Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Report from: Uncover Australia - Sept. 27, 2006

On Wednesday September 27, I attended the Uncover Australia Event at The MaRS Centre in Toronto, to find out what I could uncover about Australian wines. And man are the Australians doing it right – but I bet you already knew that because Canada has recently become Australia’s third largest export market; which means we Canadians are drinking a lot of Australian wine.

Over 70 wineries were on hand, pouring over 400 different wines, everything from Shiraz (as you’d expect) to Tempranillo (?) and Zinfandel (??) in reds and Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, Chardonnay in whites. The show was spread out over 2 levels and colour coded to help designate the different regions of Australia: New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

Highlights of the show were as follows.

Best Value White: Redbank “The Long Paddock” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($12.80) available now at the LCBO in the general list section. Great grapefruit and gooseberry nose, low in acidity but with great tart and sweet fruit in the mouth. Like a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade (you know the ones they make at those summertime festivals in the big lemon stands), only better.

Best Value Red: Nepenthe 2004 “Tryst” Cabernet Tempranillo Zinfandel … at $13.95 it’s a steal for those who like their wines with some spicy nuances in both the nose and the taste. I’m told it will be available in Vintages come the new year, so keep your eyes open for it. Nepenthe is slowly becoming one of my favourite Australian producers. Their ‘Rogue’ was in the Vintages section a few months back and is a delicious blend of Cabernet-Merlot-and-Shiraz … we should see it again next year.

Other wines of note are:
The Banrock Station 2002 Reserve Petit Verdot ($18.95) – this one should be available in Vintages spring of 2007; not just a curiousity, but a very good wine for everyday occasions.
Speaking of being curious, for those curious about Australian Zinfandel there’s a wonderful Nepenthe version that was in Vintages these past few months, a little pricey at $24.95 but quite tasty. Keep checking back as the LCBO should be ordering more.
Pangkerra 2005 Grenache, which should see Vintages’ shelves come February 2007 and is priced reasonably at $18.95. It’s smooth and easy drinking and ready for consumption now.

Finally, there were two sweet wines that were absolutely stunning. Now I have to admit when I think of Australia I do not think about sweet wine. Where we here in Ontario make our most famous sweet wine based on the cold temperature (icewine) the Australians use Noble Rot (Botrytis affected berries) … those in the know, know that this makes a very intense flavourful wine when done right; if you do not know, I would suggest finding yourself some of these wines and really enjoy something special. First there’s the Wolf Blass 2004 Gold Label Botrytis Affected Semillon ($19.95) – sweet apricot and apple with a honeyed fruit finish … it’s available right now in Vintages. The second, and my favourite wine of the afternoon event, will be in Vintages February of 2007 for the same price as the Blass, but with more complex candied fruit and honey flavours. Lillypilly 2002 Noble Blend ($19.95) is 80% Sauvignon Blanc; 10% Semillon; 5% Muscat of Alexandria and 5% Riesling – all having been affected by Botrytis and the complexity of both the nose and taste is amazing. Unfortunately, totally indescribable unless you’ve tasted it, especially, in the confines of this small, but growing, article. The best things I can say are that it lingers long and luscious in the mouth … a wine remembered long after the last sip has been taken and the bottle totally consumed. Come February 7th you’ll be seeing me lined up outside the door of my local LCBO location first thing in the morning – it’s that darn good. I may not even share it with anyone.

Australia is doing some amazing stuff beyond the usual Shiraz and have been for years. You’ll notice in this report I did not mention any Shiraz’s; that’s because we all know the Australians are doing that right – it’s what they made their name from – I was interested to see what else they were doing right … and as this show showed, Australia is a lot more than just the one trick pony of Shiraz, a lot more.
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Thursday, September 7, 2006

Report from: Shores of Erie Wine Festival - Sept. 7, 2006

The weekend of September 7 thru 9 saw 12 wineries, and approximately 12 restaurants, get together to celebrate The Shores of Erie International Wine Festival ... what they lacked in size they made up for in fun and frolic - what a wonderful time.

The setting is Historic Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario, overlooking the Detroit river; and while I wouldn't jump in for a swim, the scenery, especially the sunsets (that set off colours of purple, orange and red) and the big ships passing by, made for an ideal setting to share a glass (or bottle) with friends and complete strangers ... who soon became fast friends. I shared a bottle of Merlot with some tough-looking biker-types from Lasalle (very close to Amherstburg I was told), who were not only some of the most wonderfully congenial wine lovers I have spent time with - but they were serious enough about their wine to bring their own glassware (Riedels, Spiegelau, Ravencroft, etc.).

On the wine scene, old guards like Carlo Negri, of Colio, poured his bold and brawny ’02 CEV Reserve Merlot to great acclaim, alongside new kids like Colchester Ridge, who’s Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot is wonderful to sip and savour. Restaurants served up everything from soup to nuts, egg rolls to decadent desserts, vegetarian fare to carnivore extravaganzas.

Chefs and guest speakers, of whom I was one, gave demonstrations and lectures to interested, small (about 50 people) on-lookers … while the bands on the main stage played cover tunes from the likes of Steely Dan, John Mayer, R.E.M. and countless other musical icons.

30 minutes of heavy rain Saturday afternoon forced people to take cover under the tents – where winemakers and restaurant staff made them feel welcome with more wine and food while they waited out the downpour. When it was all done, and the rain was just down to a spitting, all emerged to head back to the benches and grass to resume the party.

This annual event is sure to continue – I was very glad, not only to attend, but be a part of it. Next year, may I suggest making the trek down to enjoy this wonderful, fun-filled event, which will be celebrating year number 3 … bigger and better I’m sure.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Report from: Pelee Island, Sept. 6, 2006

So I ask you, have you ever been to Pelee Island? Truth is there ain’t much to do there, except maybe walk around, enjoy nature, have a glass of wine and slow down for a day or two; which is exactly what we did when a friend and I were invited over by the Pelee Island Winery to see the pavilion and the rest of the island.

We boarded the ferry in the middle of the afternoon on a late summer day in early September. We were lucky enough to get our car on what could have quite possibly been a packed ferry (this time of year sees a lot of winery machinery, that is needed to harvest the grapes, making the trek across); but lucky for us the grapes weren’t quite ready to be picked yet. So the winery cancelled their spots, making room for us. The ferry ride itself is about and hour and a half, and we sat on deck where the sun beat down on us and the largest flock of seagulls I have ever seen followed us at least half the way there.

We were greeted by Melissa inside the Pavilion, but before that we were greeted by some lush greenery and beautiful flora (unfortunately the visit did not provide much in the way of fauna) in the way of flowering plants, roses and bushes. The gardens at the pavilion are exquisite, and as you make your way to the front of the building you’ll see rows of grapes, clearly labeled, showing you the different varieties growing on the island: Riesling, Gerwurztraminer, and Chardonnay to Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. It’s interesting to see and touch the grapes that go into your favourite wine.

The Pavilion is a large open concept building – so you are walking into one large room, but there are a number of sections you can visit within. The tasting bar and wine shop are to your right and there are a variety of museum pieces about the place (most to your left) that chart the history of not just the Pelee Island Winery, but also winemaking in the area. Walking around was informative and enjoyable.

If you feel like lunch, take a break in the Pavilion’s back gardens and picnic area. Your meal is grilled up to your specifications, because you become the grill-master. In the courtyard there are a number of tables and BBQs. There are two stations clearly marked that you can visit: The “Deli Hut” – where you pick out your meats and cheeses to grill, your sides and your drinks; then it’s off to the “BBQ Hut” – where you take over one of the many grills that reside at the end of the courtyard. It’s a wonderful concept and a novel concept for guests to make their own lunch. When I asked Melissa why they organized it this way she said, “there’s not much else to do on the island, so you’d better learn to slow down – you’ve got lots of time.” Unless of course you’re trying to catch your ferry back to civilization.

I would recommend picking up a bottle of wine to enjoy with you meal. Currently the ‘05 Franc is a personal favourite. Grab some meat and kick back for a bit, it’s a nice way to get away from it all and surround yourself in a blanket of restfulness – too much of this would drive me to drink, but then again I would be in the right place for that too.
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