Thursday, May 17, 2007

Report from: The Lifford Grand Tasting - May 9, 2007

It was once said to me about the Lifford Grand Tasting, “there are more better wines here then there are at some other shows all year.” That statement, said to me by a noted wine expert, was my introduction to this tasting; held at the Eglinton Grand Theatre. The venue was elegant: the wide staircases that took you from one level to another, the large open foyer, the balcony (where the silent auction and oyster bar were held), the main level (where a huge groaning board of cheese was on display, courtesy of Alex Farms Cheeses), everything just screamed elegance. You also had the who’s who of the wine world in attendance to sample some of the finest wines that enter the Ontario market. Writers, agents, winemakers, winery owners, restauranteurs from the finest to the newest – all to see what Lifford’s is bringing in: what’s new and what’s hot. Then of course, there’s the wine …

There were approximately 250 wines out for tasting on this Tuesday afternoon. With so many wines I must admit that I did not get around to taste them all; below is but a smattering of those I found worth mentioning, and some that were mentioned to me.

Argentina has shown great promise over the past decade and that promise is coming to fruition. First, they are making their name with a signature grape “Malbec: (much in the same way New Zealand has signatured Sauvignon Blanc as their own). Second, the winemaking practices have become more modern and the styles more consumer friendly. Lifford represents Humberto Canale wine here in Ontario, and sometimes you can find the wines through vintages. Of course, the two most interesting and appealing are private order only: the nicely spiced and black fruited Gran Reserve Malbec 2005 ($65) which had quite the lengthy tannin-rich finish; and the finesse-full 2005 Gran Reserve Pinot Noir ($65). You would not expect the cool climate loving Pinot to thrive in the hot climate of Argentina, but if the Chileans can do it, so can the Argentineans. Red fruit nose with a lovely tannin structure and mouthfeel – not the usual jammy, over-ripe fruit bombs you’d find in Pinots from this type of climate.

Speaking of jammy, hot climate and South American countries, Lifford carries two well-known names from Chile. The real-up-and-comer is Vina La Rosa from the Central Valley – these wines are occasionally available thru Vintages at a very reasonable $12.99 and represent good value, as many Chilean wines do. The 2006 Merlot is full of yummy red fruit while the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is all black fruit and licorice with a cedary finish. For the record, the other name is Echeverria.

New Zealand’s Craggy Range showed more than just the usual Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir that the Kiwi’s have become famous for. Their 2005 Sophia ($69.95) is a meritage blend of merlot (62%), cab franc (34%) and cab sauv (4%) – a full-on black fruit flavour with chocolate undertones. Their Te Kaho is a blend that contains an extra element found in the traditional-Bordeaux blend, namely Malbec. The high merlot content (77%) in the wine is supported by sauv (11%), franc (6%) and the aforementioned malbec (6%) … darker fruit and cedar characteristics with a nice tannin seam which is not too heavy on the palate, more time in bottle will do this one some good.

Another country that is really emerging as a wine powerhouse to be reckoned with is South Africa. After years of inconsistency we are seeing a resurgence and vigour in wine making. Two wineries that showed that were Hidden Valley and La Motte. Hidden Valley poured a good value 2006 Agenda Chenin Blanc ($14.99 – Vintages #15446) with floral, citrus and pear on the nose and good crisp acidity. Their 2004 Pinotage ($19.95 – Vintages #655639) was quite nice for a grape that gets very little respect outside of South Africa; a great start with dark fruits and spicy licorice, the finish is somewhat tarry but still quite lovely.

From another part of South Africa, Franschhoek, La Motte had some amazing wines. This multi-award winning winery has a pure Bordeaux blend (cab sauv – 54%, merlot – 30%, petit verdot, malbec, cab franc) with a minimum 10 year ageing potential; great fruit, mainly cherry, some chocolate, hints of tobacco and seasonings, a good layer of tannin and acidity finished it off. This wine was the best value of the show, $24.95, and could very well be selling for double the price … available through consignment only. Their 2004 Shiraz ($22.95 – Vintages #652685) is still available in a few LCBO’s; it’s a spicy, peppery value worth picking up.

My final two wines are from the U.S. of A … Marietta Cellars has a Zinfandel, Petit Syrah, Carignane blend that is quite appealing, and so is the price, $22.95. Sweet fruit, tobacco, cherry and some rum (a hallmark of zin) aromas. They call it Old Vine Red; it’s a non-vintage wine that is assigned a lot number every year. This version was Lot 42 (the next version will be Lot 43) and is a different blend every year.

Finally, that apocalyptic director Francis Ford Coppola has made more than a few classic wines in his day, as well as films … his Rubicon Estate CASK Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 is lovely and velvety in the mouth, cherry fruit filled with touches of vanilla and incredibly smooth … it’s a beauty … and for only $110 a bottle can be yours. The Rubicon Estate 2002 Rubicon at $175 a bottle adds the extra dimension of chocolate to the mix.

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