Coffee, the object of reverential and religious affection. Prayed to by the addict, the aficionado, the connoisseur. They sniff, they swirl and they savour their brews like First Growth Bordeaux or 50-year old Auslese.
If Starbucks acted as harbinger to the North American phenomenon and found itself relegated to chain status then the torch has been passed. Proof lies in the extreme world that is the specialty coffee industry. Ezra Braves, owner of two Toronto boutique coffee destinations called Ezra’s Pound, recently commented , “we’re not re-inventing the wheel, but we just really embrace the cafe culture here.” Today your cup of Joe will likely be organic, fair-trade, responsibly grown, bio dynamic, Eco-friendly, a bag of ethical beans, bird-friendly, shade-grown and even triple-certified. It’s no wonder your red wine smells and tastes like coffee. It’s hip, it’s trending and it sells.
Wine geeks and critics have spent the last 10-15 years coming to terms with so much of their wine smelling and tasting of coffee, or variations thereof. The consumer can’t get enough of the stuff, even if they’re not sure why. The question is increasingly becoming one of secret consternation for the masses. Are wine makers infusing red wines with essence of, or actual brewed coffee?
The answer is no but more red wines than not these days will whiff or indicate a flavour profile that might include black coffee, espresso, cappuccino or mocha java. The use of new French oak and sometimes barrels that have been deliberately charred will impart coffee characteristics into red wine.
Bio dynamics and sustainable practices are now mainstream in the world of wine but in contrast to the coffee universe, many vineyards don’t necessarily feel the need to shout it out. The subliminal or vainglorious addition of coffee notes is far more effective for a ka-ching effect at the cash register. Modern vintners have so many progressive and manipulative techniques at their disposal so making “coffee wine” has become commonplace.
Iconic red wines from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Napa Valley and Burgundy are heavily influenced by the barrels that house megalitres of famous juice, but for the most part, the premier or grand cru grape ferment is up to the splintered task. Value wine faces a much greater challenge. Still, there are terrific examples out there that find the correct balance of fruit, oak and acidity. Here are five arriving VINTAGES releases that gracefully walk that fine line.
The grape: Malbec
The history: Blender of Bordeaux and ‘black” knight of Cahors in southern France
The lowdown: Mom and pop Mendoza outfit sells to big corporation but maintains parochial integrity
The food match: Pot Roast, roasted root vegetables
La Posta Angel Paulucci Vineyard Malbec 2010 (75515, $15.95) faintly hits at a mocha milkshake mentality. Smoking cedar boughs inside and blossoming purple Jacaranda outside. Volcanic and pitchy like Cahors or Etna. Mocha flavour finish brings it all full circle. 88
The grape: Montepulciano D’Abruzzo
The history: Not to be confused with Tuscany’s Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, this one comes from Abruzzo
The lowdown: MD’A’s are making use of new oak like never before. Crowds of new wine lovers are embracing the sweet and concentrated elixirs as go to value drinkers
The food match: Spaghetti with Veal Ragu, reggiano parmesan
Talamonti Tre Saggi Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2008 (204016, $15.95) is representative of the new age in Italian wine. A crooning Tommy that resides “here in my deep purple dreams.” Rich, lush, deep violet berry, oak-inspired MD’A. So much wine for $16 if a bit scary to a fruit dinosaur. 88
The grapes: Grenache and Syrah
The history: Typical southern Rhône blend, 80% G and 20% S
The lowdown: The Amadieu family has a storied history in the region dating back to the 1920’s, and are the owners of this incredible Cru vineyard
The food match: Hand Made Ravioli, mushroom filling, white truffles
Pierre Amadieu La Grangelière Vacqueyras 2010 (76398, $19.95) first seeps as a black and red fruit Texas tisane but before long the toasted oak turns the tea to coffee with a hint of balsamic wood. Complex from AA to ZZ but not over the top. Some astringent, chalky tannin and talcy acidity is conquerable because the fruit is so lush. “Have mercy, a haw, haw, haw, haw, a haw.” 89
The grape: Barbera
The history: One of Barolo’s historic houses, this Barbera represents an avante-garde shift for the house style
The lowdown: Modern but nothing revolutionary about it. Nothing but a little bit of oak
The food match: Osso Bucco, gremolata, polenta
Giacomo Borgogno Barbera D’Alba Superiore 2010 (285486, $19.95, SAQ 10388088, $19.40) screams simply wow, this is not what I expected from the ancient winery. When I think of Borgogno I envision Barolo circa 1985, red rose rusty and opaque like weak tea. This one is purple pretty, black cherry pie yet retains a dry Piemontese attitude in search of braised shanks. Best Barbera. 90
The grape: Tempranillo
The history: Alejandro Fernandez has convinced the world that entry-level can mean $27
The lowdown: This could be Ribera Del Duero’s finest Crianza
The food match: Braised Lamb Shank, shiitake mushrooms
Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2009 (341461, $26.95, SAQ 10273109, $26.35) is the shocking blue Venus of Ribera Del Duero, round, voluptuous, smooth and let me tell you, “she’s got it.” Licorice liqueur, blue plum, citrus and laser acidity for a red wine. Always spot on. 90
Good to go!