Sunday, February 24, 2008

Report from: Osoyoos-Larose 2004 Release Lunch/Seminar - February 20, 2008

Excuse me for being a little indelicate here, but after sitting for an hour and a half listening to the principles of Osoyoos-Larose (winemaker Pascal Madevon and technical consultant Alain Sutre) I have but one thing to say - block the kids eye and if you're faint of heart for language skip to the next paragraph: These guys aren’t f**king around out there.

I say that because after listening to everything they had to say – especially Pascal: about the winemakers passion, the vision of the winery, and the plantings (especially the planting) - it was the first thing that came to my mind. The vineyards are planted with so much forethought, where the Merlot was going, where and why put the Cabernet Sauvignon over there, the Malbec, the Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc expansion into the new 20-acre vineyard … you can't help but be impressed. Between soil tests, mountain and shade discussions, and the pictures they showed, you come to realize that they aren’t just planting grapes and hoping for the best – everything has a reason, nothing is left to chance. At one point Pascal said it best, “we try to be perfect in the vineyard, because that is where the wine is made.”

Osoyoos-Larose is the joint venture between Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux (owners of the prestigious Chateau Gruaud-Larose, amongst others) and Vincor of Canada (a Constellation company), started in 1998. This lunch/launch marked the decade long partnership and commitment of these two companies to this project, and also marked their fourth vintage launch in Ontario (2004) – the fifth vintage, 2005 has been limitedly released in BC, while the 2006 is being readied for bottling (June, 2008). The 2007 rests in barrel (and has been for the last two months).

There were so many clichés bandied about today you could have made a fortune had you bet on a number in the high teens, but there were two quotes that really hit home. One, Osoyoos-Larose is a new world wine with roots in the old world ... and it's true - the wines are made using only the five classic Bordeaux varietals and the wines are meant to age and mature once they make their way into bottle. Number two, is the motto of Osoyoos-Larose, which winemaker Pascal Madevon takes credit for, "the discovery of a terroir”. Larose and Vincor had no idea what they were getting into in 1998, and in 2001, when Pascal came on-board; he too had little foresight as to what he was about to embark upon. Ten years later, with Pascal applying for Canadian citizenship and the wines receiving both critical praise and commercial acceptance both here in Canada and worldwide, Pascal preaches the Osoyoos terroir (the mix of soil/relief, climate and people) ... but he admits that even he is still learning what his current 60-acre plot of land (~20 new acres planted in 2006) is capable of.

Interesting facts learned at the event:

- Lake Osoyoos Is the warmest late in Canada.
- Osoyoos is approximately 500km from Vancouver - about a six-hour drive.
- Average rainfall in the Okanagon: 233mm (maximum ~300mm); average rainfall in Bordeaux is approximately 500mm (maximum 1200mm).
- Irrigation is used in the vineyard, but only on the soil; the grapes and leaves are never touched with water, save for when it rains of course.
- In the approximate 19-acre new planting they put about 30,000 vines.
- Cabernet Franc planting has been increased in the Osoyoos vineyard - namely in the new 19-acre plot.
- The original vineyard was planted in 1999, first vintage 2001, first wine released to public in 2004.
- First vintage released (2001) equaled 4,000 cases; current release (2,004) 20,000 cases.

On March 15, 2008 Osoyoos-Larose will launch their 2004 Le Grand Vin into Vintages (tasting notes below), there will be much hype and hoopla to come, as yet again we get to see the results of French expertise on this uniquely Canadian wine.

Tasting the wine …

Osoyoos-Larose 2002 Le Grand Vin

A nose that has developed rosy nuances (very apt for its name) along with plum and some pruneyness - soft and smooth with a little tannin left to see it last a few more years. Has aged well for such young vines.

Osoyoos-Larose 2004 Le Grand Vin ($40.00) – In Vintages March 15, 2008

A nose of black fruit and cocoa; the taste is a little dusty with tannins – while the fruit is still hidden behind all that dustiness - should age well over the next decade.

Osoyoos-Larose 2005 Le Grand Vin (~ $40.00) - has seen limited release in BC

This was my favorite of the Grand Vins ... raspberry, plum and vanilla were most prominent on the nose; while sweet red fruit, and soft silky tannins found a way to bite you on the finish … there were also some floral-perfume notes - it was quite complex on both the nose and in the mouth. A wine that is really coming together.

Osoyoos-Larose 2006 Le Grand Vin ... to be bottled in June 2008

Still in tank, but soon to be bottled – this preliminary tasting shows red and black fruit, along with cinnamon and licorice on the nose - silky tannins, black fruit and spices rest pleasantly in the mouth and even longer on the tongue.

Component tasting 2007 ...

We also got a gander at the 2007 components, namely the Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that will go it into the 2007 wine - they're more than sixteen months away from the final blend and release but let me tell you, it's going to be a great wine.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Report from: Cuvee Media Tasting - February 13, 2008

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of Cuvee. For those not familiar with Cuvee I can sum it up in one quick little sentence: it's the Oscars of the Ontario wine industry. That’s right, Cuvee is all about peer approval and recognition. A bunch of winemakers head into a room, a lot of wine is poured and they choose the best in a variety of categories - sure I've just oversimplified it, but when you boil it down that's what happens. Of course, there's more to Cuvee than just the awards; there's the Gala – where each entering winery gets to bring their wines (usually their best or newest) to showcase to those lucky enough to be in attendance. There's also a great little passport program called Cuvee-en-Route, participating wineries fling open cellar doors and bring out long forgotten or past winning wines - this is the weekend that your past favorites may just be on sale for the last time. So really Cuvee is all about the wine. Details of these programs (Gala and En-Route) can be found at

At the media tasting we got to sample the top scoring wines from 58 wineries ... not all of these wines are winners, but they were the top rated wines by the judging panel for each individual winery. The judging panel is made up entirely of winemakers – the only exception is the ‘independent review panel’ – just to keep things fair. Each winery is allowed to submit three wines into the competition, so the race is tight. I have to admit there were a couple of wines/wineries I was surprised about – not at how good the wines were, but from the opposite end of the spectrum – the two that immediately come to mind were downright awful, how they made it by both panels I’m not sure … but if these were the ‘best’ from these wineries then I believe that these wineries are in some real serious trouble.

But I will not focus on the bad, there is just too much good stuff out there to celebrate – and Cuvee is about the best - and the best really shine bright in this array of wines. Some of these wines I previously reviewed in newsletters, weekly wine notes, podcasts or elsewhere ... the list that follows are my favorites from this year's media tasting - reviews are linked back to the OntarioWineReview website.

Here are my picks, in no particular order (okay maybe alphabetically) ...
* denotes top ten (by me anyway)

Calamus Estate Winery 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
* Cattail Creek Estate Winery 2006 Barrel Fermented Vidal Icewine
Cave Spring Cellars 2006 Gewurztraminer
Colchester Ridge Estate Winery 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
* Creekside Estate Winery 2004 Reserve Meritage
* Featherstone Winery 2007 Gewurztraminer
Fielding Estate Winery 2005 Meritage Reserve
Flat Rock Cellars 2006 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling
* Henry of Pelham 2006 Reserve Riesling
* Hillebrand Estate Winery 2006 Trius White
Inniskillin Wines 2006 Montague Vineyard Chardonnay
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery 2006 Proprietors’ Grand Reserve White Meritage
Lailey Vineyard 2006 Old Vines Chardonnay Niagara River
* Mike Weir Estate Winery 2005 Cabernet Shiraz
Muscedere Vineyards 2004 Vidal Icewine
* Peller Estates Winery Non-Vintage Ice Cuvee Rosé
*Ridgepoint Wines 2006 Riesling
Stonechurch Vineyards 2006 Dry Riesling
* Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2005 Benchmark Red
* Vineland Estates Winery 2005 Elevation Cabernet-Merlot

Good luck to all the entrants ... and in my Gala report we'll see how many winners I picked.

Also, at this year's tasting, in honor of the twentieth anniversary, there were a few past winning wines showcased ... I highlight the of a few of them below:

Cave Spring Cellars 2003 off-dry Riesling ... (winner Cuvee 2,005)
- Has achieved very good petrol development while still maintaining peach and apricot fruit with very good acidity ... this one's ageing beautifully.

Jackson-Triggs Niagara 2001 Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Methode Classique ... (winner Cuvee 2005)
- This sparkling wine has maintained all that is good about bubbly: lemon, citrus, yeasty qualities, great mouthfeel, persistent bubbles and a lingering apples-lemon finish.

Peninsula Ridge 2002 Merlot Reserve ... (winner Cuvee 2006)
- Here's a wine that’s aging exceedingly well – smoky oak, black fruit, still spicy with robust tannins - if they entered it again they could probably still win.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Report from: Return to Terroir – Saturday February 9, 2008

I won't go as far as saying it was a veritable who's who of the Ontario wine world, but there sure we're a lot of recognizable faces about. John Szabo was hard at "work" tasting the multitude of wines, as was Michael Vaughn, Graham Duncan (of Now Magazine) and David Lawrason, who was so busy I never saw any sign of him, though people said he was there. Beppi Crosariol (from the Globe and Mail) questioned winery principals with tape recorder in hand. At one point, my buddy and fellow wine-writer Dean Tudor leaned in to me and asked, "Have you tried the cheese?" To which I replied, "Have you tried the chicken?" (Maple smoked chicken from Beretta Organic Farms in Kingsville - outstanding). The boys from Tawse were there (winemakers Brian and Paul), so was Norman Hardie (Norman Hardie winery in Prince Edward County), Jens Gemmrich (of Ontario's only organic winery FrogPond Farm) and Elena Galey-Pride of Southbrook, who had been sitting in lectures since ten that morning (it was four in the afternoon when we bumped into each other), we had a dizzying conversation about vineyards and wineries and how each gets classified as either organic or bio-dynamic (Southbrook will become Ontario's third certified organic vineyard later this year - August 2008, if I got my dates straight). Robert Paul, Sommelier of Eastdell, pointed me in the direction of his favouite wine, and I returned the favour an hour later to Warren Porter of IronGate/Sommelier Service. It’s amazing any of us got any tasting done with all the hellos and handshaking we had to do.

But enough about the “who” … it’s the “what” that has brought us all together. The words organic and biodynamic have been flying around like crazy of late. You see them in articles, in Vintages magazine and they are heard on the lips of winemakers and winery owners everywhere ...what does it all mean? Well in its essence it's about the “return to terroir": allowing the grapes to grow naturally, free from pesticides or other man-made interference ... bio-dynamics is the extreme – while organic is the umbrella it falls under. In an essay, written by Nicolas Joly called "Is Biodynamic Wine-Growing A Myth or Reality?" Nicolas sums up the idea of organic/bio-dynamic wines like this, "… the wine needs to remain in good health and to manifest its appellation. This explains why more and more choose biology or biodynamics as the only method which effectively links the vine to its environment."

In speaking with Jens of FrogPond, he said the one stumbling block for organic wines is the sulfur issue - organic wines have been given a bad rap because the earlier wines to enter the marketplace did not use sulfur/sulphites in the wines ... sulfur helps to stabilize the wine and makes it transportable, "It's fine if you are just storing it yourself on your property, but it won't make the long journey to market." Jens told me a story about a Riesling he made, in the early days, without sulfur, he shipped it off to his family in Germany, "It was vinegar by the time it got their," he said, "sulfur is natural, it comes from nature, so it should be deemed organic." A notion echoed by Southbrook’s Galey-Pride.

So, after all this talking you're probably wondering how these wines tasted. Well, I have a list of favorites below to share with you; but let me say that organic wine comes at a price, bottles range from $15.00 (rare) to $200+. I never got to the wines in the upper price range, though Dean Tudor encouraged me to get "over there" and try them, I still have no idea where he was pointing - besides I got waylaid at the Zind Humbrecht table. Also, at the event, I noticed a plethora of wineries from France, where this type of winemaking/growing has been practiced for years; of the 46 wineries in attendance, 31 were of French origin – Italy was next with five, Spain four and the U.S. three – Australia, Austria and New Zealand made up the rest.

Coming soon ... (two to look for)

You've probably noticed your Vintages magazine has had its share of organic wines popping up here and there … and there’s more on the way. In August 2008, look for Domaine Cazes 2005 Ego, a well priced ($15.00) fruit forward beauty. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre made completely in stainless steel. Nose and taste were dominated by red fruits with black licorice and sour cherry on the finish, very elegant, with a bit of an herb quality to it. Cazes 2005 Alter is available through private order only, it sees barrel aging for about one year and adds vanilla to the above mix.

Also coming through Vintages, in October 2008, will be this incredible wine from Montirius, their 2005 Vacqueyras Le Clos ($29.95). Le Clos is an 8 hectare vineyard planted with 50% Syrah and 50% Grenache (the blend of the wine is made up the same way) - and the vines are eighteen years old (or was it 80? – with the din of the crowded room behind me I couldn’t make it out – but 18 sounds right). The vineyard itself is surrounded by a ten-hectare oak forest - this is a perfect example of terroir getting into both the grapes and the resulting wine. All stainless steel made, though you'd swear, upon tasting, you got woodsy tannins – this comes from the surrounding forest, which also imparts some forest floor character to the wine. The smells are beautiful: blackberry, cassis and that forest floor, previously mentioned - while in the mouth good firm tannins and dark fruit ... it's a beauty. Also from Montirius are the Gigondas (80% Grenache / 20% Mourvedre - fruity and lush) and the Garrigues (70% Grenache / 30% Syrah – great fruit and pepper).

Favs ...

There was no way I was gonna taste all the wines, so I had to pick and choose my way through the show. A real fav turned out to be Tres Sabores (three flavors), from California. There I met owner and winemaker Julie Johnson - she talked about "winemaker’s passion", and it really showed in her bottles. Limited to between 200 cases (Cabernet Sauvignon) and 1000 cases (Porque No, a blend of Zin and Syrah). This Zinfandel focused winery was my hit of the show. The 500 case, $39.00, 2004 Rutherford Zinfandel spends a year and a half in French oak and has a great red fruit and red licorice nose, followed on the palate with sweet red fruit, plums and a bit of jamminess (but in a good way). The “Porque No?” ($30.00) is an 80/15/5 blend of Zin, Petit Syrah and Petit Verdot - lots of smoky red fruit on the nose, with a black fruit and pepper taste. The Cab Sauv ($57 - $64) has deep rich black fruit and thick tannins, there’s even a bit of a floral element on the finish. All these wines were fantastic.

My favorite white came from Domaine Marcel Diess of Alsace - the Burg 2004 ($63) is a blend of all fourteen grape varieties they grow, it's beautiful nose sucked me in and its complexity in the mouth kept me re-tasting over and over, I just kept picking up more and more flavors. Their 2004 Altenberg de Bergheim ($93) is another fourteen grape blend, but this time all the grapes have been botrytis affected, so there's tasty sweetness derived from the tropical fruits and some spicy-ness. The Mambourg 2004 ($109) is a blend of about seven or eight grapes, all with the word “Pinot” in front (Gris / Blanc / Noir / Meunier …) fruity and minerally this one was delicious as well as unique (all wines private order only).

Affordable White …

Vinexx Representative, Steve Drotos, dragged me over to his table (well, he asked really nicely anyway) to try the Albet i Noya 2007 Xarel-Lo Classic ($15.00 - private order). This one was not only well priced, but was fruity and appealing with lots of tropical and peach notes - nice for summer. By the same producer (in red this time), the 2005 La Milana ($29.00) is made from Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Caladoc (a crossing of Grenache and Malbec) … fourteen months in new French barrels has given this wine a spicy characteristic that melds well with the fruit.

A Little Chunk of Land ...

Telmo Rodriguez, of Compania de Vinos Telmos Rodriguez (I suspect you can make the connection here), introduced me to a bottle of 2004 Altos de Lanzaga ($92.50) from the Rioja. But “Rioja is too big a designation,” he explained, "these grapes [100% Tempranillo] are grown on a specific 4-hectare piece of land in the village of Lanzaga ... true village terroir." Only 4000 bottles were made of this sweet-oaked, smooth red and black-fruited beauty.

Others of Interest ...

Castagna Vineyard, the only Australian representative, showed off a few wines. One, the 2004 Genesis Syrah ($94.20 - #53298) - had a sweet and spicy note with a touch of floral (I’m guessing there’s Viognier in here). The 2005 Un Segreto - Sangiovese / Syrah (109.95) - was spicy with some anise and minty qualities, though the red fruit finish was the clincher.

Chateau Romanin, from Provence, had a 2004 La Chapelle Romanin ($21.00 - private order) - made from primarily Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon with a bunch of minor grapes thrown in for good measure. It had a nutty flavor and smell that probably comes from the almond and olive trees that also grow on the property – peculiar in a red, but not unappealing. Delicious actually.

Domaine du Traginer 2004 Cuvee Capates ($70.00) is 50% Syrah and the other 50% is made up of Grenache, Carignane and Mourvedre, great red berry nose, firm tannins, black fruits and cedar in the mouth.

Four Deadly Zind(s) ...

Final stop of the day was the Zind-Humbrecht table. Located in Alsace, you've probably seen the Zind name on the shelves of the LCBO. They poured four wines from 2005, and all were amazing, if unpronounceable: Riesling Gueberschwihr ($39.85 - #686 246) – peachy, green apple, floral finish; Gewurztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim ($43.60 - #993352) – floral and spicy with rose petals galore, and oh what a taste; Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos-Saint-Urbain ($89.25 - #958918) - peachy, appley, touch of citrus, semi-sweet, great in the mouth; and finally, the piece-de-resistance, their Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Vendage Tardive (late harvest - $57.00 - #70250 – 375ml) – in one word, stunning.

This day improved my opinion of organic wines; up until now 95 percent of what I had tried had been rubbish ... let's hope this trend (of good organic wine) continues. Am I convinced? I’m getting there.