Friday, May 30, 2008

Report from ... Made in Italy (3 of 4) – May 29, 2008

The Italians are at it again. It’s been about a month and a half since the Italians had us over for a party (April 10 & April 14), and this time they go all Newfoundland on us by throwing a kitchen party at Dekla Kitchens (1220 Yonge Street) – conveniently located across from the Summerhill LCBO (for potential purchases after the tasting). This is a cool locale with lots of great kitchen set ups and things for storage and the bathroom (all made in Italy) – you have to check out the faux-wood tub that ergonomically fits your body and the water pours in from these holes in the front – too cool … but I digress.

Tonight’s theme was sparkling wine: 2 Proseccos, a Rosé and a red sparkler. There were also the usual foods that would be served with this wine: meats, breads and about a dozen or so cheeses. As usual Steve Thurlow acted as MC for the evening and gave a 10-minute talk on the wines we were about to try. The difference this time was that they waited till after he spoke to open and pour the wines – which means people hung around for 30-45-minutes stuffing their faces with nothing but water to drink – not sure that was the wisest move, cause by the time Steve got up to talk some folks were ready to lynch him for making them wait.

Finally, at a 4 wine tasting the wines have to be very well selected … while all fit the bill of bubbly one was too grapey (the red), one was bland (one of the Preseccos), one was soapy (the rosé), while only the Vino dei Poeti Brut Prosecco ($15.35 - #897702) really rang my bell. Light and fruity with lemon and apple notes, slight hint of sweetness with a lingering bubble – two glasses went down way too easily of this 11% solution – very nice.

See you at the next one … which may or may not be the last of them. There is a rumour that there are ten of these gatherings, that’s 6 more than the original 4 I was told about.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Report from ... Albert Bichot Tasting - Thursday, May 22 2008

The King is dead. Long live the King. Of the seven wines I have consigned to purchase or private ordered in the past year one has been from Chile, two from the United States, a Sekt from Germany and three have been French ... that's just a personal aside, but also a comment about the quality of French wines on the world stage.

These days, the French find themselves in and an under-dog role, not a position you would have thought possible 25 years ago. The French ruled the wine roost ... they were the Kings of all the wines - nobody topped the French. Today, we know different: while wine regions around the world still compare their product to French wines – retailers know a different story, as they see us (the wine buying public) buy more and more new world wine (Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina). The French have had to re-invent themselves, and it's the next generation of winemakers that are realizing that the plonk of the past just won't do - quality has got to supersede quantity. This is the challenge the French have now undertaken ... and that is the motto that Albert Bichot’s sixth generation of family ownership have decided to focus upon. No longer do they want to flood the market with as much wine as possible, the move is to quality wines, small plots, single vineyards. At a recent dinner tasting I got a chance to taste through 8 of the "new" Albert Bichot wines.

Albert Bichot is a Burgundy producer: meaning Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs – and I was suitably impressed by what was in the glass in front of me. It is a family owned company that was founded in 1831 - today, it is still family owned and, as mentioned, is now moving into its sixth generation. Previous generations had focused on the blending of wines - buying bulk wines from the region and blending them to make a single wine ... this was great for maximizing quantity, but not always best for quality. Today, the move to quality is on. Over the past ten years "the next generation” has moved away from "the art of the blend" to the “art of winemaking”; instead of buying finished wines and blending them, they buy or grow the raw materials (grapes) and make their own wine; by doing this, they raise the level of quality and keep it under their own control. They own 4 estates in the Burgundy region and at each location there is a "winery" where the grapes are produced into the wines they sell - thus limiting the movement of grapes that could possibly damage their quality. Each "winery" is responsible for its own winemaking with teams dedicated to that locale. "It costs more," Jean-Christophe (J.C.) Rolland, North American Export Manager, says, "but you can definitely taste the quality in the bottle - and we think that's worth it.” J.C. proved to be an excellent host for the evening, he was congenial, always smiling and relayed the etymology of words and stories of how places got their names with equal confidence and aplomb.

The Chardonnays ...

Bichot is making brilliant Chardonnays, from the Village level estate - unoaked - Chablis, with its palate refreshing notes that are mineral driven along with tropical and floral undertones that are delicate and delicious (Domaine Long Depaquit 2007 Chablis - $25.00); to the barrel fermented, barrel aged (13-months – 20% new oak) 2006 Chassagne Montrachet ($65.00 - 300 case production) with its pineapple core, buttery-vanilla softness, and almond/lemon rind finish. As many of my regular readers know, Chardonnay isn't my bag, I’ve just tried to many that are too similar, but the limited edition (250 cases) Domaine du Pavillon 2006 Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Mouches ($90) is outstanding ... round and powerful in the mouth with vanilla, caramel and toffee notes that will need time to settle down and will last a decade or more. This 100% barrel fermented, 13-14 month barrel aged in 25% new oak (the remainder in two to three year old oak) had great mouth presence and luscious mouthfeel. I would've had another glass, but everyone else at the table must have liked it too, because when I went for a refill, the bottle was empty.

Pinots of Note ...

Two very different Pinots caught my palate this evening, one from a 2-hectare estate (Clos Frantin), the other from 60-year-old vines (Vosne). The 2006 Domaine du Clos Frantin Gevrey-Chambertin "Les Murots" ($65.00) had violets and red fruit aromas on the nose; in the mouth it was like velvet a cross the tongue with strawberries and red currants. Long maceration (23 to 27 days) extracts the tannins and flavours; then it's aged 15-17 months in French oak, of which 40 percent is new. The Vosne Romanee 2005 ($70) ages for 18 months in 45% new French oak and macerates for 27 days, extracting even more tannins and delivers bigger punch with lots of black and red fruit along with some mocha (dark chocolate) notes.

Surprise ...

I mentioned at the outset I have bought or ordered three French wines on consignment or private order this year ... Albert Bichot was the winery that broke the two-two tie with the Americans and they did it this very night, swaying me onto the French side with an exceptional wine at an exceptional price: Domaine Monthoux 2006 Beaujolais Villages ($15). Beaujolais gets a bad rap these days, mostly due to the plonk that's put on the market and the light Nouveaus that hit shelves in November. This 3000 case estate Beaujolais truly is what this wine style is meant to be. Made from the Gamay grape, the wine spends two to three weeks macerating on the skins to gain complexity of both color and flavour. The bottle we tried had been opened a few hours (more like six to eight), so I can assume there was some weighty tannin structure when the cork was first popped ... but over this time period the wine had smoothed and gave off big, fresh strawberry aromas that sucked you into the glass and begged to be sipped – it’s a wine that could easily be held for 5 years. This wine was truly sexy in every sense of the word - not sure I would've taken it to bed, but it may help me get there with someone special (yes, I mean you honey) and isn't that what good French wine has always been about: the romance, the beauty, and, yes, the aftereffects. Nice to see them getting back to the basics, if you know what I mean.

Report from ... Stratus Winery Tuesday May 20, 2008

I am not one to have my opinion swayed by a tour, nice lunch, and box of chocolates - though I never would pass up the opportunity for any of the above. On Tuesday, May 20, 2008 - Stratus Winery bussed a select few of us out to Niagara-on-the-Lake to take in the winery, enjoy a spring inspired lunch - put on by Treadwell’s Restaurant in Welland, and of course, taste the newest wines on their shelves.

The day started out in Union Station in downtown Toronto, where I met Deacon Doctor Fresh for a lackluster breakfast at, of all places, Harvey’s. The good Doctor was uninspired by breakfast and neither one of us
would (or could) recommend, in good conscience the fried egg, bacon and tomato served on yesterday's hamburger bun - yuck ... the home fries are nothing to write home about either; they're basically potato wedges (large French fries). To put it mildly Treadwell’s had no competition from our petite dejeuner, their perch, duck and cream brulee stood miles above what we had consumed in the AM.

Unbeknownst to me, the Deacon is quite a song-meister, and his playful tune about
his colon problems, due in part to our lousy breakfast (and something he may have eaten the night before), stuck with me the rest of the day and well into the next; in fact I can still hum it now. But enough of that, let's all head to the winery.

Upon our arrival, we were handed a glass of the newly bottled, and soon to be released, 2007 Riesling ($35.00), a melon infused nose with lemon freshness and a touch of mandarin orange in the background. The taste follows the nose with its melon and lemon flavours, good crisp acidity and a touch of sweetness (1). Stratus doesn't grow their own Riesling for this bottling, it's actually Beamsville Bench fruit, but winemaker J.L. Groux has done a marvelous job with it.

We moved into a small private tasting room to enjoy a flight of Stratus staples - their White
and Red - notes below.

then wandered outside for a look at the vineyard and witness the early stages of bud-break on the vines. The Cabernet Franc seemed a little more advanced than the Cabernet Sauvignon, but J.L. said that was usual for this time of year. I spied a vine named "Alison” and wondered if all 55,000+ plants were named. As it turns out, to get the full experience of what it takes to grow grapes, each employee is given a plant to take care of; this is Alison’s vine.

J. L. explained to us that Stratus grows and plants vines that it believes it can make good "
assemblage" wine from (assemblage = the art of blending various wines to achieve a single wine - a la Bordeaux) - and not because of weather conditions or vines they expect to be more winter hardy; hence there is also Malbec, Tannat, and Sangiovese grown on the property. A little WildAss Rosé (great dry strawberry flavours - $19.00) was served on the patio before lunch. WildAss is Stratus' second tier of wines and in my opinion was named thus because to hear J.L. say the word "WildAss", in his French accent, is quite humorous, and not a word you would expect to come out of his mouth.

As mentioned lunch was outstanding, especially when compared to breakfast, and the Deacons colon had little to rumble negatively about it. Lunch was served with the 2006 Gewurztraminer, a wine I have p
reviously reviewed and adored; the 2005 Cabernet Franc, a black cherry, blackberry, tobacco and cedar laced number which is pure liquid gold on the tongue - I maintain this is Ontario's grape bar none; and finally, the 2007 Red Icewine - a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah - a beautiful nose of strawberry, raspberry, and cherry with a hint of rhubarb pie. It’s full-on red fruit bowl in the mouth - so delectable and luscious you won't be able to stop sipping. I believe it's even better then last year's version, and I had nothing but praise for that one.

As I said fro
m the start, I am not one whose opinion is swayed easily - Status has not changed my opinion about their high prices - I believe they're still too high – though the quality of their wines and methods are excellent … I have no problem recommending their wines - I just don't see myself buying any anytime soon, due to budget restraints. What I must respect, is that Stratus has never wavered, like some other wineries, when it comes to their price points, they have consistently stayed the course they set for themselves. I wish they had wines on their shelves for the under $20.00 consumer, if that is who you are (and there are many of us), this is not your winery. Now their WildAss brand (made for the wild mass) is a different story; I would suggest keeping your eyes peeled for the 2005 WildAss wines due out in vintages come November – then you’ll be able to get a taste of Stratus for less - around $19.00 a bottle and not sold at the winery.

Stratus over the years ...
The tasting
of three vintages worth of the Red and White showed not only the differences of vintage, but how these wines will age and how the art of the blend can save a mediocre season (see the 2004’s) - all wines retail(ed) for $44.00.

White ... (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer,

2002 - Deep golden color compared to the other two wines, the nose was bruised tree fruit and honeyed-spice. The palate was starting to show signs of oxidized sweetness with honeyed/dried pineapple core notes; there was also a peculiar finish. J.L. said it would hold another couple of years ... but I say drink now. (no longer available)

2004 - Beautiful nose of melon, pear, Mac apple, floral and orange notes. This one comes in stages. A touch sweet on the mid-palate with floral and tropical fruitiness; then there’s a dry vanilla-orange medium-length finish. The integration between barrel flavours and fruit is seamless - this one's peaking and should be delicious for another couple of years at least. (no longer available)

- Tropical fruit and floral aromas mix with the oaky-vanilla barrel notes. All aromas replay on the tongue with pineapple and buttery-caramel ... complex group of flavors on the tongue with a long finish. Delicious. (currently available)

Red …
(Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Gamay, Petit Verdot - unless otherwise noted)

2002 – (no Malbec, Petit Verdot and little to no Syrah) pleasant nose that delivers plumy and pruney aromas wrapped in oak. Good acidity with a long aftertaste … black fruit and oaky on the palate. (no longer available)

2004 - not a "great" growing year by any stretch of the imagination, but this wine is rescued by the art of the blend. The nose is red fruit and white pepper, and develops red licorice and cinnamon as it sits in the glass. Taste is pure heaven. Spicy-herbed red fruit with some raspberry and mocha undertones, tannins are currently fine, supple, and easy drinking – a subtle wine full of elegance and complexity. Drinking beautifully right now - J.L. says it will easily hold till 2014 - I have no reason to doubt him. (no longer available)

- still young and needs plenty of aeration to get anything now. Spicy, black fruit with lots of barrel notes on the nose. A little more comes through on the tongue with peppery-black fruit holding court with some cedary tones. Nice balance of tannins and acidity makes it approachable now, or hold for a decade in the cellar. (currently available)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Report from - Terroir, Prince Edward County ... May 17, 2008

There are two big events in the County these days. One is Taste!, which usually occurs in October (this year it has been moved to September 27 so as not to conflict with Thanksgiving) – where (it seems like) all the restaurants come out, pair themselves with a winery, cidery or brewery and tickle your tastebuds with culinary treats. The other is called Terroir … a festival that emphasizes the wineries, food takes a backseat (although still used as a fun pairing partner here). Terroir celebrates the soil in which these grapes are grown and shows what this young wine region is truly capable of. Noticeably absent from this year’s Terroir celebration was the Grange, Rosehall Run, and Long Dog, but everybody else is here from the big names and well-established (Norman Hardie, Huff and Carmela) to the little guys just starting out (Bergeron, Harwood and Sugarbush) – each with a few wines to pour and a story to tell. This festival really shows how far the County has come and also how far it has to go … for every outstanding wine there is something mediocre, and for every “wow” there’s an “oh”. “We’re a young industry, we’re still trying to get our bearing,” one winemaker told me. “We still have to see what works and what doesn’t in the vineyard. We know we can do good Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but we’re all experimenting – this wine region is not for the feint of heart.” I would say that is true for both grower/winemaker and consumer. When it comes to Prince Edward County I’ll take the good with the bad, because it all equals exciting times in wine country.

Let’s start our look at the Wow’s of Terroir with a winery that’s also a cidery. The County Cider Company & Estate Winery makes an amazing peach cider, but that’s not what they were here to plug. Today it was all about The Fool on the Hill, their new upper echelon line of wines, a Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, made by winemaker Jenifer Dean from 100% county fruit. Of these two wines the 2007 Pinot Gris is the standout with its light peach juice colour, from the 14-hours of skin contact. Great nose of poached pears, mandarin orange and peach iced tea; the palate proved just as enticing, with apples, lemon and a beautiful pear mid-section … wonderfully refreshing.

A pregnant (due in 4 weeks) Catherine Langlois of Sandbanks Winery, showed real dedication to her art and her winery – laughing and smiling her way through some obvious discomfort. She was thrilled with her second bottling of 2006 Baco Noir ($14.95) which showed real character and charm with wild black cherries, vanilla and a lasting black cherry finish. But this big red couldn’t compete with, what I believe to be, her best Riesling to date: the 2007 Riesling ($15.95) – she has made 3 Rieslings so far. The nose is lusciously loaded with peaches, apples, floral and melon … it’s fresh and lively – while in the mouth honeydew reigns supreme with lemon-flower on the back palate – delicious.

A new winery called Bergeron Estate Winery, owned, operated and wines made by Dave Bergeron, is located “on the shores of Adolphus Reach, just east of Glenora Ferry on Loyalist Parkway.” Coming from the east they are the gateway to Prince Edward County, along with 3 other wineries that will be opening in the area soon. Bergeron’s 2006 Pinot Noir sold out in less than a month and his Gamay is well on its way to doing the same. My next trip to the County will include a stop over at Bergeron’s because I just have to see where these wonderful wines are being made. Dave makes a label distinction between County fruit wines (white label) and outside fruit wines – Niagara, etc – (black label). The white labeled 2006 Vidal ($15) is fruity, melony and mac apple-y, light and refreshing in the mouth with more melon and white-peach. The black label 2006 Chardonnay ($18.00) is made with a deft hand and knowledge of what the consumer is looking for. The wooding is light (6 months for 30% of the wine – in French oak) – the vanilla and butter from the wood come through on the front palate, while the middle-to-end is all fruit. But the piece-de-résistance has got to be the 2006 Gamay (100% County – white label) lightly oaked, with only 20% of the wine aged in new French oak for a “limited time”, the nose is faint with blackfruit and a touch of vanilla – but it’s on the palate where all the fun and finesse happens: strawberry, raspberry, touch of black cherry and a little white pepper at the end … it got better and better with each sip. A Gamay for chilling or room temp drinking, either way it’ll be delicious going down.

My friend, Norman Hardie, informs me that he only had 100 cases left of his best Chardonnay of 2006 (in my opinion) – the 2006 Chardonnay sans Barriques ($25.00) – simplicity is the key to this wine, and it has never tasted so good. Grapefruit and melon on the nose which follows onto the palate adding a bit of peach and some great mineral notes. This wine really shows the beauty of the fruit without the barrel running interference between the tank and the bottle. I’m told there’s a Riesling on the way that should rival the 2005 Riesling (now sold out) that I raved about a few years back. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

Another new winery, Sugarbush Vineyards, shows great promise for the future with their 2007 Riesling and 2007 Gewurztraminer made from all County fruit grown in their own vineyard. The Riesling was all melon and peach on the nose with a round mouth that brought forth white peach flavours. The Gewurztraminer is textbook, floral, melon and spicy on the very pretty nose; tastes were soft on the rose petal with a lemon rind finish. Both wines are a one on the sugar code and both retail for $15.80.

Bella Vigne brings out their 2007 Leon Millot/Foch in a very fresh and lively version. Originally, I was told it was unoaked, but later learned, from winemaker Pat Del-Gatto, that half of it saw 5 months of medium toast French oak, while the other half was “slow fermented”. Pat has done another wonderful job with this blend (a 50/50 mix of each grape) – black cherry in the mouth and a touch of pepper on the finish, while on the mid-palate you’ll also find a little cranberry tartness.

Finally, in my Wine and Cheese Show review you may have read a little about Harwood Estates; well I got a sneak peak of their soon to be released 2007 St. Laurent ($18.95) from winemaker John Fricker. This is an easy sipping red with Pinot-ish flavours. That’s because the wine was aged 3 months in used Pinot Noir barrels (the Pinot came out, the St. Laurent went in); so lots of regular and sour cherry flavours, red berries and especially raspberry … quite lovely.

If you are asking where my notes on Huff are, you’ll have to wait, an “In the Cellar” article is coming in one of the July issues of the OntarioWineReview newsletter, but for now I’ll tide you over with these two reviews: 2007 Rosé and the 2007 Riesling Off-Dry.

Just like when I was a kid writing letters to grandma and grandpa, I am using the old standby P.P.S. here, as I bring you a final final comment (or plug if you will). Chocolate fans listen up. Although not a part of Terroir, I stumbled upon a chocolate shop in Wellington thanks to my chance encounter with Rob Peck of Sugarbush Vineyards. He directed me to Copper Kettle Chocolate Company, where within 5 minutes I plunked down $20 on an array of flavoured chocolate barks, and sampled about $10 worth of other scrumptious goodies. Chocoholics beware, this place may be your downfall … but what a tasty plummet to the dark side it was.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The 2008 All Canadian Wine Championships Gold Medal Results

The results of the 2008 All Canadian Wine Championships just hit my in-box. I thought I would let you know who won what - but instead of taking the thunder away from the organizers I will just post the Gold Medal winning wines ... the rest can be found later this week (possibly as early as Monday May 19, 2008) on the All Canadian Wine Championships website found at the bottom of this report.

Best of Category Medals - Double Gold

Henry of Pelham Winery, ON
Cuvee Catharine Rose Brut

Chardonnay, Unoaked
Ridgepoint Wines, ON
2007 Unoaked Chardonnay

Chardonnay Under $20
Sandhill Estate Vineyard, BC
2006 Chardonnay

Chardonnay Over $20
Township 7 Vineyards and Winery, BC
2006 Reserve Chardonnay Harmony One Vineyard

Riesling Dry
Gehringer Bros. Estate Winery, BC
2007 Classic Dry Riesling

Riesling Off Dry
Red Rooster Winery, BC
2006 Riesling

Sauvignon Blanc
Gehringer Bros. Estate Winery, BC
2007 Dry Rock Sauvignon Blanc

Wild Goose Vineyard, BC
2007 Mystic River Gewurztraminer

Pinot Blanc
Sandhill Estate Vineyard, BC
2006 Pinot Blanc

Pinot Gris
Inniskillin Wines, ON
2007 Winemaker’s Series Pinot Gris

Huff Estates Winery, ON
2006 First Frost Vidal

Other Single White Hybrid
L’Acadie Vineyards, NS
2007 L’Acadie Star

White Hybrid Blends
Crowsnest Vineyards, BC
2007 Cuvee No. 3

Other Single V.V. Whites
Recline Ridge Vineyards, BC
2006 Kerner

White V.V. Blends
Thornhaven Estates Winery, BC
2007 Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay

Jackson-Triggs, BC
2007 Proprietors Reserve Cabernet Franc Rose

Cabernet Sauvignon Under $20
Magnotta Winery, ON
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve

Cabernet Sauvignon Over $20
Jackson-Triggs, BC
2005 SunRock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Merlot Under $20
Calona Vineyards, BC
2005 Artist Series Merlot

Merlot Over $20
Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery, BC
2005 Merlot

Pinot Noir Under $20
Muscedere Vineyards, BC
2006 Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Over $20
Stag’s Hollow Winery, BC
2006 Renaissance Pinot Noir

Cabernet Franc Under $20
Niagara College Winery, ON
2005 Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc Over $20
Pentage Wines, BC
2006 Cabernet Franc

Syrah / Shiraz
Therapy Vineyards, BC
2006 Marcus Ansems Shiraz

Meritage Blends Under $20
Hillebrand Estates Winery, ON
2006 Artist Series Meritage

Meritage Blends Over $20
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan, BC
2005 SunRock Meritage

Gamay Noir
The Grange of Prince Edward County, ON
2006 Trumpours Mill Gamay Noir

Marechal Foch
D'Angelo Vineyards Estate Winery, ON
2005 Old Vines Foch

Baco Noir
Waupoos Winery, ON
2006 Baco Noir

Other Single Hybrid Reds
Aleksander Estate Winery, ON
2006 Chambourcin

Other Red Hybrid Blends
Jost Vineyards, NS
N/V Prima Rosa

Other Single V.V. Reds
Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, BC
2005 Discovery Series Malbec

Other V.V. Blends
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate, BC
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz

Soft Fruit Dry
Muskoka Lakes Winery, ON
2006 Wild Blueberry Wine

Soft Fruit Off-Dry
Muskoka Lakes Winery, ON
2006 Cranberry Blueberry Wine

Soft Fruit Dessert
Rossignol Estate Winery, PEI
2006 Blackberry Mead

Tree Fruit Dry
La Face Cachee de la Pomme, QC
2006 Degel

Tree Fruit Off-Dry
Domaine Le Cageot, QC
2007 Muskoka

Tree Fruit Dessert
Domaine Pinnacle, QC
2006 Sparkling Ice Cider

Fruit Fortifieds
Applewood Farm Winery, ON
2005 Mac Meade

Grape Fortifieds & Other Desserts
Recline Ridge Winery, BC
2006 Ridgeport

Late Harvest
Vignoble du Marathonien, QC
2006 Vendange tardives

Riesling Icewine
Mission Hill Family Estate, BC
2006 Select Lot Collection Riesling Icewine

Vidal Icewine
Hernder Estate Winery, ON
2007 Vidal Icewine

Red Icewine
Mistral Estate Winery, BC
2007 Gamay Icewine

Other Icewine
See ya Later Ranch, BC
2006 Ehrenfelser Icewine

Medals of Merit

Summerhill Pyramid Winery, BC Cipes Brut
Hillebrand Estates Winery, ON Trius Brut

Chardonnay, Unoaked
Arrowleaf Cellars, BC 2006 Chardonnay
Henry of Pelham, ON 2006 Non Oaked Chardonnay

Chardonnay, Under $20
8th Generation Vineyards, BC 2006 Chardonnay
See ya Later Ranch, BC 2006 See Ya Later Chardonnay
Niagara College Winery, ON 2006 Barrel fermented Chardonnay

Chardonnay Over $20
Angel's Gate Winery, ON 2005 Old Vines Chardonnay Beamsville Bench
Church and State Wines, BC 2006 Church Mouse Chardonnay
Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery, BC 2006 Chardonnay

Riesling Dry
Viewpointe Estate Winery, ON 2006 Riesling
LaFrenz Winery, BC 2007 Small Lots Riesling
Orofino Vineyards, BC 2007 Riesling
Nk’Mip Cellars, BC 2007 Riesling

Riesling Off Dry
Gaspereau Vineyards, NS 2007 Riesling
Joie Wines, BC 2007 Riesling
Vineland Estates Winery, ON 2007 Semi Dry Riesling
8th Generation Vineyards, BC 2007 Riesling

Sauvignon Blanc
Lakeview Cellars Estate Winery, ON
2007 Dan Aykroyd Discovery Series Sauvignon Blanc
Artisan Wine Co. BC 2006 Council’s Punch Bowl Sauvignon Blanc
Jackson Triggs, BC 2006 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

Thornhaven Estates Winery, BC 2007 Gewurztraminer
Lang Vineyards, BC 2007 Gewurztraminer
Lake Breeze Vineyards, BC 2007 Gewurztraminer
Wild Goose Vineyards, BC 2007 Gewurztraminer

Pinot Blanc
Wild Goose Vineyards, BC 2007 Mystic River Pinot Blanc
Nk’Mip Cellars, BC 2007 Pinot Blanc

Pinot Gris
Church and State Wines, BC 2007 Pinot Gris
Averill Creek Vineyard, BC 2006 Pinot Gris
Hester Creek Estate Winery, BC 2007 Pinot Gris
Gray Monk Estate Winery, BC 2006 Pinot Gris
Wild Goose Vineyards, BC 2007 Pinot Gris

Waupoos Winery, ON 2006 Vidal

Other Single White Hybrid
Gaspereau Vineyards, NS 2007 Seyval Blanc

Hybrid White Blends
Gold :
Isle de Bacchus, QC 2006 Le 1535

Other Single V.V. Whites
Gray Monk Estate Winery, BC 2007 Kerner
Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery, BC 2006 Viognier
Van Westen Vineyards, BC 2006 Viognier

White V.V. Blends
Flat Rock Cellars, ON 2007 Seriously Twisted
Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, BC 2006 Black Sage Vyd. White Meritage
La Frenz Winery, BC 2007 Alexandria

Joie Wines, BC 2007 Rose
Wild Goose Vineyards, BC 2007 Bland De Noirs
Gaspereau Vineyards, NS 2007 Rose

Cabernet Sauvignon Under $20
Hernder Estate Winery, ON 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon Over $20
La Frenz Winery, BC 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

Merlot Under $20
Inniskillin Wines, ON 2006 Merlot
Colchester Ridge Estate Winery, ON 2006 Merlot

Merlot Over $20
Church & State Wines, BC 2006 Coyote Bowl Merlot
Orofino Vineyards, BC 2006 Red Bridge Merlot
Pentage Wines, BC 2005 Merlot $25.00

Pinot Noir Under $20
Saturna Island Vineyards, BC 2006 Estate Pinot Noir
Angel`s Gate Winery, ON 2006 Pinot Noir
The Grange Of Prince Edward County, ON 2006 Trumpour`s Mill Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Over $20
Blasted Church Wines, BC 2005 Pinot Noir
D’Angelo Vineyards Estate Winery, ON 2002 Pinot Noir
D’Angelo Estate Winery, BC 2005 Pinot Noir

Cabernet Franc Under $20
Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, BC 2005 Black Sage Vyd Cabernet Franc
Hillebrand Estate Winery, ON 2005 Trius Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc Over $20
Lailey Vineyard Winery, ON 2005 Cabernet Franc, Niagara River

Syrah / Shiraz
Seven Stones Winery, BC 2006 Syrah
Jackson-Triggs, BC 2005 Proprietor's Grand Reserve Shiraz
Blasted Church Wines, BC 2006 Syrah

Meritage Blends Under $20
Hillside Estate Winery, BC 2006 Cabernet –Merlot
Inniskillin Wines, ON 2006 Reserve Meritage
Ridgepoint Wines, ON 2005 Meritage

Meritage Blends Over $20
Jackson-Triggs, BC 2005 Proprietors Grand Reserve Meritage
Orofino Vineyards, BC 2005 Merlot Cabernet
Kacaba Vineyards, ON 2004 Meritage Reserve, Kacaba Vineyards

Gamay Noir
Pentage Wines, BC 2007 Gamay

Marechal Foch
Jost Vineyards, NS 2006 Marechal Foch

Baco Noir
Henry of Pelham, ON 2005 Reserve Baco Noir

Other Single Hybrid Reds
Gaspereau Vineyards, NS 2006 DeChaunac

Red Hybrid Blends
L'Acadie Vineyards, NS 2006 Alchemy
Rockway Glen Estate Winery, ON 2006 Clubhouse Red Baco Noir

Other Single V.V. Reds
Soaring Eagle Estate Winery, BC 2006 Soaring Eagle Pinot Meunier

Red V.V. Blends
Pentage Wines, BC 2004 Pentage

Late Harvest Wines:
Inniskillin Wines, ON 2006 Special Select Late Harvest Vidal

Riesling Icewines:
Mission Hill Family Estate, BC 2006 Reserve Riesling Icewine
Summerhill Pyramid Winery, BC 2006 Riesling Icewine

Vidal Icewines:
Artisan Wine Co., BC 2006 The Lost Bars Vidal Icewine
Magnotta Winery, ON 2006 Vidal Icewine Ltd Edition L.E.N.S.

Red Icewines
Peller Estates, ON 2006 Cabernet Franc Icewine

Other Icewines:
Gehringer Bros. Estate Winery, BC 2007 Ehrenfelser Icewine
Soaring Eagle Estate Winery, BC 2007 Gewurztraminer Icewine

Grape Fortifieds & Other Desserts
La Frenz Winery, BC N/V Liqueur Muscat
Gaspereau Vineyards, NS N/V Reserve Port

Soft Fruit Dry
Muskoka Lakes Winery, ON 2006 Oak Aged Wild Blueberry Wine

Soft Fruit Off Dry
Applewood Farm Winery, ON 2007 Eden
Caroline Cellars, ON 2006 Blackberry

Tree Fruit Dry
Sunnybrook Farm Winery, ON NV Ironwood Hard Cidre

Tree Fruit Off Dry
Les Vergers de la Colline, QC 2006 Rose

Tree Fruit Dessert
Domaine Felibre, QC 2007 Givre
La Face Cachee de la Pomme, QC 2006 Frimas

Fruit Fortified:
Domaine Le Cageot, QC 2007 Bleu du Roi
Forbidden Fruit Winery, BC 2007 Plumiscuous Plum Mistelle
Forbidden Fruit Winery, BC 2006 Caught Apricot Mistelle

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Report from ... All Canadian Wine Championships – May 12-14 2008

Having spent two grueling days judging a record number (1045) wines, alongside 30+ dedicated international judges who hail from the sea-to-shining-seas of Canada and across the U.S.A., this truly was a grand competition on a national scale for Canada and shows off the great wines that we are capable of making across this great land from both the orchard and the vine. These judges go back to their respect home being able to sing the praises of what is coming out of Canada’s wine regions.

I have some early winners to announce to you … The Best of Show categories – Ontario took 2, B.C. took 2 and 1 went to PEI.

Best of Show Winners – All Canadian Wine Championships:

Red Jackson-Triggs 2005 Meritage Sun Rock Vineyard (B.C.)

WhiteWild Goose 2007 Gewurztraminer (B.C.)

FruitRossignol Blackberry Mead (PEI)

Sweet DessertHernder 2007 Vidal Icewine (Ont.)

SparklingHenry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Rosé (Ont.)

The rest of the winners will be announced by May 17, I’ll keep you posted.

Weinhenstephan “The World’s Oldest Brewery” comes to Toronto – May 8, 2008

Launching 6 beers from this thousand year old Bavarian brewery proved to be quite an event at the Beer Market on the Esplanade. When all was said and done I was told that only the Heff Weissbier is available in Ontario at the moment (pity) and will be served (in bottle) at the restaurant, with others (hopefully) coming in soon, pending our liquor board’s approval.

Of the 6 beers being sampled this evening – three thrilled my palate:

Heff Weissbier (5.4%) – light and refreshing, quite fruity, with a pseudo-sweet mid-palate; there’s also a hint of orange nuance on the finish. Great for summer.

Kristall Weissbier (5.4%) – lighter and fruitier than the Weissbier, though almost champagne like in the bubble department … quite delicate and tasty.

Vitus (7.7%) – really liked this one’s heavier action in the mouth; seemed thicker on the palate with caramel-like nuances and a spiciness on the finish – powerful and delicious.

Report from ... Sante International Tasting – May 7, 2008

Sante turned 10 this year and to celebrate the occasion both Australia and California were selected as co-featured regions – which means a night was dedicated to Californian wines and another to Australian. For those who have been living in a cave the past 10 years, Sante is the International Wine Festival of Toronto; think of it as the Toronto International Film Festival of the wine world. Celebrity winemakers, producers and owners show up to pour and talk about their wines – showcasing wines that will (hopefully) one day grace the shelves of the LCBO – if they aren’t already there. Hundreds of wines are poured during this week-long event, below are some of my favourites tasted during the media preview:

Australia …
The Aussies still make some of the most popular wines on the LCBO shelves, and around the world – here are some you should be looking for.

Hardy Wine Company Barossa Valley Estate 2005 E Minor ($17.95)
- coming June 2008, good red and black fruit, nice and easy drinking

Jacob’s Creek 2005 Reserve Shiraz ($17.95)
- on the general list right now – smooth, good tannins, white pepper, nice finish

Clarence Hill 2005 Chardonnay ($16.95)
- worth searching out in a restaurant – lovely tropical fruit – and only 8 months in oak

Wyndham Estate 2004 George Wyndham Founder’s Reserve Shiraz
- complex nose and taste with red berries and fruit, chocolate and some herbs in the mix

Gemtree Vineyards had 2 good wines on display:
Bloodstone 2006 Shiraz ($17.00)
- soft, fruity effort, good red fruit with cherries and herbs
Uncut Shiraz 2006 ($26.00)
- 16 months in oak - great fruit, lovely soft tannins – a blockbuster of a wine.

DogRidge Wine Company had three reds on the table that clean swept the competition:
The $20 Pup Shiraz – smooth red fruit with minor pepper tones
The $40 Digs Shiraz – sweet mouth with spicy-chocolaty notes
The $80 MVP Shiraz – great cellaring potential, herbs, spice, dark fruit, delicious

California …
You can’t put a price on good wine … sounds poetic and romantic but California has found a way to do just that – value is always key to my choices, especially in my own personal cellar, but it doesn’t stop me from liking those high priced monsters that I’ll never be able to afford – plus if you invite me to dinner, I’ll tell you what wine you should be buying for such an occasion.

Tangley Oaks 2005 Merlot ($19.95)
- smooth, chocolate, red and black fruit – coming back to Vintages soon

Thomas Fogarty Winery 2006 Gewurztraminer Monterey
- spicy, slightly floral and very good

Trinchero Family Estates 2006 Menage a Trois
- always a favourite, three grapes blended together to make this rich tasty wine

Chimney Rock 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon SLD ($51.95)
- this beauty has lush tannins, chocolate and black fruit

Chimney Rock 2004 Elevage ($72.00)
- same profile as above, but smoother, richer, fuller and more elegance

Heitz Cellars 2002 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($230.00)
- they’re one ‘n’ away from making great ketchup, but this is a stunning spicy black fruit age-worthy number that’ll be around for many years to come

The Rest of the World of Wine …
While the Calis and the Aussies battled it out for shear volume on the floor other parts of the world put their best value wines forward to battle these new world giants … some were old world treasures and some were new world newcomers, but all knew the definition of value in the bottle.

Los Arboles 2006 Malbec (Argentina) - $12.95
- general list - easy, fruit forward, nothing over the top just a great everyday value sipper

Tsantali 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Organic (Italy) - $17.55
- availability limited – best wine of the show, spicy, black fruit, rich tannins, good oaking

Coyam Red 2005 (Chile) - $24.95
- Vintages … another organic beauty, blackberries, chocolate, herbs, spice – wrapped up beautifully in the mouth.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Undurraga Tasting – May 6, 2008

You have probably heard of Undurraga, or at least seen their name on the shelves before, but of late they have disappeared. A source told me, “we used to go all the time, when we visited Chile, but they became so bad we couldn’t go back – the quality just wasn’t there anymore. Too bad too, they were once one of the biggies, right up there with Concha [Y Toro].” I met that contact at this tasting and he was blown away by the new move toward quality wine Undurraga has taken.

A few years ago new investors and owners, led by Jose Yuraszeck T. came to Undurraga and have changed its landscape drastically, focusing on quality and terroir driven wines over the “just-get-it-out-there” philosophy of the previous regime. New Winemaker, new lines, new labels … and best of all, new wines makes Undurraga a winery to watch over the next few years and well into the future. From what I tasted on this night, and if the level of quality continues, they might never be as big as Concha, but their wines will equal some of Concha’s best.

The Best of the Bunch …
There were wines at every price point, from $12 to $60, and wines for every palate in both the white and red category. But my favourite (and just to prove it I had 3 glasses worth) was the $35 Founder’s Collection 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Big wine at 14% with such elegance of flavour and big time age-ability. Chocolate, red and black fruit, good use of wood, along with flavours of herbs, vanilla and cinnamon … it’s all here and it’s amazing.

Report from ... Germany – Uber Wine Tasting - May 6, 2008

With winery names well beyond the pronunciation capabilities of your average North American, Germany has long been a tongue twister of a wine region for many. Unfortunately, I’m not about to facilitate anything. Having sat through a lecture on Terroir, Ripeness and Style – with each presenter getting up and speaking better English than I could ever speak German, rhyming off names of vineyards, wineries and regions which rolled off their tongue like butter on a hot roll and then they’d segue back to English with ease. I still can’t get some of these names out, and I heard them being said a few times; the good news is you don’t have to be able to pronounce it to enjoy it – you just have to be able to find it.

Riesling is still king in Germany (20,627 ha); Pinot Noir seems to be her Queen (11,371 ha) and the rarely-seen-on-a-label (over here anyway) Rivaner, their prince, in the middle (14,983 ha). Today I tried a few Rieslings, but also looked at a grape not even listed in the top 8 of Germany’s white grapes: Gewurztraminer, with some very good results.

Riesling …
Tops in the seminar, and a continued favourite throughout the day, was the St. Urbans-Hof 2007 Riesling Spatlese Oakfener Bockstein ($ high-30’s low-40’s) … fabulous single vineyard offering, big acid citrus bite in this, a sweet wine; good complexity of fruit and minerals; long floral spicy finish … great sippability. As you sit and sip somehow it all comes together in ones mind, both Riesling giants of Ontario: Cave Spring and Vineland – have links to this winery, and it shows in their wines.

Other Rieslings of Note …

Studert-Prum Maximinhof 2007 Riesling Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr - $19.95 (Mosel) … very nice clean sweetness to this wine. Apples, pears, peaches – classic Mosel smells and tastes – and it is very tasty.

Reh Kendermann 2007 Kendermanns Terroir Schiefer Riesling Dry - $13.00 … the beautiful nose leads one to believe sweetness is destined for the tongue, but the very dry lemon-mineral palate tells a different story.

Foundation Estate Blue Nun Winemaker’s Passion 2006 Riesling – under $11 … don’t laugh, this is not the nun you grew up on – balanced apples and peaches … very hip and now, not the sickeningly sweet white you remember from yesteryear.

Markus Molitor 2005 Riesling Auslese Zeltinger Deutscheherrenberg - $48.00 (Mosel) … we’re getting up there on the sweetness scale, but the balance here is amazing – peach and apple brings the sweet, pear and apricot brings the flavour and there’s just a touch of fizz which keeps this from cloying. Yum-my!

Schloss Reinhartshaussen 2002 Riesling Kabinett Erbacher Schlossberg - $17.95 (Rheingau) … muted nose gives way to a powerful palate. Petrol developing nicely with apricot and dried pear woven in. Coming August 2008.

St. Urban-Hof 2007 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling - $17.50 (Mosel) … besides telling you it’s tasty, fruity, and well-priced for something ageworthy or drink now, and a touch sweetness guiding it along; what more is there to say. Quality is excellent (see above). Coming early 2009.

Gewurztraminer …

Darting 2005 Gewurztraminer Kabinett Durkheimer Nonnengarten (Pfalz) … big spicy nose, full in the mouth with a bit of telltale Gewurzt oiliness – great rose petal finish. Was at Vintages, let’s hope it comes back.

Weingut Gunderloch 2006 Gewurztraminer - $19.95 (Rheinhessen) … floral, spicy, rose petal with good, clean, smooth finish – none of the oiliness. Very nice.

Two More of Note …

Antigua Rotwein Eiswein - $40/375ml … a Pinot Noir Eiswein with great cherry and black fruit sweetness. Yum! Only 10.5% alcohol.

Weingut Fitz-Ritter Riesling Sekt bA Extra Dry - $16.00 (Pfalz) … dry, crisp, clean yet fruity with fresh minerality – perfect for summer or anytime, and at a great price. (Consignment through Vinexx).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Lunch with Martin Malivoire – May 5, 2008

The invite came very urgently, both in person and by email. At two separate events at which I and Martin were attending, Martin Malivoire said, “we must do lunch so you can taste my wine.” A couple of days later the email arrived: “Martin would like the pleasure of your company at Gamelle.” Never one to pass up a lunch invitation I said sure, where is Gamelle and when? We finally settled for 2pm on Monday May 5th and so the stage was set.

Have you ever been to Gamelle? It’s a small French Bistro on College, just west of Bathurst. I met Martin on the street in front of the restaurant and we walked in together. It looked very familiar, like something from a movie, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it: a long narrow restaurant, quaint and cozy. I sat across the table from Martin, my back to the door.

“We have a problem.” He started. Suddenly, from somewhere in the shadows of the kitchen out walked Moray Tawse. “The five families,” I assumed he meant The Somewhereness 5 (Tawse, Malivoire, Norman Hardie, Flat Rock, Stratus), “Aren’t happy with the way you have been portraying us high-end high-priced wineries.” He said with a menacing grin, “and we want this to stop.”

Out of nowhere, probably from off the street, a younger man appeared, he clasps a big hand on my shoulder and sat right down beside me, he looked suspiciously like Moray. He sat briefly, then excused himself to go to the washroom. “I’m sure we can settle this the old fashioned way.” Martin said smiling – I nodded slowly. “So what’s your beef with us?” He asked, still smiling.

“I have no beef.” I stammered.

“We see it differently.” Suddenly the young man returned from the bathroom, brandishing a shotgun. Before I knew what was happening Martin and Moray had taken cover under the table, while the music of Nino Rota swelled on the Hi-Fi in the restaurant. I realized what was happening too late as the hot lead ripped through my body …

This was the dream I had the night before I was to have lunch with Martin Malivoire at Gamelle … but all Godfather references aside, it turned out that my lunch with Martin was a wonderful experience. At 59 years of age, and me much younger, we had a meeting of minds on such a wide variety of issues – not the least of which was wine. He took me through the current line-up of Malivoire wines paired with a variety of nibblies and lunchtime fare. Some paired very well, while others fell a little flat, not that there was anything wrong with either the food or wine, but on occasion (as it aught to be the case) together they did not mesh. All-in-all the experience was delicious and well worth the time to get to know both Martin and his wine, winery and practices. Below is a list of 7 wines, currently available at the winery, that I would say are worth putting your hands on at all cost – buy enough and Martin’ll make you a deal you can’t ref
Blogger: On the Road with the Grape Guy - Create Postuse:

As for Gamelle – good food, nice ambiance – I had never been there before today and I quite enjoyed myself and would recommend the restaurant.

On my way home I was whistling a happy tune, my dream had not been my reality, and I was relieved. Suddenly I happened upon a roadblock, strange to come across one of these in the middle of the afternoon on Bayview Avenue. I also noted that I was alone on the street, another odd occurrence at 4:30 pm on such a busy street in Toronto. I got out of my car, “What’s going on here?” I started to asked as I approached the newly erected guard hut by the side of the road … Out came Shiraz Mottiar, Paul Pender, Norm Hardie, J.L. Groux and Marlize Beyers all carrying Tommy Guns pointed directly at me … Fade to Black.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Report from ... Wine and Herb Festival – Niagara-on-the-Lake – May 3, 2008

I have to start off by saying that The Wineries of Niagara on the Lake host the best festivals in the Niagara area: Taste the Season in November and the Wine and Herb Festival in May. They are well organized, have great themes and allow patrons to set their own pace, plus they have impressed upon their members a uniformity of quality at each winery; not just talking about the wines here now, this is more in respect to the food pairing.

Each year there is a subtle tweak that improves the event. This year’s tweak was a big jump in innovation – though a very simple idea. Three weeks prior to the event they had a winery get together, where the food and wine pairings were on display for the other wineries to get a taste of. This seemingly little thing paid off big dividends with lots of cross-promotion between the wineries, it was like nothing I have ever seen before in the area. Inniskillin told me to try Sunnybrook; Cattail pointed me in the direction of the other wineries doing goat cheese pairings (Hillebrand and Reif); Reif told me about Lailey’s Sausage combination – and so on and so on.

At the beginning of the day we set our sights on 8 wineries, based on the herbs we liked. By the time the dust on the day had settled we had hit 14 wineries with very few disappointments along the way. Now, this festival is designed for all month enjoyment – your passport is good for each weekend in May – but we did not have another free weekend day to come back so we had to fit this all in on the one day … I remind you, do not try this at home, I am a professional.

The “we”, this time round, are Erica (a Riesling fanatic and foodie) and myself. At the end of our 14-winery assault we each picked our favourites, put them in order and discussed the outcome. Amazingly our final decisions paralleled each other, in most cases:

Best Wine …
We differed on the best wine and best foods of the day. Erica liked the Hillebrand 2007 Dry Riesling finding it very much to her liking as a Riesling-fan, while I leaned red, with the Inniskillin 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir – though as a devout white drinker Erica did admit that she “would drink that red”.

Best Food …
This was an easy one … Coyote’s Run Freshly Grilled Lemon Basil shrimp was a real highlight followed closely by the Cattail Savoury concoction – simple yet very tasty.

The Pairings …

The Wine and Herb Festival used to be called the Herb and Wine Festival, the name change came about because they felt the festival should be about the wine, not the herbs. I beg to differ, the festival is about the pairing, hence the food with the wine – I can come down for just the wine anytime, and so should you – but a chance to try the wine with a nibbly to match, that brings out the inner foodie in all of us, and of course, the amateur food and wine matcher. Doing the tour with a foodie was interesting. While she focused on the food and saw the wine an afterthought, I saw it the other way around (though having done this for a few years now I was better at putting it all together). In the end we had some highly animated discussions to reach our final consensus about where each winery fit into the scoring chart with me plugging the wine and Erica making the case for the food.

We took into consideration the food and wine together: the taste of the food + the taste of the wine + the togetherness combination in the mouth – we used a ten point scale for grading.

Cattail Creek – 10/10 … this little winery is making some big noise these days. They follow up their Ontario Wine Awards Riesling victory with a stellar pairing, created by Treadwell’s. “We gave them the wine, told them our herb and let them do their magic.” The pairing seems simple, but worked to perfection: crostini topped with organic monforte goat cheese drizzled with savoury infused honey, paired with their new Sauvignon Blanc – everything just popped with this one … so good I managed to scam another.

Inniskillin – 9.5/10 … like the Phoenix rising from the ashes Inniskillin pulls it off. Regular readers will know that Inniskillin ended up on the bottom of my last two Niagara Festival reports (Icewine and Cuvee), but at the Wine and Herb they pulled up their socks and got back on track. Dill Coq au Vin made with, and paired with, their 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir … delicious. They would have scored a 10, but there was just a hint of a funny aftertaste when drinking the wine after the pairing. But together they meshed beautifully.

Lailey Vineyard and Reif Estate – 8/10 … both wineries got this score with very different pairings. Lailey went with the simple, tried and true, if a little unimaginative – meat with Cabernet Sauvignon; while Reif went innovative, and a touch sweet, a possible disaster, but it worked wonderfully well. Lailey paired their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon with Free Range Bershire pork and rosemary sausage, soaked in a reduction of Cab Sauv, rosemary and cassis jam; there was even a touch of the ironic: it was served to you by a vegetarian. On the other hand, their neighbour at Reif went with a pizza topped with pear, lavender infused goat cheese and a spreading of Gamay Rosee jelly, paired with the Gamay Rosee. Sounds odds, but it was delicious. Maybe Reif should by all rights get an extra half point for taking a risk with their food.

Coyote’s Run and Niagara College – 7/10 … sometimes I have to turn it over to the foodie to give me the complete picture. At these two wineries I had different reactions. I loved the Lemon Basil grilled on the bar-be shrimp at Coyote’s Run (and I usually don’t like shrimp), but the smokiness took away from the delicacy of the unoaked Chardonnay. At Niagara College I liked the Gewurztraminer, but not a fan of the spring roll’s generous use of cilantro in the mix, it just seemed to take over the entire taste. But, in the end, you have to rely on your sources. My foodie told me that the Gewurzt and Cilantro pairing went okay by her, and she very much enjoyed the shrimp pairing and would have gladly had another. I also accidentally discovered that the Pinot Blanc at Coyote’s Run also made for a good wine to pair with the shrimp – give it a try when you’re there.

Konzelmann and Marynissen – 6/10 … respectively they had basil and oregano. Konzelmann made a bean and chickpea salad served in mini-taco bowl paired with their 2006 Shiraz, very tasty and a party planners dream, plus it was probably one of the healthier dishes on offer today. Marynissen’s also pulled off a “good-for-you” dish: a Meditterrean inspired antipasto with olives, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and boccacini cheese, served with an oregano and sea salt baguette and paired with their 2003 Cabernet – a little more complicated to prepare than the beans I am sure.

Sunnybrook Farm – 5/10 … now what do you do with mint? You serve it in a jelly that tops Havarti cheese on a multi-grain cracker and pair it with a strawberry wine. Sounds a little off, and I’m not too sure the pairing worked together in the mouth, but separately they were fun and enjoyable. My only head-scratcher this afternoon was told to me by my server at Sunnybrook; I asked why the wine was not vintage dated and was told quite plainly: “Fruit wine does not age like regular wine, in ten years the wine will taste exactly the same as it does today.” If some fruit winery would like to step forward and explain this to me I would be deeply interested.

Jackson-Triggs – 4/10 … usually a highlight but J-T turned into a disappointment with their sage infused cheesecake with cherry chutney topping (reduced in the paired wine – 2005 Proprietors’ Reserve Meritage). No perceptible sage in the cheesecake, and while the chutney and wine would have matched well together, the addition of the cheesecake did not add anything of substance to the combination. The upside – the consistency of the cheesecake was melt-in-your-mouth.

Chateau des Charmes – 4/10 … this score has the potential to go up. The Chateau paired their 2006 Aligote with an apple, chicken and thyme tartlet – but the crust of the tartlet proved to be too thick and overwhelming for the interior … the taste was nothing but dough. Madame Bosc was about the winery and approached us to discuss the pairing, she agreed the tart overwhelmed the filling and said that next week she would have it thinned – or as my foodie suggested, “why not serve it on a simple cracker”. The highlight of the morning was the Brut we shared with Madame at 11:30. Next weekend I would expect this 4 to be at least a 6 or 7 if Madame has her way.

Stonechurch – 3/10 … liked the garlic and chive cream cheese tart … simple and tasty – but once again Stonechurch gets slapped for pairing their entry with a non-VQA wine (2005 Shiraz) – yes they did have the choice of 2 other wines, if you wished, and thankfully both the Riesling and Cabernet-Merlot were VQA – but people walking in wanted the pairing listed in the book, which was the Shiraz, and that’s a Washington blend. I know Stonechurch is pretty open about it, but in no way should they be highlighting this wine at this event. Shame on you.

Hillebrand – 2/10 … how do you screw up this amazing Riesling? By pairing it with an overwhelming, ill-conceived food. Hillebrand took their 2007 Dry Riesling and paired it with a terragon infused goat cheese wrapped in smoked salmon, sounds good right? But then they put it on thick chewy piece of pumpernickel bread five times the size of the smoked salmon round. When you popped it into your mouth all you got was the overwhelming taste of pumpernickel. Get rid of the bread and this score goes way up.

Finally … special mention goes to the gentlemen at Palatine Hills, who raised the bar on parsley. They could have taken the easy way out and sprinkled parsley on potatoes or fish or anything else, heck I’ve been served parsley bread; but they outdid themselves by pairing an unoaked Chardonnay with a “parsley root puree on a toasted rice cracker with parsley pesto and sea salt” … so surprised was I that I had no idea what kind to score it – hence the special mention … it really is worth trying.

Another successful Wine and Herb Festival, and it gets better every year. This year, with only 4 wineries getting a grade below 5 (three of which can turn it around with simple fixes) this was the best year yet; and the cross promotion and pass-good-for-all-weekends are just more ways they have improved it. An event not to be missed; and a great time to let your inner “foodie” and “matchie” out for the weekend (or four). This festival is going to be the one to beat for the foreseeable future in Niagara.