I have a confession.
After encouraging friends and readers to participate in Open that Bottle Night, I remembered I had committed to attend the Rotary Club banquet where I found myself sipping the only red offered, a Jackson Triggs Merlot ($8.75).
It’s a passable food wine and I will admit to it being infinitely more satisfying than the Loxton non-alcoholic Cabernet Sauvignon red ($8.55) that I promised to try for my last article.
While it looks the part, that wine has (in common with its white wine sisters) the taste of a grape juice that doesn’t deliver the satisfying grape flavour of an honest Welch’s grape juice.
And, for better or worse, it has little in the way of a finish or residual taste once it is swallowed. My suggestion: go for the bubbles and enjoy President’s Choice Célébration Blanc sparkling de-alcoholized wine ($3.99).
But, Open that Bottle Night did not pass uncelebrated.
Jenny, a former Whitehorse resident and Coast Mountain Sports employee, lives in Wales where she and her partner lead Outward Bound programs. She wrote, “I will open a bottle of Merry Berry spiced wine here, in Wales, in honour of the event.”
Closer to home, my friend Mark Burns reported, “I have a bottle of Sunshine Fun wine that I won at our company party’s ‘Dirty Santa’ Christmas exchange. I will pop that sucker and see just how special it is.”
I hope this event inspired you to dust off something you were saving for a special occasion. Feel free to share your experience with me at [email protected]
My Open that Bottle Night came a day late, but was more than worth the wait. My friends, Mary-Jane Warshawski and Craig Hougen, asked me to house sit and invited me for dinner.
Mary-Jane mentioned, over dinner, that Craig had a wine he wanted to share, so I anticipated quite a treat.
Not knowing what would be served, I brought some starters I thought they would enjoy: ciabatta bread, extra virgin olive oil to dip it in and a bottle of Italian Moinetto Prosecco Frizzante sparkling wine ($19.05).
The Prosecco hit the spot, dry and crisp, with citrus notes and the fun of the bubbles. Proseccos, made in the region outside Venice, are a nice light, festive alternative to champagnes. Pretty reasonably priced, as well.
As Craig worked on dinner: garlic, red pepper, anchovies, broccoli and olive oil, tossed over pasta, and I noticed, with growing delight, the shape of the bottle that sat breathing on the kitchen counter.
I was sitting away from the label and, although I wanted to turn the bottle around, I didn’t want to appear overly eager. The bottle contained a red wine and the bottle itself had the traditional sloping shoulders of a Burgundy wine rather than the rounded shoulders of a Bordeau.
Burgundy vineyards are often tiny – substantially smaller than the Whitehorse federal-building lot. The best-ranked wines, called Grand Cru, are named for their vineyard and, the next best, Premier Cru wines, are labelled by their village of origin and their Premier Cru status.
It’s all a little confusing.
Burgundy winemakers are nothing if not traditional, so you won’t see fancy labels with interesting graphics to help you remember a wine.
Adding to the challenge, there is only one grape that matters in red Burgundy: Pinot Noir. These dark, round, thick-skinned, almost black-coloured grapes are difficult to raise and Burgundies are not blends of various grape juices, like most Bordeaus and, for that matter, Italian and Californian wines.
Just pure Pinot Noir.
So Burgundies are all about tiny little plots of land that make up individual vineyards. What makes one Burgundy different from another is the terroire, the taste in the grape, imparted by the specific soil and environment the Pinot Noir grape grows in and the skill of the winemaker: the way they prune the vines, when they pick the grapes and how they do their winemaking.
Burgundy wines have influenced history: the French kidnapped a pope, moved the headquarters of the Catholic church to France and set him up in “the new chateau of the Pope”, giving name to the most well-known Burgundy, Châteauneuf du Pape. You’ll see the pope’s symbol, the Keys of St. Peter, moulded on the bottles.
The famous annual wine auction of Beaune, began in the 1400s, raises money for one of the first hospitals in Europe and continues to do so.
Craig recently acquired several bottles of 2002 vintage Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru. Aloxe village is at the base of Corton Hill, a little north of Beaune. Premier Cru meant it was likely to be excellent and it had aged for about six years, optimal for many of these wines. And he had wonderful, big-bowled Burgundy glasses for a wine such as this.
The colour was lovely – not the dark, almost-opaque red of a Bordeau or California Cabernet, but more of a purple hue. And the bouquet … how can I describe it? It was almost the best part of the wine.
I swirled the wine in the glass and smelled it half a dozen times before my first taste. It was rich with hints of lavender and perhaps rosemary – certainly herbs and flowers.
This would not be surprising as Burgundies are all about terroire, about the smells and tastes of flowers and plants that grow next to vineyards, and about the taste of the soil itself, which all make their way into the Pinot Noire grapes, into the bottle and onto our lucky tongues.
The taste was exquisite: deep, dark fruit flavours (think black cherries, perhaps red currant), light tanins and a long finish, leaving the ghost of flavour in your mouth after you swallowed.
It was superb with pasta, and even better with the creamy French cheeses we moved on to after the main course.
We talked of wine and wine stories … of the interesting and strange places where we had had wonderful meals. But, few would beat this Sunday evening where good conversation, food and company were fused into a remarkable and memorable evening by a bottle of superb wine, generously and freely shared.
That dinner exemplified everything I believe a good wine brings together and I am happy I was there when Craig and Mary-Jane decided to open that bottle.