that enjoy a daily glass of wine, those price ranges can be unsustainable. As an everyday drink, many consumers turn to budget wines and will justify the dip in quality by the lower price they pay. Finding the compromise between price and quality comes with experience and understanding your personal preferences. Are budget wines any good? Is there value to be found in the sub-$20 category? Let’s take a look at two affordable Merlot wines from Canada!

Personally, the budget or entry-level wines are usually skipped because I’m focusing on other options to discuss but every now and then, I like to taste a few wallet-friendly drinks to see how they compare and if the value is worthwhile. With wine prices steadily increasing (among everything else), it’s always exciting to find a product we love for a great price. My search for inexpensive wines led me to two Merlots from the Canadian section of the liquor store. It is important to note that these bottles state “Product of Canada” on the back label and also, neither bottle has a vintage or specific region indicated. Why is this important?

Most liquor stores will separate the wines of Canada into two categories: Canada VQA and Canada. Wines that state VQA (Vintner’s Quality Assurance) on the label have undergone a rigorous analysis for quality and region of origin. This ensures the highest-quality for consumers and also protects the reputation of our country’s wines around the world. If you pick up a bottle of VQA wine, it should be consistently good if not great; however, there are hits and misses. Overall, this system works well and gives customers a starting point to make a purchasing decision.

In the other Canadian wine category, we have wines which are called “Product of Canada”. These wines are a blend of domestic and imported wines from around the world and the final blend is bottled or cellared in Canada. Wines that are designated or labeled as “Product of Canada” can still be quite tasty but they lose a sense of place or unique quality found in higher-end options due to the large amount of mass-produced wine used in the blend. For this reason, most of these (if not all) will not have a vintage on the bottle since it is such a large mixture of wines. Bolstering the confusion for customers is the fact that the majority of the wine inside a “Product of Canada” bottle can include up to 60 percent wine from another country. This means that the well-intended purchase of a Canadian wine is in fact not fully supporting Canadian wineries or growers but the companies that package them. It is not all negative though, as the more a Canadian company can make from their cheaper wines, the more they can invest in creating truly amazing wines worthy of the higher prices.

What are the major differences between these budget bottles and mid to high-priced wines? There are several factors to consider here including the overall texture of the wine (smooth, soft, delicate, harsh, rough, etc.), intensity of flavors, aging potential (budget wines are not for aging), complexity and balance. Entry-level wines put an emphasis on simple, fruity flavors and for that reason, they can often be drank alone and don’t require food pairings to enjoy. They can also be out of balance with heavy flavors and a lack of acidity. Producers want to create easy-drinking wines with some body and flavor but will stay away from heavier tannins and acidity; This makes these wines one-dimensional but often more approachable for the everyday person.

Onto the wines of the week! I actually enjoyed both Merlots I tasted and the JT (Jackson Triggs) came out on top due to its balance and simple flavors. Both wines gained and lost points for different reasons which is why they ended up with a rating of Good. The JT is drier with lighter intensity (normal for Merlot) and it aligns with the classic style of Merlot, flavorful yet subdued at the same time. The Screw it! on the other hand, goes for the flavor with higher intensity and more body. Even though Screw it! contains slightly more acidity, the wine is still marginally out of balance but it also brings the intense fruity flavor and a boost of juicy sweetness. I would recommend both wines, especially for the price. I preferred the JT but I know many people that would enjoy the Screw it! as well. No matter how much you decide to spend on your bottle of wine, try your best to judge it based on its flavor alone, not the price you paid for it. Here are my wine picks of the week!           

Jackson Triggs Proprietor’s Reserve Merlot: (Product of Canada). Off-dry to medium-dry red, deep ruby color. Medium-intense aromas of ripe berries, plums, fruit leather and raspberries provide a fruity, yet simple nose. The JT Merlot has a full body with a smooth and fruity character. Medium acidity makes the wine soft with just the right amount of zip which compliments the medium-plus intense flavors of dark cherries, hints of vanilla, plums and fresh raspberries. The mid-palate is quick and fruity with medium tannins providing a bit of grippy texture on the tongue. This moves into a medium-length finish of slight pepper heat with hints of bread. The balance is great with this wine and even though it lacks complexity, it is easy to sip and drink. Pair with simple meaty snacks or roast beef. Good! $12.50, 12.5% ABV

Screw it! Merlot: (Product of Canada). Medium-dry red, deep ruby color with a purple tint. The nose is intense with a burst of powerful dark fruits leaping from the glass. There are lots of concentrated cherry scents to take in including preserved/cooked cherries and cherry candy, fruity plums, currants and juicy berries. On the palate, the wine tastes flat at first with a full body and a rush of dark fruit flavors (cherries, plums, raspberries). Interestingly, the medium-plus acidity comes in after the initial flavors settle and tingles along with simple spice on the medium-length finish. Fruity and bright with smooth, medium tannins and a touch of bread/yeast flavor near the end. This one tasted a bit strange at first (flat) due to the delayed acidity but after a few sips, this simple red is quite easy to enjoy. Pair with burgers, red pasta sauces or cheese. Good! $12.50, 13% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! With spring finally arriving in Prince Albert (ignore the recent white stuff), many people are already taking to their decks and balconies, ready to absorb a bit of sun and heat after making it through the winter months. With outside visiting comes firepits, barbeques, good food and of course, wine! I tasted two excellent wines this week and both are highly suited for visiting and food pairing but we’re going to focus on a less-common white grape: Semillon!

The birthplace of Semillon is considered to be Bordeaux, France, where it was originally documented around 1736, specifically in Saint-Emilion and Sauternes. This white grape has traditionally been used for high-quality blends using Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscadelle but single-varietal options have become a trend as well and many wine producers are making exciting versions of this wine in a variety of countries. The key or primary locations for Semillon around the world are France, with over 11,000 hectares, Australia, with over 6,500 hectares and South Africa with over 1,000 hectares which also produces red-Semillon (a genetic mutation).

Speaking of Sauvignon Blanc, these two grapes share a genetic link and Semillon can taste quite similar to Sauv Blanc when picked young. When picked at a riper stage and given some age, Semillon really transforms and the flavors become honeyed and nutty. You can find Semillon in all sweetness levels, from bone-dry to lusciously sweet, it all depends on the growing conditions and the work done in the winery.

The story of Semillon cannot be told without mentioning Botrytis, a fungus/mold which rots the fruit of the grape. Usually, Botrytis is kept out of the vineyard due to its damaging effects on the grapes but in certain circumstances it can develop into Botrytis Cinerea aka “noble rot”. In order for noble to rot to develop, the vineyard must have a fairly consistent temperature of at least 20-25 degrees Celsius and a humidity level of 80-95%. Once infection of the grape occurs through the skin, tiny tendrils reach into the grape and remove the water which concentrates the sugars and acids in the grape. An incredibly intense and flavorful juice is extracted and turned into wine once the grapes are carefully pressed.

As stated earlier, Semillon can be tart and intense when picked young but many styles of the wine exist from dry to sweet. Flavors included in this range are lemon/citrus, cashews/almonds, lanolin/wool, honey, caramel, toffee, petrol, apricots and pineapples among others. The wine can develop tertiary notes from bottle aging like mushroom, toffee and honey which is why aged bottles of Sauternes (a Botrytis-affected wine from Bordeaux) are so sought after and unfortunately, expensive.

You will find that most of the inexpensive, entry-level Semillon is unoaked and contains pyrazines which are flavor compounds containing notes like metal, green pepper or grass. These notes are also likely to show up in Sauv Blanc as well. Oaked versions are often more expensive but deliver extra weight/body and an oily texture with oxidative flavors (caramel, toffee) and spice. In Europe, the oaked versions are more common than unoaked while in new-world countries like Australia and Canada, unoaked seems to dominate the shelves.

While the Semillon varietal is difficult to find right now in Prince Albert, the easiest way to taste this fantastic grape is by purchasing a bottle of white Bordeaux (France) which usually blends Semillon with Sauv Blanc. 

Even though I could go on and on about the Semillon grape and the Black Market Semillon I had this week, I also wanted to briefly mention the quality level of the Italian wine I tasted, Nipozzano. I hadn’t tasted this Italian red in many years and I was blown away by the quality of the wine. Rich, intense and full of concentrated fruit with a whisp of smoke, all I could think of while sipping it was how good it would be with a grilled steak topped with butter and garlic-cooked mushrooms. If you love the taste of blackberry, leather and a bit of smoke then you should definitely give it a try! For around $25, it’s a fantastic value! Here are my wine picks of the week!      

Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2018: (DOCG Chianti Rufina, Italy). Dry red, deep, silky ruby color with violet tones. Given a few minutes to breathe, the wine displays an intense bouquet of forest fruits, blackberries, red/dark cherries, pomegranate, vanilla, dark berry compote, hard raspberry candies and a background of mossy earth or forest floor. The first sip delivers vibrant cooked fruit notes (red cherry, raspberry drops, dark berries) followed by smooth flavors of earth, cedar/oak and more dark berries. A long finish transitions beautifully from the mid-palate, creating the subtle tingle of spice heat (cloves/pepper) as well as tight, chewy tannins which stick to the teeth and mouth. Notes of leather and smoke also linger. Medium-plus body, medium-plus acidity. This excellent Italian is beautifully balanced and bold enough to pair with a grilled steak and sauteed mushrooms, cured meats, or a quick snack of roasted/salted almonds. Very good! $25, 13.5% ABV

Black Market Semillon 2017: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Dry white, medium-lemon color. The nose opens with intense citrus fruit/zest (Meyer lemon), wet rocks, sea-side minerals, hints of petrol, almonds, some slightly vegetal notes and a biscuity, toasty scent. This BC white has great medium-plus intensity with plenty of citrus and lemon notes upfront. The mid-palate has good concentration with lemon peel, a touch of petrol, light honey, saline mineral/wet rocks and a subtle hint of floral character hiding in the background. Light body, medium-plus acidity with gentle, warming spice and bright notes of tennis ball/rubber ball coming in on the medium-length finish. This wine is on the simple side but it is packed with intense flavor and would be an ideal wine option to pair with fresh halibut, pan-fried shrimp (garlic, butter, lemon), pork souvlaki or herbed roast chicken. Very good! $25, 11.6% ABV    Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Blasted Church proves taking risks pays off in the wine industry

Hello Prince Albert! Every great wine brand has a story to tell; whether that’s the history of the vineyard, the struggles and triumphs of the winemakers or the awards and accolades a winery racks up. This week we’re taking a look at a winery with a bit of everything: a background full of interesting characters, the ups and downs of starting a unique wine business and great-tasting wines. It’s time to dive into one of BC’s and Canada’s highest-rated wine companies, Blasted Church!

The roots of Blasted Church started when Evelyn and Chris Campbell took a trip to Napa, California to see the sights and taste some wines. As many people do, Evelyn and Chris fell in love with the excitement, artistry and romance of the world of wine. With a dream of one day opening a vineyard, the pair returned to Vancouver and began researching possible areas in the Okanagan Valley for a winery.

After many starts and stops and potential vineyard purchases falling through at the last minute, they finally purchased a vineyard near Okanagan Falls (OK Falls). There was a ton of work to accomplish including updating equipment, increasing staff, tending the fields and vines, cultivating new varietals and searching for an identity for the brand.

As luck would have it, the town of OK Falls had a storied past with one very specific incident providing inspiration: the story of the blasted church. Around 1929, OK Falls had a growing population and a congregation without a church. Looking to rectify the situation, the townspeople decided to move a church from an old, abandoned mining town. After several failed attempts at prying the boards and realizing the nails could not be pulled without warping the wood, an engineer named Harley Hatfield came up with a solution. He attached four sticks of dynamite to the rafters of the church which had the desired effect of blowing out the walls and loosening the nails. Unfortunately, the steeple was destroyed in the process; however, Hatfield’s plan worked and despite some blackened and charred boards, the church was successfully moved and a new steeple added to the top. Hatfield’s name is immortalized in the Hatfield’s Fuse blended white wine.

You would think that such a fantastic story would make an amazing tie-in for marketing but not everyone was excited or enthusiastic about the name Blasted Church for the winery. In fact, 90% of the people that the owners talked to disapproved of the imagery on the labels (lowkey and tongue-in-cheek) and also the name. Almost everyone from industry veterans to everyday townsfolk were leery of the name and brand image. The owners decided to take a different approach to their wine: they wanted it be fun and easy. In other words, while they took the quality and planning of the wine very seriously, Evelyn and Chris wanted wine that appealed to everyone and most of all, they wanted to take the snobbery out of wine.

Undeterred by the naysayers, the proprietors moved on with their idiosyncratic vision for their winery and once the wines started to be made and tasted, the awards started pouring in. Astonishingly, Blasted Church succeeded without much advertising initially. Instead of paying for large ad campaigns in magazines or radio, success came in the form of word of mouth and exciting events at and around the winery. Soon, the wines of Blasted Church were being recognized for their quality and quirky background.

Blasted Church celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2022 and with that milestone came many accolades including being the 2nd highest ranked winery in BC and also the 3rd highest ranked winery in Canada. Along with the prestige of being ranked so highly, WineAlign has bestowed several medals of quality to Blasted Church including two platinum medals for their 2019 Big Bang Theory wine and the 2019 Cabernet Franc. Overall, the winery came out with 24 medals for various vintages: 2 platinum, 6 gold, 5 silver and 11 bronze.  

The labels have evolved over the years along with the quality of the wine and this can be seen from the gorgeous label designs known as the Renaissance series which was released in 2018 (featured in this week’s column). This series depicts classical-style artwork and rich, lush colors with a contemporary twist. You’ll have to take a look to see what I mean (like the archangel Michael at the carwash). You know a label is beautiful when you want to look at it over and over again, just like a fine work of art.

Other changes in the winery have occurred as well, including the majority sale of the business to proprietor Sean Morrison in 2020. Their current winemaker Evan Saunders has been with Blasted Church since 2014 and works alongside viticulturist John Bayley who helped envision and create the Unorthodox Chardonnay (aka Chardonnay Musque).

The stand-out wines from Blasted Church are their highly-rated Merlot and Pinot Gris but everything I’ve tasted has been delicious. If you happen to see their Gewurztraminer on the shelf, you should grab it since it’s hard to find these days and I’ve heard the Sauvignon Blanc is also quite lovely.

Blasted Church proves that shaking up the industry, creating a vision and sticking to your guns (or should I say dynamite caps) is one of the best ways to create something unique and trend-breaking. Here are my wine picks of the week!           

Blasted Church Cabernet Merlot 2018: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Dry red, deep ruby color. Aromas of ripe blackberry jump from the glass with blueberry, dark cherry, tobacco, toast, pepper spice, dark chocolate, tomato leaf and herbal notes of oregano. There is plenty of dark fruit on the palate with a quick follow-up of black pepper spice, licorice, blackberries, black cherry, tomato vines, herbs, cured tobacco, cedar, white pepper, cigar box and medium-plus body. Tannins are medium-plus but smooth and earthy. The finish is medium-plus in length with earthy, spicy dark fruits and candied dark raspberries. Pair this earthy red with spiced pork sausage, beef dip with rosemary and garlic jus or sauteed mushrooms. Can age a few more years but it is drinking well now. Very good! $35, 14% ABV

Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse 2020: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Off-dry white, medium lemon color. The nose opens with luscious stone-fruits like peaches, apricots, nectarines, pears and apples. Wet rock, riverbed, honeysuckle and jasmine flower flutter in the background with medium-minus intensity. To the taste, this BC white is smooth and fruity with ripe peach, nectarine, green apples and pears with a touch of floral bitterness. Floral spice and stone-fruit combine on the medium-length finish. Overall, the wine is medium-minus in intensity and leaves a mellow impression on the tastebuds mixed with those ripe fruits. It is delightful to sip on and has a soft texture due to the mild acidity. I can definitely see myself sipping on this in the sun on the deck with the scent of BBQ in the background. Pair with grilled/roasted chicken or cured meats like cervelat salami. Easy drinking and fun! Disappears way too quickly! Very Good! $25, 12.9% ABV

Blasted Church Unorthodox Chardonnay 2019: (VQA Okanagan Valley, Skaha Bench, BC). Dry to off-dry white, medium lemon color. The bouquet of this unconventional Chard is crisp and clean with medium-plus intense scents of pineapple, lychee fruit, orange zest, peaches, pears and a hint of mineral. Warm-climate fruit greets the tongue from the first sip with ripe pineapple, yellow pear, sweet apple and orange blossom/floral undertones. Some stony mineral similar to chalky soil appears near the end of the mid-palate blending in with a creamy flavor of soft cheese. Medium body with medium-plus intensity. Acidity sits slightly above medium allowing the fruit and mineral notes to stand out. The lovely flavor of apple and orange blossom adds some layers and mellow floral spice alongside gentle mineral bitterness on the medium-length finish. This wine is crisp and refreshing, perfect for sharing with friends while visiting by the fireplace/firepit. With warm weather coming, consider trying this high-quality Chard! Very good! $27, 12.9% ABV 

Blasted Church Merlot 2018: (VQA Okanagan Valley, Skaha Bench, BC). Dry red, deep ruby color with garnet at edges. The nose opens with medium-intense aromas of plums, currants, sweet black licorice, mocha, mustard seed, earthy soil, tar, saline sea breeze and hints of animal notes (goat cheese, barnyard). The intensity amps up a bit on the palate with grape skins/fruit, plums, dark chocolate, mocha, coffee, meaty beef gravy (savory), red currants and fine-grained high tannins. Acidity is medium with soft pepper spice and black licorice leading into the long finish. Retro-haling the wine (breathing out through the nose) brings further flavors of charred beef-ends, Oreo wafers, mocha, tomato vine and a twist of herbs. Developing flavors of tar and mellow goat cheese blend beautifully with a vinous quality. Medium-plus body with excellent concentration and full, long flavors on the mid-palate before the finish kicks in. Flavorful, complex and constantly evolving as the wine breathes. One of the best Merlots I have tasted and a great pick for food pairings. Consider corned beef (pastrami) served with freshly prepared mustard and pickled onions on the side as a food pairing or try dark chocolate or bacon-wrapped meatloaf. Outstanding! $60, 14% ABV    

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! Most people have a junk drawer in their home containing an assortment of random objects; some are useful and some are not. In one person’s home, you may find buttons, rubber bands, duct tape etc., while another home might contain entirely different items. These collections of objects can indicate a lot about a person and if you looked in my junk drawers (take your pick, I have 3) you would find a variety of cooking tools and also a healthy number of wine accessories.
Do you have a wine accessory/tool that you can’t live without? If I had to narrow my collection down to one wine item, I would choose a double-hinged waiter’s corkscrew every single time.
The double-hinged corkscrew is easy to use, it’s quick and it gives me a sense of ritual when preparing to enjoy a glass of wine. What are some of the other gadgets out there and are they worth picking up? Let’s take a look at a few of the more common options.
The ah-so may not be well-known to every wine drinker but it is essential if you like to enjoy old wines like Port or decades-old vintage wines. The ah-so is shaped like an outward-facing pincer with two points at the end for wiggling out corks that are fragile or broken. As some may have experienced, using a corkscrew on a damaged or fragile cork can break the cork up and leave pieces of it in your wine. It’s not pleasant to pick cork chunks from your wine so consider picking one of these up. You can find many options for under $20.
Next is one of my personal favorites: the Champagne cage. This is a simple device that seals your sparkling wine after you have opened it and either don’t have the time to finish the bottle or want to save it for later. This item hooks under the neck of the bottle while sealing the top and allows the bubbles inside to build up pressure without popping the top; this means that you can open that bottle of Champagne, have a glass and re-seal it for a week. When you open the bottle again a week later, the wine is still bubbly and fresh as the day you opened it! Many brands give these away with the purchase of a bottle but they often cost between $20 and $30 on average.
Finally, I’d like to mention a tool that has become incredibly useful for wine collectors or sommeliers and that is the Coravin wine system. This gadget allows the enthusiast to draw a small sample of wine using a thin needle directly from the bottle through the cork. Any space that is created in the bottle from extracting the wine sample is replaced with inert gas (via a small cylinder) which means you can have a taste of that expensive wine without opening it! This is ideal for those that like to have multiple wine tastings but don’t want to waste their wine when only serving a few samples.
Of course, the less wine there is in the bottle, the faster a wine will eventually oxidize. It’s great fun to use once you get the hang of it but it does have two downsides: the cost can be high for the initial purchase (the entry-level model is almost $200 with higher-level options reaching $600 or more), and the unit requires gas canisters which can be bought as a kit or in small packs. While a canister does last a good amount of time, the cost does add up the more you use it. You can find the Coravin system on Amazon.
These are only a few of the massive number of options out there but they give you an idea of how intricate and expansive the world of wine accessories can get. What was the last wine accessory you purchased? Do you still use it? Here are my wine and whiskey picks of the week!
Freixenet Ice Cuvee Especial: (Spain). Off-dry to medium-dry sparkling wine. Pale lemon color with small strings of intensely frothing bubbles. This Cava is designed to be poured on ice and loses some of its flair and crispness when poured in a regular flute glass. The nose opens with fruity aromas of bruised apples and pears, citrus, sweet chalky mineral, hints of soft cheese (Brie), crusty bread and a hint of ginger. The flavors taste syrupy and thick at first which surprised me as most Cava is quite dry. Once the initial shock wears off and my palate adjusts, the flavors become easier to pick out; fresh apple skins, pear and peach fruit, lemon peel, sweet wet rock minerality and a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Medium body with medium acidity leaves this sparkler tasting soft. While the wine tastes decent, the sweetness obscures the quality usually derived from the Traditional Method style. Honey and hints of toast are apparent on the quick finish. Tastes remarkably better when paired with salty snacks like prosciutto, Hawkins Cheezies or salted potato chips. This Cava is out of balance but I still found some enjoyment. Good! $15, 11.5% ABV
Zonin Brut Prosecco: (DOC Veneto, Italy). Dry to off-dry sparkling wine. Pale lemon color. The nose is simple, fruity and light with crisp notes of apple, pear, mandarin, melon and spring flowers. On the palate, this bubbly has a touch of sweetness with lovely orchard fruit notes coming forward immediately. Apples, pears and oranges combine with a hint of honey and fresh flowers. The bubbles disappear quickly but they are lively and smooth. A touch of bitterness comes in on the quick finish with a tasty note of yeasty bread crust and citrus zest. Floral accents add some complexity and bring forward memories of Spring. Medium body, medium-plus acidity. If you find it on sale, grab a bottle! Great for appetizer courses or entertaining guests. Very good! $22, 11% ABV
Paul John Edited Single Malt Whiskey: (India). This non-chill filtered whiskey from Producer Paul John is a delightfully sweet, spicy and slightly smokey single malt. The liquid carries a beautiful caramel hue. On the nose, high-intensity tropical fruits explode (pineapple, mango) while baking spices swirl (vanilla bean, pepper, cinnamon). The spirit is not overly smokey on the nose but this whiskey is indeed peated, if not lightly. The first taste unleashes a rush of sweet orchard fruits and spiced oranges which snaps into cinnamon sticks and candy hearts followed again by another transition into fruity notes of cooked pears and juicy apples. Chocolate orange, prickly black pepper and leather announce the peat with a long, lingering finish. Tannins build up in the mouth as the whiskey is sipped and the balance is beautiful. Sweet, spicy and savory all in one go. Keeps me coming back for another taste. One of my favorites. Very good! $85, 46% ABV
Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! We are fortunate to have such a large variety of wines to try from a huge selection of regions around the world. Whether you prefer to keep things simple and grab your favorite vino time and time again or live the adventurous life and drink a new wine every time, there are some situations in the world of wine that cannot be avoided.  

Picture this: you’ve selected a lovely bottle of wine to pair with your meal. Time is taken to carefully decant the wine; the correct glasses have been chosen and you’ve even made sure not to eat anything too strong in order not to overwhelm the pure flavor in the wine. You take a sniff and it is intense and amazing! In anticipation, your mouth starts watering and your tastebuds tingle. You take a sip and something is missing. The wine doesn’t taste bad, it just tastes flat, muted or even musty. The wine is corked!  

This problem can occur in any bottle that is sealed with a cork and it is often due to an interaction with the cork and the wine, commonly known as “cork taint”. A wine may seem perfectly fine at first, just like the Chateau Cantenac but further sniffs of the glass reveal a fading of intensity and a lack of aroma.

On the palate, wines affected by cork taint lose sharpness and clarity. Some people may taste old newspaper or cardboard akin to the scents of a musty basement. These scents or flavors are not necessarily harmful but they certainly detract from the enjoyment of your wine experience.

What can be done when a wine is corked? Unfortunately, not much can be done to “fix” the flavors and intensity of the wine but the situation can be slightly ameliorated by vigorous swirling or jostling of the wine in the glass. Pairing a wine like the Chateau Cantenac with a decent cheddar can help draw out hidden flavors as well, but in the end, the wine is not behaving the way it normally would.

Some enthusiasts will try everything they can to get some enjoyment out of a corked wine but my professional opinion is to move on to something else. This is especially true when the wine has an amazing bouquet on the nose but the contrast on the palate is too polarizing. I kept sniffing the wine and getting excited only to be disappointed every time I took a sip, hoping it had somehow breathed enough to finally open up. Sometimes we just have to move on and accept that the wine is not as it should be. Wine can often be returned for an exchange if it tastes bad so that is another option.

This experience teaches us that even the best quality wines can suffer from blemishes and faults but in reality, only an average of 1% of wines will be affected by cork taint. There’s no easy way to know what you’re going to taste until you open the bottle and have a sip but it’s important to understand when to let a bad wine go. Let your tastebuds (and nose) guide you and be honest with your experience. It’s taken me a long time to get there! Here are my wine and whiskey picks of the week!  

Chateau Cantenac Grand Cru 2009: (AOC Saint-Emilion, France). Dry red, deep ruby color with signs of fading. At first, the nose is vibrant and full of juicy brambleberry fruit, blackberries, cassis, smoked meat, mustard seed, graphite mineral, pencil shavings and cloves. This Bordeaux has medium intensity on the palate and unfortunately, the incredible notes from the nose are not present on the palate. Muted, flat flavors of dark fruit can be sensed but lack definition and intensity. Medium body, medium acidity. Graphite or pencil shaving/earth comes through slightly but the finish is muddled and obscured with a general musty flavor. Some warming pepper and baking spice can be tasted but this is the perfect example of a “corked” wine. It is still drinkable but it is a shadow of what great Bordeaux wine should be. Some enjoyment can be found but the wine gets knocked down by several points. Average. $40, 14% ABV

Chateau Claire Abbaye Bordeaux Superieur 2017: (Bordeaux, France). Dry red, deep ruby color with tones of violet. Opening with a simple nose of balsamic cherry, black pepper, blackberries and a hint of earth, this French wine finds balance between fruit and oak spice. To the taste, blackberries, dark cherries, pencil shavings, light vanilla and black pepper combine with medium-plus tannins and a medium-length finish of lingering oak, hints of pepper and soft tannin bitterness. Medium body with medium acidity. There aren’t any developing flavors with this one so open it up and drink it now with a grilled steak, sauteed mushrooms or an aged cheddar. Smooth, mellow and affordable, this Bordeaux doesn’t pack a huge punch but it is still an excellent sipping wine by the fireplace/campfire. Good! $24, 14% ABV     

Redbreast Lustau Edition Irish Whiskey: (Republic of Ireland). Irish whiskey aged 9 to 12 years and finished in ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks. Deep golden color. The nose is packed full of toffee, apple crisp, caramel, deep woody oak, fall apples and honeycomb. This Irish whiskey is luxurious on the palate with a full-bodied display of green/red apples covered in caramel, toffee, oak spice and butterscotch. The sherry cask influence is more apparent on the nose but the weight of this spirit is lovely. Each sip warms the body and soul and conjures images of Irish orchards glowing in the late fall light. The finish is satisfying and long with a drying effect in the mouth. Feeling chilled? Cozy up with a warm blanket and a dram of this beautifully crafted whiskey. Very good! $90, 46% ABVCheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! Are you feeling burned out from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio? Even white wine enthusiasts can get palate fatigue from drinking the same style over and over, which is why it’s important to branch out and seek a variety of wines to try.

A couple of white wine options to check out for those last days of nice weather and deck grilling are related in some ways to the style of Sauvignon Blanc but they both veer into the earthier side of the flavor spectrum.

Gruner Veltliner is considered a “noble” varietal in Austria and it is not often spotted in Prince Albert so if you’re looking to show off an interesting and new varietal to your wine friends, this is a great bottle to pick up. It comes from a DAC designation called Kamptal, Austria which is recognized internationally for its high-quality wine production.

The Gruner style has an earthy, tangy flavor which is sometimes compared to the flavor of earthy pickles. It might sound strange and if you can’t picture it, you’ll have to try it for yourself to find out. It pairs incredibly well with grilled vegetables or fresh fish on a hot day.

The other grape varietal, Verdejo, is also not often spotted in Prince Albert liquor stores but it makes a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. Bright acidity and stone-fruit with a balance of mineral/citrus bitterness gives your palate the “zing” it is craving while backing it up with juicy fruits and the tiniest bit of sweetness (some may find it dry while I found it to be off-dry).

Verdejo hails from an area of Spain called Rueda which also produces a hard to find red called Bobal. Tourist traffic is not high in this region so many people miss out on this delicious white varietal. Typical pairings in Spain include paella, fresh squid and seafood dishes. You don’t have to travel to Spain to get it, grab a bottle right here in PA!

With the last bits of warm weather departing for the year, you might as well get your white wine drinking and deck-lounging in while you can. Soon, most of us will be moving on to heartier reds to warm the body and soul. Here are my wine picks of the week!     

Cuatro Rayas Verdejo 2018: (DO Rueda, Spain). Dry to off-dry white, medium lemon color. Scents of fennel, freshly cut grass, citrus, green apple and pear gently waft from the glass. On the palate, this white is light-bodied with intense flavors of stone-fruit (pear, peach, nectarine), cut grass, citrus fruit, vegetable/plant stems and bitter mineral. Medium-plus acidity gives the wine lift and then the wine transitions into a quick finish of bitter citrus peels and mineral rock. A touch of nutty character comes through which is reminiscent of mustard greens. Slightly flat by itself but performs more admirably with a spot of simple foods like grilled zucchini, fresh salads with arugula and rocket or grilled chicken marinated with Greek dressing. The wine could use a bit more acidity for better balance but the price is great! Good. $15, 13% ABV 

Rabl Gruner Veltliner 2019: (DAC Kamptal, Austria). Dry white wine, pale lemon color with tones of green. The nose is earthy and vegetal with bright spots of lemon citrus, white pepper, wet rocks and riverbed. To the taste, steely mineral and lemon zest leap out first with a tangy zip of medium-plus acidity. The wine is lively and crisp with a light body, limestone rock powder, zesty lime and sweet gravel. As the wine warms slightly, hints of white peach, nectarine and star fruit appear with a long satisfying finish of citrus zest and saline mineral. Excellent balance and crisp, cool flavors. For an elevated pairing, try butter poached langoustine and asparagus on angel-hair pasta with a wisp of lemon foam and capers. Other pairings include scallops, walleye or shellfish. Very good! $32, 12.5% ABV 

Russell Reserve 10 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon: (Kentucky, USA). Deep gold color. The aroma in the glass is classic bourbon with cinnamon, butterscotch, candy corn, antique furniture wood and polish, toasted pecans, spicy licorice and anise seed. The whisky has a medium weight on the palate with spicy black pepper and licorice notes from the rye content. There are also notes of buttered pecan/cashews, oak wood, vanilla, toasty cinnamon and a nutty component. The alcohol has a bit of burn but only for the first sip or two; once the palate adjusts, this bourbon is smooth and enjoyable. Great balance of spice, alcohol heat and flavors from the corn mash. $70, 45% ABVCheers and thanks for reading!!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Aaron Winsor

Hello Prince Albert! Of all the grape varietals available, Pinot Noir is possibly one of the trickiest grapes to produce great wine from. As Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape, it can easily be damaged by the sun (heat blisters) and it freezes easily as well. This creates a conundrum for wine makers: should they focus on more accessible grapes to grow, create a well-produced Pinot Noir which is costly and time consuming or make a Pinot that costs less but doesn’t deliver the “wow factor”?

Only a wine producer can answer those questions but as consumers it seems that people are often more comfortable with wines they know they will like versus a risky purchase which could potentially be a waste of money.  

The feedback that I’ve received from hundreds of customers is that unless they love the varietal, they tend to skip Pinot Noir for other varietals like Malbec, Cab Sauv, Merlot, etc. Part of the reasoning behind this is that they can often find a less expensive option which satisfies that wine itch or, they are looking for a wine that delivers a lot of flavor and intensity.

The good news is that even in Saskatchewan, we can find some great Pinot Noir that doesn’t have to break the bank while at the same time delivering a delicious experience. As seasoned Pinot Noir drinkers know, when you cheap out on this varietal, the results are usually lackluster.

My recommendation when looking for a decent Pinot is to adjust your expectations and understand that with this varietal, you get what you pay for. If you’re not enjoying Pinot at the $20 and under range, look at trying a couple of wines in the $25 to $40 price range.

If your budget only allows for $20 Pinot Noir, expect a simple, fruit-driven wine meant for consumption within a year or two. These wines will often have a sweet-fruit undertone as well which means they may be tasty but they won’t deliver complexity or the ability to age well.

The wines that were chosen to be tasted this week are similar in many ways but the French option has the finesse which puts it on top. Both wines offer sour cherry and red fruit with a hearty, savory finish of spiced meat and mouth-coating chewy tannins. The wine from Alsace, France however brings extra quality with its food-friendly acidity, lighter body, softer tannins and overall, more refined approach.

The Cigar Box wine is a no-brainer for cigar lovers. This wine delivers on its promise with warming notes of spice and pepper along with grippy tannins and that smoky finish. At $25, I was pleasantly surprised by this Pinot and would consider buying it again for the satisfying flavor on the finish.

The Cigar Box wine makes me want a cigar while the Hugel Family Pinot inspires me to pair it with foods like pork schnitzel, smoked ham, beef stew or rouladen (thin beef and bacon wrapped around pickles, mustard and onions cooked in gravy). The acidity is so beautiful and bright I wanted to keep sipping until the last drop.

While liquor prices in Saskatchewan are quite high, both of these wines taste like they were priced right and make for a delightful tasting. If you haven’t tried Pinot Noir in a while, consider these two options. Here are my wine picks of the week!                

Cigar Box Old Vine Pinot Noir 2020: (Leyda Valley, Chile). Dry red, medium ruby color. The nose is fruit-forward and bright with simple scents of raspberry, violets, bubblegum, red cherry, vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. The palate is surprisingly dry with sour cherry, field berries, hints of tobacco and strawberry at the forefront followed by leather and hints of oak spice (vanilla). The long finish is meaty and smoky with high, chewy tannins, medium acidity and medium body. Vanilla, black pepper and red fruit mingle with a touch of soft cheese and animal notes. While the mid-palate is not overly complex, the finish is worth savoring. Pair with cigars like the Joya de Nicaragua Black Robusto ($20) or salty snacks like beef jerky. Would get a higher score if the price was lower. Good! $25, 13.5% ABV

Hugel Family Pinot Noir 2017: (AOC Alsace, France). Dry red, medium garnet color with a core of faded ruby. The nose opens with juicy berries, cherry candy, raspberry drops, pepper/clove spice and traces of salty rock. From the first sip, high acidity explodes on the palate followed by a mouthwatering rush of sour cherry, stewed raspberry and an almost effervescent mineral rock flavor/sensation. Medium-minus body and medium-plus tannins make this a Pinot that is elegantly light with a decent weight of structure. The long finish rolls in quickly after the mineral-rock buzz fades and flavors of savory cooked mushrooms (in soya) and smoked/cured ham with cloves fills the palate. This natural wine is designed to be drank with all types of food; From gastro-pub inspired foods like Scotch eggs to Pastrami sandwiches with pickles and hot mustard. Can age another couple of years, taste again in 2024. Very good! $44, 12.5% ABVCheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! With so many diverse wine regions to explore and interesting wines to taste, wine enthusiasts often look to iconic old-world appellations to provide a baseline for quality and general affordability.

The term old-world refers to wine-producing areas which have existed for centuries or even millennia. Some of the most common old-world countries are obvious; France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal, while others are less-known and more difficult to find in PA like Croatia, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Armenia, Cyprus and Georgia.

These older regions have also developed complex wine laws which define strict guidelines in the growing, producing, storing and selling of wines. These guidelines or regulations are often beneficial since they focus on quality, yield (which affects quality), regional style (native grape varieties), blending, aging and marketing.

A great example of these wine laws can be demonstrated in the two wines I tasted this week from Rioja, Spain. An important fact to remember about wine labels from Rioja is that they indicate the approximate age of the wine with words like Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.

The word Joven is often not printed on the label but indicates that the wine is young with hardly any barrel age. Crianza is used for reds with 2 years of age (at least 1 year in oak), Reserva is 3 years of age (at least 1.5 years in oak) and the Gran Reserva is aged a minimum of 5 years (at least 2 years in oak). These are the basic requirements and producers will often go beyond these limitations to create beautiful, age-worthy wines.

Why does the age in the oak barrels or the age in the bottle matter for wines from Rioja? Wines develop certain flavors depending on how they are aged. For instance, wines aged in oak will take on spice, vanilla, caramel, coconut, tannins and wood flavor while bottle aging while create secondary flavors of mushroom, leather, earth etc.

Depending on their personal tastes, some wine drinkers prefer more fruit-forward wines while others may like wines with earthy or spicey elements found in oak-aged options. By using the age-description system found on wine labels from Rioja, we can choose a fruitier option like a Crianza (less oak and bottle aging) or a middle ground wine like a Reserva (some spice and tannin from oak and smooth secondary flavors from bottle age).

Finally, we are left with the big wine of Rioja: the Gran Reserva. These wines have a minimum of 5 years of age which means they have a decent punch of spice but have started to mellow out due to their age in the bottle. These bottles usually require several years of cellar-aging to develop properly but with patience and proper storage, these can become some truly exceptional bottles.

Some Spanish producers also release their wines with old-world golden or silver netting on the bottle. This type of merchandising/marketing can be found on several brands like Anciano, Marques de Riscals (which also comes in a tube) and Beronia (another gem from Rioja available in PA). These wines make great gifts which can be enjoyed immediately or held for a year or two to develop further.

A tip on what to expect at the store: Crianza-level wines $20-25, Reserva-level wines $25-50, Gran Reserva wine $40-100+. Try out a red Rioja from the Spanish aisle and taste it with some charcuterie or high-quality barbeque! Maybe we will see some white Rioja in the future?

Here are my wine picks of the week!

Marques de Riscal Reserva 2016: (Rioja, Spain). Dry red, deep ruby color with violet hues. The nose is a rush of balsamic cherry, figs, blackberries, wild strawberries and a hint of pepper. Medium-body on the palate with intense blackberries and currants. Soft cedar spice, red cherry and field strawberry are lifted by medium-plus acidity. Lingering on the finish are cinnamon, pepper, cigar box and sweet tobacco. Spices are warming while medium-plus tannins grip on. Flavorful and elegant. Pair with dried salamis, steak w/mushrooms or a Montecristo No. 4 cigar. Drinking well now but it can age and should be tasted in another 3 years. Very good!
$36, 14% ABV

CUNE Reserva 2015: (Rioja, Spain). Dry red, deep ruby color. This Spanish red has an earthy and fruity bouquet filled with forest strawberry, blackberry, toast, pepper, white mushroom, red cherry and sweet tilled earth. The first sip reveals an excellent concentration of dark fruit (plum, blkberry and cherry) and a quick burst of medium-plus acidity. This blends into silky notes of smooth pepper spice, roasted almond/hazelnut, leather and toast. Everything is accented by medium-plus tannins, creating a slightly waxy mouthfeel. Toasted oak, savory peanut shell, cigar leaf and hints of dark chocolate all linger on a long finish. Pairs well with cigars, stuffed mushrooms, dark chocolate or garlic mushrooms on prime rib. Very good! $25, 14% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine time with Aaron the Wine Guy

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Hello Prince Albert! Last week I briefly mentioned a term called an AVA aka an American Viticultural Area. Much like the rest of the wine world, the USA has a legally defined system of wine appellations and these are called AVAs.

Examples of well-known AVAs would be Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Mount St. Helen, Columbia Valley, Five Finger Lakes, Paso Robles and even large general areas such as California or Washington State. Some AVAs are located inside larger regions like Carneros inside the Napa region or Russian River Valley which is found inside the Sonoma County AVA.

My wine journey this week brought me to a region known as the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California. The Russian River Valley is actually a part of several larger regions including Sonoma Country AVA, North Coast AVA and California AVA. The entire area is centered on the Russian River which runs from North Western California is a Southern direction.

The Russian River Valley was granted AVA status in 1983 and makes up over one sixth of all planted grapes in Sonoma. The planted area went from just over 400 acres in the 1990’s to well over 12,000 acres by 2003. Despite huge expansion, vineyards have come and gone and while there were up to 200 wineries around the 1900’s, that number has shrunk down to about 70 high-quality producers in current times. The region is well-known for producing excellent examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and producers like Kendall Jackson have spent a significant amount of energy and funds to build the area up while establishing their own brands and market presence (Kendall Jackson produces the delicious La Crema brand and other wines under their main label).

While discussing this AVA, it must also be mentioned that the terroir has an immense influence on the flavors and balance of the wine. Since this AVA is located in California, there is a huge amount of heat from the sun which would usually have the effect of ripening grapes quickly; however, due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the grapes are cooled heavily from winds blown into the vineyards.

The effects of hot days, cool nights and cooling influences from the ocean create wines that are fruity and full but also balanced by appropriate levels of acidity. This is perfectly demonstrated in both Pinot Noirs this week as they are fruit-forward with hints of sweetness and balanced by medium-plus acidity. I enjoyed both wines but the Rodney Strong is the winner since it has a higher concentration of flavor thus more intensity and the spice/herbal notes stuck out much more on the palate and finish.

If you’re looking to explore Californian wines then the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County or the North Coast AVAs are all excellent places to begin the search. Even though I preferred the Rodney Strong, the MacMurray Ranch should still be checked out since it has not only great flavor but the price point delivers a huge amount of value. Here are my wine picks of the week!

MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2018: (Russian River Valley, California). Dry to off-dry red, deep ruby color. The nose full of medium-intense fruit like dark cherry, dark berry, raspberry, vanilla, herbal balsamic and hints of feta cheese. On the palate, cherry, boysenberry and dark fruit impact first followed by mellow spice (nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper). Medium-plus acidity gives the wine some zip while the wine feels satisfying at medium-plus body. Oaky, medium tannins come in on the finish but the grip is creamy and smooth providing just a hint of pepper spice at the edge of the tongue. Fruit dissipates quickly on the finish but the oak/toast flavors linger. Medium concentration drops the intensity slightly but the wine is a great value for its price point! Pair this Pinot with appetizers. Very good! $25, 14.3% ABV

Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2016: (Russian River Valley, California). Dry to off-dry red, medium ruby color with slight fading at edge. Medium-intense notes of nutmeg, cooked cherry, sweet underbrush, BBQ char and animal (goat cheese) open up on the nose. Ripe cherry juice, red fruit and gentle spice (nutmeg, pepper) intermingle with herbal sage and a silky medium-plus body. The fruity mid-palate smoothly transitions into a finish of sweet cinnamon and nutmeg with black pepper and savory biscuit/toast. The concentration of the wine is high which leads to bold, satisfying flavors. This Pinot is balanced well with medium-plus acidity and a chewy mouthfeel is provided by medium-plus sweet tannins. Fruity, spicy and delicious! Can be chilled slightly and paired with many kinds of foods. Drink now. Very good! $32, 14.5% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

You had me at Merlot

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Hello Prince Albert! The Merlot varietal is one of the most common types of grapes that we find in the wine section but despite being used in many types of blends, the grape as a single varietal wine is not as popular with wine drinkers as the Cabernet, Malbec or Shiraz wines.

Is there a reason that Merlot tends to get shunned while the others sell regularly? The simplest explanation comes down to the nature of Merlot. The three other varietals I mentioned get picked more often than Merlot mainly due to the intensity of their flavors. All three have a decent amount of concentration and flavor and deliver a bold rush of flavors while Merlot sits on the mellower side of things.

The trend for wine drinkers in and around our city leans heavily towards wines with high intensity and Merlot is a medium to low-intensity red. The varietal is often used to fill in blends since it has a smooth character and deep ruby color but on its own, some drinkers can find it lacking.

I’m happy to say that the two featured wines this week buck the trend of low-intensity Merlot and both provide a rewarding and satisfying wine-drinking experience. While both Merlots are more easy-going than most Cabernet Sauvignon, they still manage to deliver plenty of flavor.

Merlot is also incredibly common because it is one of the easiest grapes to grow. The grape is known as an international varietal since it can grow successfully in almost any spot where it is planted. The terroir has a large influence on the style of the wine as lower-temperature grown Merlot will display red fruit and higher acidity while hot-temperature grown Merlot showcases dark fruit, lower acidity and a full body.

Take a quick look through the Canada VQA wines on the shelf and you’ll notice that many of the reds are Cabernet Merlot blends. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and often Cabernet Franc. The Merlot grape is employed heavily in these blends since it is easier to grow and less expensive than Cabernet Sauvignon. For this reason, it makes sense to use a more affordable grape like Merlot to fill in blends and create wines that are still affordable for the everyday consumer.

Merlot is also prominently featured in wines from Bordeaux where it helps soften the wines from the left bank (often a blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot). Arguably the highest quality Merlot from Bordeaux comes from the right bank from an AOC called Pomerol. Prince Albert has one or two bottles of Pomerol waiting to be tasted but be warned, these wines don’t come cheap!

Another fantastic region to try some excellent Merlot in is California. While Napa tends to steal the spotlight from the rest of California, Sonoma, Carneros, Central Coast and Paso Robles are other high-quality AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) to look out for. The prices will go up in wines from these regions but the experience they deliver is worthwhile, especially when you can find a great deal like the Olelo Merlot which is regularly $35 but can be found on sale right now for $23 after taxes.

Give Merlot a taste by buying a few different brands and price points from several different countries. As I said, you can find Merlot in every country and aisle in the liquor store and even though the intensity of this varietal is lower than others, it still provides for a wine that is easy to sip again and again! Here are my wine picks of the week!

Olelo Merlot 2017: (Paso Robles, California). Off-dry to medium-dry red, deep ruby color. The medium-intensity nose presents ripe blackberry, raspberry, plum and vanilla. This Cali red is medium-plus bodied on the palate with jammy, lush tannins and a rush of dark fruits. Blueberry, blackberry, plum, boysenberry and vanilla highlight the juicy mid-palate which moves into notes of pepper, plum and chocolate/vanilla on the long finish. Acidity is mellow but balanced and the fruity character of the wine stands out. Excellent intensity and concentration. Pair with grilled burgers, roasted meats or beef brisket. Drink Now. Very good! $23, 13.9% ABV

Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2018: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Dry to off-dry red, deep ruby color. While subtle at first on the nose, the wine opens with rich blackberry, plum, red currant and sweet tobacco. To the taste, the wine is full-bodied and round with medium-plus tannins and rich dark fruit notes like blackberry, plum and forest currants. A flash of pepper comes after the mid-palate which quickly smooths out into chocolate and earth. Black licorice trails along with plum, black currants and spice on the long finish. The chocolate flavor reminds me of Oreo wafers with gentle baking spice. Pair with poutine, pizza, roast beef, boneless ribs or cheddars. Very good! $24, 14.5% ABV
Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

By Aaron Winsor

Hello Prince Albert! In the wine world, there are certain grape varietals that are grown in multiple wine regions which sometimes have different names. Even though these grapes are the same varietal, they can often have incredibly different flavor profiles. Examples of these grapes are often called synonyms.

For example, Chianti is often known as a synonym for the Sangiovese grape while Mouvedre and Mataro are synonyms for Monastrell from Spain. There are literally hundreds of examples of this but two of the most commonly found grape synonyms are Shiraz and Syrah.

Despite the difference in name, the flavors found in these wines can be quite contrasting. Syrah is often associated with old world flavors which focus on earthy tones, spice and barrel character. Old world wines tend to be more age-worthy and there is usually less emphasis on fruit.

Shiraz on the other hand, swings in the new world direction with the fruit flavors being the main focus of the wine and the barrel or earthy flavors used as a background component. Both the new world and old-world wines share similar flavor attributes like dark fruit and pepper but it is the specific way in which these flavors are expressed that decides which style they fall into.

Both styles of wine have their charms and unique characteristics and the drinker’s personal preference of either new or old-world wines can help them decide which they will likely choose.

A wine drinker’s choice of food can also help guide them to the wine style they will enjoy most. Those who enjoy earthy or bitter flavors like dark-roasted coffee, olives or earthy cheese will likely enjoy Syrah. If bitterness is not your style, then you might enjoy juicy cherries, blackberry jam or fruit smoothies. In this case, Shiraz is a better option for you.

With all of this being said, the two styles can sometimes be interchangeable with Syrah employing the use of fruity flavors or Shiraz delving into heavier barrel flavors and earthy tones.

The two wines this week follow the traditional rules of Shiraz vs. Syrah with the Perbruno being earthy and savory and the En Soleil Shiraz dipping into those dark fruit and jammy flavors. Both wines are at an incredible discount right now and I found the Perbruno for $25 (regular $60) and the En Soleil for $26 (regular $50).

Out of both wines, I enjoyed the Perbruno most. It is rich and powerful with tight tannins and a smoky, savory character suited to my tastes. The Perbruno has a decent amount of sediment at the bottom of the bottle so decanting is recommended before consumption.

The En Soleil is still worth a look as it presents plenty of smooth, juicy fruit and enough tannins and acidity to keep the wine structured and balanced. This wine is for those who enjoy juicier, fruitier flavors and don’t enjoy the bitterness as much.

There are so many great Shiraz or Syrah wines to explore out there so grab one of each and put them head-to-head! You may discover a preference you never knew you had. Here are my wine picks of the week!

I Giusti & Zanza Perbruno 2016: (IGT Tuscany, Italy). Dry red, deep purple/violet color. The nose of this super Tuscan is intense and savory with smoky beef jerky notes, black currants, plums, black grapes, earth and smoky leather. Full-bodied on the palate with a rush of intense dark fruit flavors quickly followed up by assertive black pepper and smoky spice (Montreal steak spice). Plums, blackberries, earthy chocolate and saline rock mineral hit the tastebuds with excellent concentration. A gamey and vinous note on at the end of the mid-palate transitions into lingering pepper and umami flavors (smoked meats) combined with wild black fruits. High, grippy tannins and medium-plus acidity. Long finish. Beautiful wine to be paired with roast lamb, prime rib (with liberal amounts of salt and pepper) or bison burgers. Outstanding! $25, 14% ABV

Cape Jaffa En Soleil 2016: (Wrattonbully, Australia). Off-dry red, deep purple color. The wine opens with high-intensity fruit-forward scents of red/dark grapes, cranberry, grape bubblegum, sweet black licorice and dark cherries with a hint of caramel. On the palate, dark fruits burst forward with a full body. Black cherry, juicy plums, blackberry jam and a follow-up of smooth pepper all impact with high intensity. The tannins are high but jammy which rounds them out a bit. Medium-plus acidity adds balance to this fruity wine. Some delicious flavors of toasted oak, black fruit and pepper with a touch of sweet liciorice are the highlights on the finish. Fruity and satisfying. Pair with steak, salt & pepper ribs or sauced ribs. Very good! $26, 14.5% ABV   Cheers and thanks for reading!