Thursday, May 17, 2007

Report from: Sante, International Tasting - May10, 2007

Sante is self-described as “Toronto’s International Wine Celebration”, at which over 90 wineries form all over the world participate. The festival ran May 8-12 and encompassed a large portion of the Bloor-Yorkville area from retailers to restaurants and everything in between, and beyond. The International Tasting, at which all the wineries participate, was held at the Carlu – which is itself an impressive venue for just such an occasion. The Carlu is a majestic old music hall perched 7 floors above Yonge and College, where the likes of Sinatra and Fitzgerald sang; it has now been painstakingly restored to its former glory. I had opportunity to see David Gray there a year or so ago and have to say that the venue, while beautiful, did not lend itself to the over-amplified electric guitars, bass and drums … but I could envision Sinatra swinging in front of a much gentler orchestra; but I digress for the moment, back to Sante. This year’s event focused much of its attention on South Africa, with well over 25 of the attending wineries being from that country. A seminar held before the tasting shed some light on the wine practices of this country and introduced those in attendance to some of their best and unique wines and winemakers. Standouts from this tasting were the Diemersdal “Single Vineyard” Chardonnay ($23.95 – consignment); Graham Beck The Ridge Syrah 2002 ($27.95 – Vintages #607812), and the Leopard Frog Tantra Limited Release 2004 ($43.00 – consignment), which wowed the crowd both on taste and price. A couple of others that were noteworthy: Bellingham Maverick Chenin Blanc 2005 ($20.95 – Vintages #12724) and Lammershoek Pinotage 2005 ($18.15 – Vintages #954594 or consignment). And now on with the rest of the show.

And speaking of the show, why not start with a wine with just that name “The Show” (coming soon to an LCBO near you - $19.95). This wine falls under the Trinchero Family umbrella, has three distinct yet similarly designed labels (for the same wine) and is a fruity number that is ripe for the picking, up I mean: think chocolate and black fruit with a raspberry finish.

Heading back South Africa-way another Bellingham Maverick wine that is really something is the SMV 2003 ($37.75 – coming to Vintages fall 2007 #39412); good fruit, hints of floral and a spicy in the mouth finish. How about one more from the Dark Continent? Something a little different perhaps? Delheim Wines was showcasing a 2006 Gewurztraminer ($17.00 – consignment). Only about 5 wineries in all of South Africa make wine from this varietal, and I can’t imagine anyone making it better. With a floral and lime nose and great peachy flavours; this one is an exquisite surprise.

Three British Columbia wineries came out for the festivities and showed why they are Canada’s most talked about wine region. Burrowing Owl Estate Winery had a 2004 Merlot and 2005 Pinot Gris that showed great fruit characteristics; and their jaw-dropping brochure, with pictures of both their guesthouse and Sonora Room restaurant, give you even more reasons to visit. While at Quail’s Gate they were pouring a Chenin Blanc 2005 ($19) that tasted very Sauvignon Blanc-ish (as it turned out there was 14% S.B. in the blend) and rival any from South Africa I had tried that afternoon. They also poured a 2005 Family Reserve Pinot Noir ($39.99) that was all red fruit with a touch of barely perceptible sweetness through the palate, all ending with an earthy finish. They too provided a brochure with stunning pictures of the estate that simply demanded you visit to truly experience the area. Of course, for years now we have all been inundated with pictures of the newly redesigned Mission Hill Family Estate; maybe you’ve even tasted their wine? (He says sarcastically) On this day, their SLC (Select Lot Collection) wines were on display – these represent the top 5% of their grapes – specially selected to make this line of wine. The SLC Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2004 ($30) had a nose of pure pineapple and taste of freshly canned peaches – lovely; while the SLC 2003 Merlot ($40) showed why B.C. is making a name for themselves with this grape (amongst others): succulent red fruit with chocolate, good tannins and a clean finish – delicious and age-worthy.

From the Great White North we move in a southerly direction until we bump smack dab into Chile, where Concha Y Toro adds another feather into their cap with their Terrunyo series of wine. These wines are made from grapes sourced from one single block from one single vineyard – the 2004 Carmenere ($29.95 – Vinatges #562892) is smooth with good fruit, but the better is the 2004 Syrah ($30.15 – Vintages #18523), which is full-on spicy red fruit with an elegant and refined finish.

California, never a place to take a backseat to anyone when it comes to wine, was not overly represented at Sante, but there were the few and the proud on hand. The Gallo Family showed up touting new wines and old favourites. The Rancho Zabaco (also known as Dancing Bull) line of wines had the Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95 – January 2008) on display, sweet fruit with an interesting bit of spiciness. The Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 ($16.95 – general list) was sporting a new label on the outside, with the same great taste inside: red fruit bombiness and enjoyably so. Finally they poured a wine you’ll have to cross the border to put your hands on, The Frei Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (retail ~ $34-$39) it sports a gold label and single vineyard designation and is a real winner in a California Cab, and I’m sure wherever you are in the U.S. you’d probably find it at a pretty good price. R.H. Phillps was also there, you might recognize their Toasted Head line, the Shiraz is delicious and at $19.95 a good deal to boot, smooth and peppery with red fruit laced all the way through … it spends 8-12 months in barrel, so you’ll find some woodsy-cedary tones in there too. Rounding out the U.S. contingent, Rutherford Hill, who’s $40 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon can be found in Vintages (or so I am told). Combining the goodness of red and black fruit along with some barrel spice, the wine has good heft for the BBQ … and the bottle can be used as a weapon later on if need be – it has some good heft to it too (then again maybe I’m just watching too much CSI).

Ready for dessert, I have two that might be of interest. One will “never be picked up by the LCBO” said the rep, the other isn’t available either, but they are worth searching out when you’re out of the country or ordered through respective agents. The “never” wine is a Domaine Sigalas S.A. 2003 Vinsanto from Santorini in Greece, a sweet dessert wine that parallels Canadian icewine in flavours, but is actually made from dried grapes. This $30 bottle can be bought through the Kolonaki Group. Wonderful peach, toffee and dried-apricot in the mouth, the smells are sweet and delicious, there’s even a twinge of cinnamon in there. The Pineau de Laborie 2003 (Laborie) is $15.95 and can be privately ordered through Maxxium Canada, it’s made from Pinotage grapes and is fortified (Port-like) with cherry, strawberry and toffee flavours – think of a lighter style port, not so syrupy or sticky – but just as delicious. Reminded me of one of my new favourite dessert wines, Mavrodaphne, from Greece, for lightness and sweetness.

Sante once again proves itself to be a wine lovers paradise on an international scale; bringing it the world or wine together right in the heart of Toronto.

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