Sunday, October 19, 2008

Report from ... Chilean Icon Tasting - October 10, 2008

With the rise of Chile on the world wine stage you know it was only a matter of time before Icons started to emerge - it happens in all good wine regions. Today the four big boys: Errazuriz, Montes, Casa Lapostolle and Sena, showed off their big gun wines (11 in total), here's what I tasted and some info about each producer.

Casa Lapostolle …
Founded in 1994 by Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle ... of Grand Marnier fame.

Wine of choice:
Cuvee Alexandre 2005 Chardonnay – Casablanca Valley, Atalayas Vineyard
- soft buttery fruit, toasted notes with a bit of vanilla and nutmeg.

Montes ...
Founded in 1988 by four partners ... the winery takes its name from one of those partners, Aurelio Montes.

Wine of choice:
Alpha M 2005 – 80% Cabernet Sauvignon / 10% Cabernet Franc / 5% Merlot / 5% Petit Verdot
- great mint aromas come barreling out of the glass - blackberry, cherry, herbs and spice dance around on the palate carried by silky smooth tannins.

Looking for more spice in your wine? Then the 2005 Folly Syrah is for you.

Errazuriz …
Founded in 1870 by Don Maximiano Errazuriz ... currently run by Eduardo Chadwick (fifth generation of his family involved in the wine business).

Wine of choice:
Kai 2005 – 88% Carmenere / 7% Petit Verdot / 5% Shiraz
The name means "plant” in the native Indian language where the grapes are grown. A nose and taste that reels you right in with chocolate, blueberry, blackberry an amazingly smooth finish ... this one comes off as an incredibly juicy endeavor.

The Don Maximiano 2005 is also a great wine to take note of.

A partnership between Robert Mondavi and Eduardo Chadwick started in 1995.

Wine of choice:
Sena 2005 – 57% Cabernet Sauvignon / 25% Merlot / 9% Carmenere / 6% Cabernet Franc / 3% Petit Verdot
This 100 percent bio-dynamic wine has got a nose that accosts your senses with powerful minty smells, the taste follows with mint and eucalyptus along with raspberry, cherry and herbal notes. Elegant and smooth, this one's ready now but will age another five to ten years.

Report from ... Portfolio Wine and Spirits Tasting – October 9, 2008

Wines of note from the 36 poured at the Portfolio Wine & Spirits tasting –

Weingut Skoff (Austria) - white
Sauvignon Blanc Obegg 2006 - $29.95
citrus and grassy with a nice touch of vanilla from the oak aging.

Cellar Cercavins (Spain) -white
Guillamina 2006 - $19.95 (Gewurztraminer/Sauvignon Blanc/Verdjo)
lots of floral/rosy notes from the Gewurzt, with a hint of citrus and mineral.

Bodegas Vina Vilano (Spain) - red
Crianza 2004 - $20.95
spicy cherry, touch of cedar with some herbs and a long spiced-cinnamon-vanilla finish.

Chateau Marquis de Vauban (France) - red
Cuvee du Roy 2003 - $24.95
needs time to sit, but currently there’s a nice cherry, strawberry and tobacco note on the nose and lots of cedary-oaky vanillas and cinnamons on the palate.

Cantine due Palme (Italy) - red
Ettamiano Primitivo del Salento 2004 - $19.95
my wine of the day – a great Zin knock-off from Italy, lots of plum, cherry, mocha with a long plush vanilla plum finish.

Tenuta Sant’Isidoro (Italy) - red
Corithus IGT 2004 - $16.95
spicy yet smooth, red raspberry with a firm cedar backbone.

Domaine de Grand Vallat (France) - red
GAIA AOC Cotes de Ventoux 2004 - $25.95
cedary, floral and quite elegant – there are some earthy tones here but they don’t overpower along with a touch of an herbal quality.

Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander (Australia) - red
Giant Steps Pinot Noir 2006 - $39.95
an elegant Pinot that has sweet red fruit with a steady seam of vanilla – nice balance and good mouthfeel.

Champagne Louis de Sacy (France) - sparkling
Brut Grand Soir 2001 - $85.00
toasty, baked apple and peach pit on the nose; burnt toast and roasted citrus flavours – the usual bready yeasty flavours are also here.

Report from ... South Australia "Master Class" – October 8, 2008

On October 8th the Australians came to town, but not in their usual big-tasting-take-over-an-entire-ballroom type of way, this time it was a small media and the agent tasting event they termed as "Regional Heroes Master Class " ... these were wines that had been submitted to and then picked by a panel in an effort to find the quintessential wines that best represent this area (South Australia) and different varietals. They shied us away from Shiraz in an effort to show us that other varietals are made in Australia and made well – but in the end it was the Shirazes that shone through.

A few tidbits about south Australia before we get to the wine ... 50 percent of all Australian wine comes from South Australia and 70 percent of all exports. Next in line is New South Wales at 37% of all wines made. The quote of the day came from the government minister in charge of this foray into Canada, he said, "wine is an experience and needs a story. Good wine is being made everywhere, but people want a story to go with it. We plan to give it to them." Canada is Australia's third biggest market ... Ontario is its number one market for value wines.

When we entered we were presented with a DiGorgio 2007 Sparkling Pinot Noir ($15.00 AUS) it had a nice salmon color with apples, citrus and cherry on the nose, while in the mouth there was a subtle taste of sweet raspberry ... quite refreshing for an afternoon bubbly.

We were then taken through an array of three whites: a Pinot Grigio and two Rieslings, then it was onto the reds, a Tempranillo and then the three wines that really stood out.

Penley Estate 2005 ‘Chertsey’ (Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc and Merlot) - $50.00
From Coonawarra … sweet vanilla, cinnamon and red cherry on the nose; juicy fruits, like black cherry, along with tobacco and fine tannins on the palate. Good long finish.

Wirra Wirra 2006 RSW Shiraz - $45-50.00
McLaren Vale … best wine of the afternoon - nose was mint, sweet cherry and mocha, the palate showed smooth chocolate, juicy red cherry, soft vanilla cedar and almost imperceptible, silky smooth tannins … wow!

Elderton Wines 2004 Command Shiraz - $89.95
Barossa Valley … needs time to come into its own, in the course of two hours it changed from something undrinkable into something robust with white pepper notes … it has the potential to sit for a decade or more (so says the winemaker).

For a region (country) that wanted to push us away from thinking of them as a one-trick Shiraz pony they steered me back towards what made Australia famous, that Wirra Wirra Shiraz was simply amazing.

Report from ... Durbanville Hills Dinner and Tasting - October 08, 2008

Dinner with a bunch of straight talking guys - that was what this Durbanville Hills dinner turned into. Someone mentioned, as we began the evening, that agents and women would help to keep us in line, but there were none to be seen so this became a no-holds-barred, drag-‘em-out, no-comments-verboten dinner. Meeting with winemaker Martin Moore, managing director Albert Gerber, Distell ambassador to Canada Deveron Wilcock, and fellow wine writer Dean Tudor, this evening turned into quite the "bag of fun”, which is just one of the phrases I picked up from this ultra-gregarious South African. (I might mention others throughout this review – but you must know from the outset, this is the kind of guy you’d enjoy going out for a beer with, he’s just “one of those guys”. Martin has been with Durbanville Hills since the beginning (1998), but his past has taken him through KWV and into Bordeaux.

Durbanville Hills is a joint venture between 8 producers and Distell (South Africa's version of Constellation) with five percent of the company set aside as a workers' trust. The winery is named after, and located in, the second oldest wine region in South Africa - established around 1702 (Constantia is the oldest, established in 1695) and is located only 12km from the sea. All their wine is grown, bottled and produced using the eight producers’ grapes, thus making the wine an “estate” product. But, only five percent of the grapes go into the thirteen wines they produce ... the other 95 percent get sold off to Distell for their other brands, that’s because they only want to make premium wines of very high quality – and not get the reputation as a jug wine producer.

Durbanville Hills sells more white wines that reds, 65 percent to 35 percent, but grow more red grapes than white, 60% / 40%. “We keep about 30 percent of the reds as opposed to 80 percent of our whites," says Martin, "we just don't need all the reds we grow ... the bulk we’re selling off is very high quality red, we just can't use it all." Durbanville Hills makes eight red wines to only five whites. The wines come in three distinct lines: the entry level "Hills” line, the reserve "Rhinofield" line (named after one of only eight floral kingdoms left in the world – the winery contributes to its preservation), and a single vineyard line (Biesjes Craal - white, Luipaardsberg and Caapmans – red) - this line is unique in its selection process - the name will always remain the same, but the vineyard that the fruit comes from is selected annually after harvest, fermentation, and aging – only then can the best be determined and the growers/producer is then issued a bonus. Only one vineyard is selected, and in the case of the Cabernet-Merlot blend, a different vineyard for each component. The specific vineyard is never mentioned on the label.

I can give you history and winemaking method up the ying-yang, but for those wondering how the wines taste, here's what you've been waiting for:

Durbanville Hills 2007 Sauvignon Blanc - $11.95 (available at the LCBO)
Nice citrus and grassy notes when cold, as it warms tropical fragrances emerge ... the palate follows the same formula with a creaminess in the mouth that's derived from two to four months of lee's contact.

Rhinofield 2007 Chardonnay - $16.00 (not at the LCBO)
This 50/50 unoaked/barrel fermented wine does not go through (“deliberate”) malolactic fermentation so that it keeps its crispness and good acidity ... the aging is nine months in barrel and/or on lees, depending on which component half you are. The smell is ripe with toasted vanilla, popcorn, cloves and spice. There’s also a citrus that Martin called "orange mold” or "forgotten in the refrigerator orange". Tastes follow with vanilla oak, good acidity and a bit of orangy-ness (minus the mold) - there's also a spicy character that appears as it warms.

Durbanville Hills 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - $11.95 (not at the LCBO)
There's a hint of what I call "typical South Africa smell" on the nose, but it mixes nicely with the fruit, currants and vanilla. Mouth-wise the “typical” disappears, leaving behind blackberries, cedar-vanilla, and spice - while aeration really pulls out the fruit, making it juicy and almost sweet on the palate, there also a little white pepper that develops around those berries ... quite yummy.

Rhinofield 2006 Merlot - $16.00 (not at the LCBO)
Eighteen months in new French oak and ten percent Hungarian oak. Martin's philosophy, "pick the best blocks, put it in the best wood." Lovely smooth mouthfeel black fruit, red berry, juicy flavors, silky tannins and a bit of chocolate to top it off.

A few choice quotes from the evening:
When asked if Martin plans to make Pinot Noir he responded: "If I wanted trouble I’d buy an Italian car." After the laughter subsided he explained, "if I can't make a good wine consistently I don't want to make it all - I have a friend who grows Pinot and he admits he makes a really good one every 8 years or so."

When asked about his favorite wine, Martin answered, "this may seem like I’m pandering to my audience because of where I am, but it’s Canadian Icewine, that stuff is bloody brilliant, like nothing else made. I know they're expensive, but they should be expensive, because they're like nothing else."

Report from ... Two Hands Plus Tasting - October 2, 2008

As someone who spends a fair amount of time in wine cellars I see quite a bit of good wine that I’ll probably never get to drink. I've seen 1900 D’Yquem, LaTour and LaFite. I've seen Mouton Rothschild dating back to the forties and Madeira’s whose dating started with the numbers “18…” ... I sometimes tell my friends, “it's like going to a strip club - you can look but you can't sample.” So when I was offered a chance to taste wines from one of Australian’s newest "hot wineries" (Two Hands) I jumped at the opportunity. Serious collectors’, who dabble even a little in Australian wines, will always have at least a few bottles of Two Hands wines. I've tasted what has come through the LCBO over the years, but rarely do I get the chance to try them side-by-each and to get a full feel of the entire line.

Today, Mark Cuff, wine agent for the Living Vine, hosted this intimate gathering at the Fine Wine Reserve - turns out he was doing a little favour for the actual agent B & W Wines. 23 wines were poured, a majority (12) from the Two Hands Winery. I liked everyone, from the 5 "Garden" series wines to the multitude of shirazes and blends available, and each wine (minus the Moscato) hovered around the fifteen percent alcohol mark. Thankfully I had a long way to stumble back home afterward; which was needed to clear my booze addled brain – even without swallowing all that alcohol can get to you. I also see why these wines are so sought after.

In the "Garden” Shiraz series (priced from $50 to $65), which includes (in my order of preference): Lily’s Garden; Sophie's Garden; Harry and Edward’s Garden; Bella’s Garden; and Max's Garden were all big on fruit and classic Shiraz character (like pepper and dark fruit) - yet each added their own distinctiveness to the wines. Lily was minty sweet fruit; Sophie added chocolate; Harry and Ed scaled back the fruit and replaced it with more white pepper; Bella was big into herbs and Max added menthol and pine needles to his mix.

Another favorite was the 2007 ‘Angels Share’ ($27.95), which is classic Oz Shiraz, chocolate, blackberry, white pepper and a sweet taste that just kept on lingering, like that party guests that won't leave your home – though in truth you don't want him to because you don't want the party to end, with this wine you don’t want the bottle to end.

‘The Bull and the Bear’ (Shiraz/Cabernet - $50.00), ‘Brave Faces’ (Shiraz / Grenache / Matero - $35.00) and ‘Gnarly Dudes’ (Shiraz - $27.95) all impressed with their variety of fruit (red and black), chocolate notes (mint, dark, bittersweet, milk), pepper (white and black) and varying levels of alcohol (in order: 15.6%, 15%, 14.8%). This made the very grapey, floral, perfumey and elegant Moscato "Brilliant Disguise” a welcome palate-relief at only 7% - and also very tasty.

Finally, the piece-de-rĂ©sistance were poured; the single vineyard Shirazes: "Coach House Block” ($46.00) with its blackberry, cherry, chocolate, and floral flavors and smells that simply smoothed out in the mouth and demanded another sip. This wine laid the groundwork for the outstanding monster known as "Ares” ($100). The nose was black and red cherry with a touch of mint, but the taste was even better, “See’s chocolate buttered toffee crisp” with a peppered mint finish ... wow!

Three other wines I enjoyed were (not from Two Hands):

Five Oaks 2005 ‘SGS’ Cabernet Sauvignon ($52.95 – Australia) – it’s nose was a turnoff, but the palate more than made up for it with spicy black fruit, blueberries and chocolate.

Glaymond 2005 Grenache ‘Gerhard’ ($47.95 – Australia) - a sweet and sour sensation of complexity, with mint, blackberries and peppercorns.

Glaymond 2004 Shiraz ‘Distinction’ ($126.00 – Australia) – 16% alcohol, peppers and spices, nice balance of wood to fruit to chocolate to smoothness with a biting spicy finish your tongue will most certainly enjoy this one.

Report from ... Share Yalumba with Jane Ferrari - October 2, 2008

A meet, greet and informal tasting with Jane Ferrari, winemaker for Yalumba Winery – Australia’s oldest family owned winery, since 1849 – gave us some insight about this influential and accomplished woman: (loves baseball and George Clooney), changing attitudes within Australia's wine industry ("we're moving on towards terroir in Australia") and her no nonsense, straight talk approach ("[Viognier] is a labor of love for the boss, so we continue to make it the best that we can, and think we make some of the best."). Around the table we tried seven wines from various levels of the Yalumba line - here are my top four selections, along with some commentary I picked up along the way:

2007 Wild Ferment Chardonnay ($19.95)
"[We’re looking for] more aromatic elegance, where the wood is a platform for the fruit instead of chewing on a stave." A welcome notion from Australia. This wine exhibited smells of vanilla, butterscotch, white fruit and a bit of a smokiness; while on the palate, there was a pleasant buttery component along with the apples, spices and vanilla - a good lengthy finish ended this one off nicely

2006 Bush Vine Grenache ($20.00)
"Always the bridesmaid never the bride." Made from pre-European phylloxera vines, this wine was simply tasty and had an element of elegance to it. Described as a "heat-seeking grape” the color was light, but the flavors intense. Smells of cherry, strawberry, and spicy cinnamon. The taste was sweet red fruit and herbs ... a touch of alcohol heat (14%) which would have been smoothed out with a slight chill on the wine. Holdability 6 to 7 years.

2005 Shiraz/Viognier ($19.95)
The grapes for this wine are grown and co-fermented together … only 3-5% Viognier is used depending on the year. A nose that's got blueberry and floral as its main features; this would be considered a “mid-weight Shiraz” with a little pepper and blackberry in the mouth. Good acidity leaves a long spice-driven finish behind.

2004 Hand Picked Shiraz/Viognier ($41.95)
Same growing and fermenting as the above bottle applies, though this wine is deeper and darker - described as "a Cote-Rotie tribute wine" by the winemaker. Using the above wine as reference: there's more floral and more blueberry along with plums, mint and cherry on the nose. Complex flavors which include black cherry, coffee, violets, lavender, a bit of wood tannins and some alcohol heat - nice long tasty finish.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Report from ... Wines from the South of France tasting - September 22, 2008

On September 22 I found myself at the Rosewater Supper Club for a South of France tasting. These are wines from the Languedoc, Rousillon and also labeled as Vins de Pays D'oc. They are usually excellent values from France, some priced well below what they should be, or would be, if they were from any other region of France. I also had the pleasure of trying some great dessert wines called "Vin Doux Natruel", while not my first experience with these wines, I continue to find them tasty treats well worth the money.

Great Values ...

Chateau de Fontenelles 2006 Cuvee Notre Dame ($16.95 - Corbieres) - great colour, purple-red, with pepper, blackberry, cassis and nice tannins.

Maison Jeanjean 2004 Domaine de Fenouillet Grand Reserve ($17.95 - #70326 - Faugeres) - tasty red berry with a bit of pencil lead on the nose and a nice dry tannic finish.

Francois Lurton 2005 Mas Janeil ($15.95 - #992800 - Cotes du Roussillon Villages) - a nose of blackberry, black cherry and a bit of dried fruit with tastes of blackberries and chocolate - yum.

Dom Brial 2005 Terrasses ($14.95 - Cotes du Roussillon Villages) - licorice and all-spice rule the roost here with nice silky tannins on the finish.

Domaine Magellan 2005 Syrah Grenache ($18.00 - Vin de Pays D'oc) - firm and bold wine with lots of spices, herbs and blackberry fruit.

Chateau de Serame 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.95 - #35006 - Vin de Pays D'oc) - spicy black fruit and cinnamon with a cedary finish - good wine, especially for the price.

Good Wines ...

Domaine la Tour Vieille 2006 La Pinede ($31.80 - Collioure) - rich red fruit, good spice, and nice tannin structure to hold it all together.

Domaine Cazes 2006 Ego ($19.95 - #77701 - Cotes du Roussillon Villages) - strawberry and other red fruit on the nose with sweet cherry on the palate, quite a dry finish with good tannins, colour is also pretty impressive.

Celliers des Chartreux 2007 Viognier ($16.60 - Vins de Pays D'oc) - mineral and stone fruit greet the nose, good peach pit and a touch of nutmeg spice come through on the palate.

Delicious Sweeties ...

Domaine la Tour Vieille 2006 Vendange ($31.35 - Banyuls) - licorice and ripe cherries on the nose, sweet cherries in the mouth - yum ... alcohol is heavy on this sweetie, Port-like, so it can be used for dessert or sitting around the fire where Port is usually served. Cigar anyone?

Dom Brial 2007 Vin Doux Naturel ($21.75 - Muscat de Rivesaltes) - beautiful wildflower honey nose which somehow turns into a grapefruit cocktail taste - delicious.

Mas Amiel 6 Ans ($21.60 - #43109 - Maury) - cherry, plum and chcolate on both the nose and tasty - this is the region's version of a tawny-Port, thus you can add almond notes to the taste too.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Report from ... the Sonoma Wine Affair – September 18, 2008

The California wine show is a huge undertaking for any wine fan – there’s lots of wine from lots of producers … enough to make your head spin (an not just from all the wine you’re going to consume). So with the Sonoma Wine Affair, which came to town September 18, the folks in America’s largest wine producing state made it easier to take a smaller sip out of California. Twenty-four producers from the region showed off 3 to 4 wines each, so with numbers like that it gave you a fighting chance to try all the wines. I would say I was able to wrap my palate around 90% and here’s what I found.

Best Winery of the Day …
Zin fans should rejoice because Seghesio was just the table to be trying wines at this afternoon. Three Zinfandels ranging in price from $24.75 to $45.75 and made from grapes ranging in age from 10 years to over 100 (vines planted in 1895 and 1896). The Zinfandel Sonoma County will be released in Vintages come October, while the Old Vines and Home Ranch aren’t currently available, but keep you eyes open for these wines or call up your buddy down in the US and find out if he/she can get some. Sure the Home Ranch is $45.75, but it is so flavourful and worth every penny … perfect for ribs and other bbqed fare.

Looking for more Zin …
Pezzi-King is the place to go. Not available in Canada (yet), if there is any justice in the world this winery should have (hopefully) found an agent by the end of the day. While the Sauvignon Blanc was pretty standard the Sonoma Zinfandel ($25) and the “Old Vines” Zinfandel ($36) – made from 75 year old vines … is spectacular, especially for the price. Concentrated fruit and a sweet mouth feel before it moves into high-and-dry gear on the finish.

Other Wineries and Wines of Notes …

Arrowood Vineyards
2002 Sonoma Beau Melange Syrah - $29.95 – November in Vintages – rich, smoky, black pepper and spice with a hint of licorice.

Blackstone Winery
2006 Merlot, Sonoma County Reserve - $23.95 – beautiful big black fruit, plumy and jammy with black raspberries and good tannins.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - $15.00 – mostly blackberries – good value.
2007 Sauvignon Blanc - $17.95 – nice crisp citrus notes with some gooseberry and good acidity.

Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards and Winery
2005 Merlot, Chalk Hill - $70.00 – very, very, red berry with a dollop of cinnamon.

De Loach Vineyards
2006 Zinfandel - $15.95 – November in LCBO – a steal of a Zin with plumy, cola notes, and a touch of raspberry and strawberry jam, this one’s just plum tasty (no pun intended).
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
2004 Blanc de Blancs - $26.95 – in Vintages – good bubble for a good price, nice toasted apple taste and intoxicating smell.

2006 Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir - $22.95 – January in Vintages – very Californian Pinot with an easy red fruit nose, mainly cherry and raspberry, with a good finish.

Rodney Strong Vineyards
2005 Symmetry Meritage – smoky, oaky, bittersweet chocolate, dark fruit, cassis and quite dusty on the finish.

Trentadue Vineyards
2004 La Storia Zinfandel, Alexander Valley - $35.00 – rich and fruity with the typical jammy and plumy aspects of Zin you have come to know and love.
NV Port Chocolate Amore, Alexander Valley - $28.55 / 375ml – this high alcohol port wine (18.5%) is made with a touch of chocolate and it really comes through in both the taste and smell; the chocolate wraps itself around a bit of cherry and spice for good measure … Almost too easy going down – this is what we used to cal “panty remover” – and I know that’s not politically correct, but nothing’s that fun ever is.

Report from ... Charton Hobbs / Authentic Wine and Spirits Tasting - September 22, 2008

The last time I saw Roy Thompson Hall this filled with wine the Italians had taken it over, or was that the Germans ... whoever it was Roy Thompson makes for an interesting place to have a tasting because of its round corridor which allows you to wonder about and not miss a thing. Unlike square room venues, where somebody can be tucked into the corner and you can go right by them, or a multi-level venue where you have no idea there is a second floor. Anyway, today brought together Charton Hobbs and Authentic Wine and Spirits for a tasting of their premium portfolios: general list, vintages and some consignment products. There were also quite a few surprising sneak previews of stuff that should be on the shelves “soon”. Of the many wines I tasted, here are the ones I found most appealing and the skinny on each:

Red Diamond Merlot (Washington) - $14.95 – LCBO coming 2009 - this was quite a surprise, a Washington Merlot for under $15 and soon to be widely available ... sweet red fruit smooth on the palate with a chocolate cherry finish ... if there is any justice in the world this wine will fly off the shelves.

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon (California) - $19.95 - Vintages 342428 - the newest incarnation of this wine is better than the last ... cherry, plums and other red fruits. An organic wine from California doesn't have to mean lacking flavor, this one proves it ... look for the new cleaner, brighter label, which ditches the earth tones for white.

Sancerre Les Baronnes 2007 (France) - $24.95 - Vintages 542548 - a beautiful grapefruit citrus taste and smell which gives you a sweet and sour sensation on the tongue, while finishing off nice and crisp. Good balance to this wine.

Bouchard Aine and Fils Beaujolais Superiore (France) - $12.60 – LCBO 9431 - nice fruit, a bubble gum-like nose with strawberry/raspberry flavours.

Jaffelin Puilly Fuisse (France) - $35.95 – LCBO 242909 - the nose gives nothing away while the palate does all the talking with tropical fruit along with apples and peaches good acidity and a good finish.

Le Veille Ferme Red 2006 (France) - $11.55 – LCBO 263640 - one of my very first loves, from many years ago, in the French wine category … this one still offers a lot for a little – good fruit, nice flavors and easy on the palate.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards (France) - $38.95 – Vintages 926626 – they called this "a baby Beaucastel”, deep rich fruit, tasty and spicy.

Sogrape Douro Reserva Red 2002 (Portugal) - $18.95 - Vintages 335208 - this smooth and easy palate pleaser offers plums and raspberries on the tongue ... very fruit driven.

Newton Chardonnay Unfiltered 2006 (California) - $59.95 - Vintages December 2008 – big alcohol (15%) rich fruit in the form of sweet apple, then comes the big buttery, caramel, and butterscotch barrel notes … this one's big from start to finish.

Terrazas de los Andes Malbec Reserve 2006 (Argentina) - $19.95 – Vintages December 2008 - a steal at twice the price; good black fruit dominant wine with sweet plums and blackberries, all culminating in a beautifully long finish ... great value and much better than its measly $20.00 price tag lets on. My advice: pick up more than one.

Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (California) - $34.95 - Vintages November 2008 – smooth black fruit and chocolate notes, good length of finish - delicious and ageworthy.

Mommessin Cote du Rhone (France) - $11.20 – LCBO 14829 - light, fruity with good cherry and other red fruits, this one's palate friendly and chillable; it's got a short finish but who cares, you'll just want more anyway.

Louis Bernard Cote du Rhone Villages (France) - $12.75 – LCBO 391458 - concentrated red fruit gives good intensity of flavor with plums and red berries too - dry with pleasant tannins on the finish.

De Loach Zinfandel (California) - $15.95 – LCBO coming soon - keep your eyes peeled for this great value Zin soon to be on the general list. With its plums, cherry-cola, blackberry and hints of chocolate and vanilla its sure to be a hit. Fruit for this wine is sourced from all over California including Lodi, Russian River and the North Coast.

Ornellaia 2005 (Italy) - $159.95 - Vintages November 2008 - I see why people pay that kind of money for this wine - it is superb and beyond description: big, rich and full in the mouth ... it has the wow factor in spades.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Report from ... Niagara Wine Festival - September 20-21, 2008

In the past I have a score the Niagara wine festival (and their other festivals: Icewine, New Vintage) passport / discovery program on a scale of one to ten, based primarily on the dollar value of what was being offered. Most wineries charge $10.00 without a passport and therefore it seemed logical to use that as a yard stick in the value ratings. With the passport last year you paid $30.00 for five experiences and thus the rating was graded at a break even point of $6.00 (the price you paid per experience if you obtained a passport – 30/5=6). This was changed to six experiences during the new vintage festival this past spring, thus changing the scoring and price paid per experience to $5.00 as the break even point ($30.00 divided by 6 experiences equals $5.00 per experience).

Before I get into who did what this year let me say that if you are not acquiring a passport and paying the $10+ at any more than one winery you really are wasting your hard earned cash - the passport is well worth the expense and offers good value if you are making a day or a weekend out of wine country during this event. Next, I must admit that I did not get to as many wineries as I have in the past, I visited about eight to ten wineries during my weekend excursion and found that each winery was delivering up the minimum requirement of $5.00 worth of value to their passport holders; therefore ranking wineries using my old scale seemed redundant, because all wineries would have been hovering at or above that $5.00 threshold. So this time I decided to rank on innovation and allure of what was being offered.

This year the theme seemed to be “grape stomps” (Flat Rock and Wayne Gretzky) and cheese offerings (Creekside, Fielding, Magnotta, Inniskillin) – all good things for sure and what they were offering equaled up to the prerequisite of $5.00; but they were far from innovative and unique. Special mention should go here to Chateau des Charmes who offered up tastings of their unique grape varieties (Aligote, Chardonnay Musque, Viognier and Gamay Noir Droit). I also noticed that Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries had a bit of an edge on over their elsewhere-in-Niagara counterparts - I chalk that up to their Wine and Herb and Taste the Season ventures, which get the winery's thinking outside the wine and cheese box. Wineries that showed real innovation and unique experience pairings were …

5 – Magnotta … for $5.00 you got 4 wines, 3 cheeses, 2 kinds of nuts along with cranberries and a slice of bread, yes there was cheese here , but the other accompaniments made it well worth it.

4 – Coyote’s Run ... the Coyote paired up with Treadwell’s Restaurant to bring you a pulled pork nibbly that, minus the cilantro, was a out of this world - on the other hand, I am a real slut for pulled pork.

3 – Konzelmann … who would have ever thought of pairing all-dressed potato chips, cheese popcorn and red nibs (licorice whips) with wine - the folks at Konzelmann pulled off this back-to-school-ode-to-university-students-special spectacularly.

2 – Peller … my mother once made a Mexican dish called Chocolate Chicken, after that I never wanted to see any kind of meat and chocolate in the same sentence again, let alone on plate - Peller changed all that with a delicious and delectable chocolate venison stew.

1 – Hillebrand … hands down, this year's winner was Hillebrand Winery who paired up and served three treats with three wines on a wooden barrel stave alfresco in their courtyard, all were inspired by the notion of the hundred-mile diet. The presentation was fabulous, the foods unique and the pairing just seemed to work, and even when they didn't the ambiance and food took over. Good job.

It's important to point out that this year's number one and number two positions have a winery restaurants, which gives them a slight advantage over their non-restaurant owning counterparts.

See you all on the trail at Icewine time … (January 16-25, 2009).

Report from ... Vinexx Tasting, Toronto - September 24, 2008

Vinexx has a semi-annual tasting schedule: once in the fall and once in the spring. Many of the wines they showcase in the spring reappear in the fall, some in the form of a new vintage, while others continue unchanged from the last show. This time out I was looking forward to the 2005 E. Guigal (the general list one) that I was told last spring would be in wide release come the fall and is "spectacular"; but the LCBO is still in to the throes of clearing out the ’04 so that was the one for tasting - guess I’ll have to wait for the spring event to get my first sip at this wine. But enough about my disappointments, here's what's coming in, or is here and available through Vinexx this time …

My favorite part of the Vinexx tasting, and I'm sure I've mentioned this before, is that the majority of their products are available at the LCBO, which means you can pick stuff up pretty readily (even on your way home if you chose) - though I've also bought some consignment and private order booze from them before. My first three recommendations are consignment wines (waiting at the LCBO warehouse, but not on the LCBO shelves – and available only to Vinexx customers). One of my recommendations I bought in the spring and tastes even better now, so I re-ordered some: the Canyon Oaks 2006 Zinfandel, with its sweet cherry, plum, vanilla-cola and raspberry smells and tastes ... sure it's up a buck ($13.80) but it’s still an excellent value in an everyday Zin. Also on consignment is the Errazuriz Ovalle 2007 Panul Sauvignon Blanc ($14.65) from Chile, with its ripe rich peach on the nose and lemon-citrus finish; the Canyon Oaks 2007 Chardonnay ($13.80) makes a good companion to the Zin, its very appealing with lemon, apple and vanilla leading the way on smell; wood, butter, butterscotch and all over-rpe apple taking charge on the taste.

Those who can wait a little longer for their premium wines might look into private order (agent orders directly from the winery, these wines take a little longer to come into Ontario, so don’t expect anything right away – but most are worth it). All of what Vinexx had were wines by the case from California. There's the Dutton Goldfield 2006 Morelli Lane Zinfandel ($590.00 for 12) with its red plum, cherry and chocolate flavours. Then they had wines from former Doobie Brothers manager B. R. Cohn and they were all excellent: the 2007 Russian River Chardonnay ($360.00 for 12) had nice fruit and hints of vanilla absorbed in from the oak, the 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir ($595.00 for 12) with a red fruit, vanilla and cinnamon tinge that was incredibly smooth, and the 2006 Sonoma County Merlot ($485.00 for 12) with cherry, chocolate and fine tannins. But the real highlight of the private order line-up were the single vineyard Cline Cellars Zinfandels: 2006 Live Oak ($229.50 for 6 or $38.00 a bottle) with chocolate, plum, cherry, a good nose and wonderfully smooth palate; while the go-back-to wine of the night was the 2006 Big Break Zinfandel (same price as the Live Oak) - this one was bigger and more over the top with richness than its counterpoint: minty, chocolaty, plum, red fruit and a touch of eucalyptus, which comes naturally from the eucalyptus tree lined vineyard ... also it has a whopping fifteen percent alcohol.

The Rest of the Wines (LCBO or Vintages) ...

Jean-Luc Baldes 2005 Le Petit Clos “Cuvee Plaisir” ($17.95 - 76414 – France) - a nose of cedar, vanilla and blackberry delivers tough tannins, black fruit and plenty of ageability.

Cline Cellars 2005 Ancient Vines Mourvedre ($17.95 – 66084 – California) – plumy, jammy, raspberry, black fruit with a touch of vanilla … a little bit of sweetness on the palate leads to a dry finish - Zin fans should check this out.

Cline Cellars 2007 Syrah ($12.95 – 733758 – California) – top value at Vintages. Sweet fruit with a peppered finish - red berry with a touch of black - so good, especially for the price.

Bodegas Muga 2004 Muga Reserva ($23.95 – 177345 – Spain) - blackberry and other black fruits with spices, herbs and good tannin structure, though it needs some time - five plus years easy.

Bodegas Emina 2005 Prestige ($24.95 – 67066 – Spain) - made from Tinta del Pais (aka Tempranillo) with sixteen months in French oak, resulting in smooth blackberries and chocolate, silky tannins and a hint of vanilla – very fruit forward but with ageability to spare ... another five plus year wine. Good value for what you get here.

Graham Beck Wines 2003 Rhona Muscadel ($21.80 – 607739 - South Africa - 500ml) - this sweet dessert wine has honey, orange zest, apricot and clove on the nose, honey, pear, apricot and a long spice-driven finish.