Thursday, January 31, 2008

Niagara Icewine Festival January 26 and 27, 2008

Rating the wineries ...
I toured around the Icewine Festival Wineries using the passports to get us a shared tasting at ten wineries – with 2 passports between us we are able to share in ten “pairing” (5 for each passport). The passport cost is $30.00, therefore break even value for passport holders is $6.00 (30 divided by five = $6.00) ... but if you were not a passport holder you had to pay $10.00 for each the tasting/pairing. Here is how my ten wineries stacked up, in reverse order from worst to first. Take note that I give two points just for pouring icewine - the rest is up to the thought and/or imagination the individual winery’s put into their pairing.

10) Inniskillin (0 / 10) - what a snafu of this was - Inniskillin is renovating their old tasting bar and so everything is being held in the new space. Wall-to-wall people, nobody directing traffic flow ... folks were lined up three deep at the tasting bar and ten deep at the icewine pairing station. The pairing sounded and looked delicious, but we never got close enough to try it. We waited ten minutes in line and got nowhere. Some, like ourselves, ended up walking out muttering to themselves what a nightmare this was ... considering that this was the second weekend of the festival you'd think somebody would've work this out better, like filtering people off to a back room. Inniskillin, a usual favorite, gets a big fat goose egg for laying their lack of organization and poor traffic management on the passport holding patrons. They pissed off a lot of people on this one. Inniskillin left us feeling like the bottles on the left, very cold.

9) Konzelmann (3 / 10) - resting on the laurels of their Canadian Wine Awards win for best Icewine (Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine), they poured this delicacy into a tiny edible dark chocolate cup, twice the size of a standard thimble ... the wine was delicious, but $10.00 for that, you've got to be kidding me .

8) 20 Bees (5 / 10) - the first time they've participated - the brochure made the pairing sound enticing "Icewine Stingers”, like some kind of cocktail - but in fact it was a pairing of various nibblies paired up with their red and white icewine: almonds, dried fruit, wild boar sausage, whipped cream cheese with sour cherry topping on a cracker. E for effort on this one, but a good first effort, so I’m willing to cut them some slack.

7) Rockway Glen (6 / 10) ... The icewine / icewine truffle combo is pretty standard fare, but Rockway took it one step further by paring their 2001 Select Late Harvest and their 2001 Icewine with a homemade truffle, which had the consistency of, and tasted like some of the best fudge I've ever had - yum.

6) Lakeview Cellars (7 / 10) ... innovation came in the form of a half cup of butternut squash soup paired with Gewurztraminer Icewine -not sure that the pairing worked but the soup was delicious.

5) Strewn (7.5 / 10) ... by all rights, and by my two point icewine pouring criteria I mentioned at the top of this article, Strewn should've picked up eight points -they poured four icewines: 2006 Riesling, 2003 Vidal, 2004 Cabernet Franc, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - of which the Franc won out with the Riesling a close second. But while the amount poured was substantial there was nothing to put in your mouth, other than the wine, a cracker, piece of bread or cube of cheese would've been welcome.

4) Jackson-Triggs (8 / 10) ... if you count everything to J-T was doing they’d have rated a ten out of ten, but in giving my score I could only consider the Discovery Passport pairing: Ermite blue cheese on a crostini topped with tomato jelly and an Icewine truffle, all paired up with their 2006 Cabernet Franc Icewine - both good pairings and delightfully playful in the mouth. They also had a library tasting of their 1995 Vidal Icewine for an additional $5.00 ... a sizeable Smores snack and 2 icewines sampled for $10.00 ... and/or a platter of gourmet nibblies paired with either three Reds/whites /or Icewines for $15.00; you could have spend a good two hours wandering around and dropped $30.00 in samples and wine. Everything we tried was wonderful and those platters are available year round (some are standard while others are seasonal).

3) Coyote's Run (9 / 10) ... count on Coyote’s Run to give you something truly unique: crostini topped with Ermite blue cheese, black fig and drizzled with honey - sounds odd but tasted delicious, paired with their 2003 Icewine - sad part was two bites and it's gone.

2) Fielding Estate (9.5 / 10) ... in actual fact I have Fielding tied for first place, but when push came to shove, our winner won out for a reason. Fielding provided a choice of 2006 Riesling Icewine or 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon table wine (for those not into the sweet stuff) paired with the beef "stew" - but to me stew is thick and this was really more like a beef soup. But what made it worth its $9.50 was the bowlful of soup you received and the good-sized hunk of baguette they served with it … really this was more like a lunch than a sample.

1) Reif Estate (10 / 10) ... had you stopped by Reif for desert your day would've been complete. Two words describe their offering: decadent and delicious ... the Ermite blue cheese showed up again, but this time it was a fair-sized wedge served without any fixins’, and right alongside was a toonie-width, inch high wheel of blueberry cheesecake wrapped in a vanilla crumble - all paired with their 2006 Vidal icewine to; sure you had to line up for it – but the line moved quick and the two minute wait was worth it - heavenly.

Bottom line: Fielding for lunch, Reif for dessert, Coyote’s Run for snack, and J.T. for everything else.

Now, let's fix this passport program – article coming in the February 14th newsletter.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

2005 Bordeaux Tasting - January 22, 2008

This may seem like a crass statement that I am about to make, but I’m about 30 minutes away from taking the most expensive pee of my life. Let me explain.

I have just returned from Vintages (as in the LCBO) 2005 Bordeaux Tasting event where I sampled some of, if not most of, the great Cru Bordeauxs and some lesser houses: I tried Chateau Angelus ($391.70); Chateau Troplong-Mondot ($329.00); Chateau la Conseillante ($309.00) and Chateau Pape Clement ($319.00) – all wines, because of their price, I felt the need to swallow. I also enjoyed some of the lesser priced wines, flying in the face of a recent study that showed people like wine based on its price (the higher the price the better they liked it), because I feel I have an outside chance of buying them one day – why fall in love with something you can’t have. I thought the Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot ($114.05 - #580274) had a wonderful mouthfilling smoothness with lots of blackberries and raspberries. The Chateau Figeac ($173.55 - #580381) had a good nose and beautiful sweet red and black fruit flavours in the mix. The Chateau Grand-Mayne (#580407), which seemed like an absolute steal for this room at $66.45, with its lovely red fruit on both the nose and palate with its black licorice finish. The La Tour Figeac ($54.55 - #567495), a 75-25 blend of Merlot and Franc smelt of cherries and tobacco with sweet vanilla oak on the finish. The Troplong-Mondot ($329.00 - #567537), mentioned previously, was a real beaut with red fruit, sweet herbs and vanilla on the sniffer and elegant mouth presence that started smooth, tightened in the middle and finished woody. The Chateau Clinet at $185.00 (#567545) was a tasty sucker, most notably for its red licorice smells. The La Conseillante, previously mentioned, ($309.00 - #580480) was a massive, spicy, black fruit dominated number that had plenty of woody tannins and a red fruit middle – my notes say, “this one’s nice” – it had better be for that kind of scratch.

There was Chateau Tertre ($83.00 - #580654) that smacked around my olfactory lobes with black raspberries then proceeded to put sweet vanilla and herbs on my palate … I would be very happy to drink this one right now, if you’ll throw in the extra 63 bucks. The Chateau Kirwan I can dream about owning for at least the next few days … no price listed in catalogue and “currently not available for purchase” – what are the chances it’s under $20 for this red fruit and cinnamon nosed beauty with the spicy-herbed taste … I didn’t think so.

The Talbot ($71.40 - #580787) showed good promise as a cellar candidate; the D’Armailhac ($62.50 - #580811) was juicy and smooth with a touch of tannin; and the Pichon-Longueville ($197.35 - #580878) had a bunch of cedar on the nose that didn’t follow through on the palate – that’s good because I didn’t feel like sipping, or chewing, on a stave … instead the wood translated into sweet vanilla and red fruit flavours.

Finally, the most appropriately named wine of the afternoon was from Chateau Ormes-de-Pez ($46.95 - #580910) … this one was sweet with vanilla and cherry, red fruit and I just kept taking sip after sip – it was like back in the day with my Popeye Pez dispenser loaded with cherry Pez candy … popping brick after brick of those sweet treats.

Speaking of sweet I journeyed into the Sauternes section where d’Yquem was not, and why should they be, we all know what they taste like, right? I sampled the Chateau Coutet ($39.70 - #500702 – 375ml), which was stupendous with tropical fruit and wildflower honey on the nose … the palate was reminiscent of dried fruit dipped in honey. Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau ($31.75 - #500397 – 375ml) added lilacs and lilies to their mix of dried and tropical fruits. Chateau Guiraud ($45.00 - #533562 – 375ml) had a very distinctive kiwi smell sprinkled in-and-amongst pineapple. And then there was the Chateau Suduiraut ($114.00 - #580993) which had all the above with citrus and a creamed honey sensation in the mouth.

Alright, so after all that I figure I have well over $500 worth of wine ready to be expelled from my body, and as Tony Aspler once said to me (and I’m paraphrasing here), ‘no matter how much you drink, it’s all oui-oui in the end’ – so now if you’ll excuse me …

Sunday, January 20, 2008

London Wine & Food Show – January 19, 2008

In speaking with an attending winery owner/winemaker, about this year’s London Wine and Food Show, he said, “Good show on the weekend - possibly one of the best that I have been involved with in the past few years.” That’s pretty high praise for a show in its 3rd year – but well deserved praise indeed. Over 90 exhibitors packed into the spacious Western Fair Progress Building – and although attendance doubled this year, according to organizers, it still felt like you could move around from booth to booth without the squeeze of, say, the Gourmet (Toronto) or Ottawa shows. And the array of attendees is amazing: consider that London is the half-way point between Toronto and Windsor and you get the best of both worlds meeting right here in the middle: Niagara wineries, Lake Erie North Shore wineries, Toronto breweries – local breweries and fruit wineries galore (there are easily half a dozen within a 45 minute drive of London).

Of course, anyone who has been to a wine show knows its not all about wine which is why they tack on the food part ... the local flair of London’s thriving food scene is on full display – from one of my favourite Mexican restaurants (Under the Volcano) to a new favourite place for spring rolls (the vegetarian restaurant, Zen Garden); the booth where I learned all about soy beans last year (Bean Ladies), to the ladies making purple shirts from grape juice (Original Grape Shirt Company); even last year’s best lasagna presenters were there showing off a new delicacy from their tea room. There were also travel services and tourism boards. They were all there; smiles at the ready for a grand old time – and they got one. And the capper was the Grape Guy (yours truly) who spoke to an over-packed house on the Saturday night … sorry to have gone overtime folks … but we all enjoyed an over-abundance of great wines.

Next year around this time, let me give you a piece of friendly and helpful advice - think about packing your bags and heading off to London (if you live in London or an hour away, lucky you) to take in the show of shows – “the best that I have been involved with in the past few years” my winemaker friend said – and as the old saying goes – he’s just said a mouthful.

New Discovery (food) …

Zen Gardens spring rolls … these little suckers sustained me throughout the day. I just love a good spring roll – or is it the plum sauce?

New Discovery (wine) …

Stop the presses and run out to you nearest LCBO for a bottle of La Puerta 2007 Shiraz ($8.35 - #614636) from Argentina – this smooth drinking dark chocolate, black fruit with a touch of spice wine is ready to go right now and at a price you should be buying by the case. Now here’s a little tip – price goes up by a dollar in February so stock up now. Look for the La Puerta 2005 Bonarda Reserva coming to Vintages August 8, 2008, a $13.95 value that taste more like it should be $25 … smooth, slightly sweet tasting with a good dry finish – spicy with just a touch of black fruit – yum.

Old Favourite Making New Friends …

Rush Creek Winery’s Decadence (strawberry chocolate wine) – was the last wine I poured during my seminar and was a huge hit around the room. If you haven’t tried this one you owe it to yourself to buy a few bottles – only available at the winery, but it’s worth the drive to Aylmer for this $10 miracle of modern winemaking. Could very well be the best chocolate infused wine Ontario makes. And if you’re making the trip check out Rush Creek’s new Ebony (black currant dry table wine) – awesome.

Other Wines of Note …

Oracle 2007 Shiraz ($10.90 - #36772 – South Africa) – the black fruit, raspberry, and licorice nose is followed by chocolate, red berry and a vanilla finish in the mouth.

Fat Bastard 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.90 - #28506 – France) – the newest edition to the bastard series (Nov. 2007 release) is a red fruit dominated easy sipper.

Rubesco ($13.85 - #41947 – Italy) – a light fruity red with a touch of cedar and not overly tannic … quite quaffable even.

Ontario Wines …

Look for the Sprucewood 2005 Meritage ($25.00) and the Aleksander 2006 Riesling ($12.95) reviewed in full on the OntarioWineReview website.