Friday, November 28, 2008

Report from ... Niagara-on-the-Lake Taste the Season - November 22-23, 2008

This year my foodie (Erica) and I decided to visit ALL the wineries taking part in Taste the Season (17 in total) to better judge the event’s offerings. Usually we pick and choose, or miss a couple of wineries along the way, but this year there was going to be no excuses, ALL had to be visited … each wine tasted … each food tried – no matter whether you liked it or not (which meant my mushroom-phobia had to be put on hold for two days). The debating came afterward as we made our lists and inevitably chose our winners. Below, this is how we saw it:

Best Food and Wine Pairing …

Lailey … Turkey en Croute with Spiced Cranberry Compote – paired with 2006 Pinot Noir (Niagara Peninsula). The folks at Lailey managed to encompass an entire turkey dinner in one mouthful. It tasted exactly like turkey dinner with all the fixin’s, including the cranberry sauce and stuffing … and the beat turkey pairing wine washed it all down. Delicious. Normally, I would have taken off points for trying to slip in a mushroom unannounced, but this was far to good for such pettiness.

Best Foods (Top 3 ) …

Number 3 … Coyote’s Run – Smoked Duck Breast with Black Paw Vineyard Cabernet Jelly on Brioche. This was flavourful and light, a mix of sweet and savory, and the light pastry just added to its enjoyment. (As we later found out the pastry or lack thereof can make or break a dish).

Number 2 … Inniskillin – Holiday Scone with Dried Cranberries and White Chocolate. Originally there was suppose to be Niagara Gold cheese and Prosciuotto in this treat and no chocolate; but Inniskillin made a last minute change to the program because they weren’t happy with it (“The change was made to add the white chocolate topping [because] upon second tasting [the filling, when paired] with the wine appeared too salty.”). And good thing they did. It was like a thick Christmas cookie topped with chocolate icing – there was also hints of vanilla that added to its enjoyment.

Number 1 … Jackson-Triggs – Pulled Beef Brisket Crostini. J-T saw me coming with this one, my note was simple yet said it all, “mmmm”, nice sauce, tender beef, all soaked in Reserve Merlot and other herbs and spices. This truly was a meat lover’s paradise. One staff member told me that, “it’s so easy to make, but shhh, don’t tell anyone.” Well I am sure that nobody who tried this thought it was complicated so I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag on this one. It’s a simple fireside, crock-pot dish, and sometimes those are the best.

Bubbling Under … the debate continues … Erica and I debated about where to put Chateau des Charmes on the list. We both thought their Cassoulet Tart with beans, pork and duck was delicious, but it should have been served warm, not cold, and that’s what knocked it out of the top three, but it still deserved special mention in the Food category.

Best Wines (Top 3) … The foods and wines seem to overlap, sometimes the food enhanced the wine and sometimes they did not seem to go. You’ll notice that two of the wineries from the Best in Food category get mentioned herein … special mention once again goes to Chateau des Charmes for their 2006 Gewurztraminer; it was just that the following three shone just a little bit brighter on this day.

Number 3 … Inniskillin – 2007 Gamay Noir. This was all cherry in the glass – the cherry nose had lots of cherry backing on the palate … fruity, light, chillable, and very nice. Erica is not a red wine fan but she thought this one was delicious. If you have non-red drinkers in your clan this might be one that just might get them on-board.

Number 2 … Coyote’s Run – 2007 Cabernet. I had this a few months ago when it was just being released and it’s still a beauty in the bottle, and should be ageable for the next 5-8 years (minimum). Smoky, peppery and black fruit oriented, red drinkers should love this wine ... the number of bottles walking out the door on this Sunday afternoon is testament to that.

Number 1 … Palatine – 2007 Fume Blanc Proprietors Reserve. This little honey offered up a piece of summer during the coldness of winter. A nose that’s grassy, pear and grapefruit with the merest hint of peach; while the palate had pear, citrus and grassiness with some barrel elements showing through in the form of spice and smoke, but it was nothing to barrel you over with. In the end it was the smoothness on the palate, elegance in the glass and light refreshing nature of the wine that won us over. Too bad winter is coming cause this is one for poolside.

The Highs … The Lows … and the Somthings In-Between …

They can’t all be gems, so here is a list of the high points, the lowlights and the middling rangers.

Highs …

Marynissen – “great homemade fare”, “comfort food”, “something from grandma’s kitchen”, all terms we used to describe their Macaroni Casserole with Spiced Beef and Tomato Sauce; it warmed the belly and made you feel like going home and making yourself a pot. Another simplistic dish that worked.

Niagara College – talk about a cheesy treat: Goat Cheese Lollipop with Local Pear Chutney; the real star of this taste sensation was the chutney made from local sourced pears. This was an admirable gesture on the part of the College – with local area canning plants closing and farmers limited to where they could sell their produce the College made a conscience decision to help out as much as possible in their restaurant ... by buying as many pears as they could conceivably use.

Strewn – I liked the wine, Erica thought the food was good – and I even nibbled a corner. Neither one of us are mushroom fans (me less than her), but this mushroom based dish (Mushroom Terrine with Roasted Garlic and Herbs) was not overly “mushroomy”, in fact we found it quite pleasant … though I have to fully admit I did not finish mine – afterall it was still mushrooms.

Middlings …

Hillebrand and Konzelmann tied for top middling spot. I quite enjoyed the Fall Fruit Crumble with Chantilly Cream (Hillebrand), while Erica enjoyed the Cheese Quiche with Fresh Herbs Roulade complete with dill and butternut squash (Konzelmann). Though she expected more from Hillebrand – finding the Crumble to be standard fare; while I found the dill in the Roulade overpowered the taste profile of the Quiche – but then again according to some sources I have read, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, so I guess I was never meant to eat it in the first place.

Peller occupies our second place on the middling rungs because of their over-usage of their Ice Cuvee wine – the sparkler with a dosage of icewine. They parade this wine out at every event. Yes it’s good, but Peller makes other great stuff too, why not pour the Ice Cuvee Rosé for instance, now that’s new, unique and tasty. Otherwise the Cured Salmon seemed to match well with the bubbles.

Reif – we were all ready to enjoy the Lamb Fricassee with delicious smells emanating from the pot, but by the time we swallow the mini-tart that held the stew we had lost the meat flavour and were overwhelmed by the sweetness of the pastry. I rarely say this, but the tart should have been a little blander in nature so as to more fully enjoy the taste of the delicious fricassee. Erica was more put-off by the sweetness than I, but then again my sweet tooth is bigger.

Stonechurch – their smoked salmon roll had lots in it: avocado, asiago, alfalfa, artichoke, pine nuts, fish roe – I got it all, well the pine nuts and fish roe anyway, Erica got none of what was promised (except the smoked fish) – plus this roll needed something to rock upon like a cracker or a pastry. Big bonus points to Stonechurch here who finally went all VQA for the event. Hallelujah, praise the Lord.

And The Lows …

After Cattail wowed us during the Wine and Herb Festival in the Spring we were expecting much goodness to come from here; but instead, the Beet Cured Lake Trout proved to be a real let down. Their reasoning for sticking with it was the notion that they did not want to change what had already been printed in the guide, noble to say the least; but in this instance they should have taken a page out of Inniskillin’s book and switched it up a bit, sure you should stick with the trout, but doctor it a bit.

Pillitteri went the rather boring and bland route with a Chicken Terrine with Pear and Riesling Compote. The pairing did not work (even though it was Riesling wine matched with a Riesling based dish) and the chicken had little to no taste. Too bad, this winery usually delivers something of interest to the table; guess you can’t hit a homerun everytime.

Last year Joseph’s led the dessert pack with a cheesecake that was to die for and made you long for seconds (heck I know some folks who would have bought a second passport if it meant another piece); so this year the stakes were high, maybe a little too high; instead of a memorable follow-up to wow the crowd they paraded out a rubbery, barely choke-down-able quiche that left a bad taste in the mouth, no matter how much wine you drank to wash it down.

Finally, low man on this year’s totem pole is Sunnybrook with their Mayan Chocolate Walnuts – they sounded interesting on paper but in truth they offered very little in the was of appealing flavours, textures or enjoyment.

Despite the few lowlights the Taste the Season event remains one of the highlights of the holiday season and, for my money, one of the best event of the year. I have to tell you that I really look forward to touring the wineries every November to taste what is being offered and judging afterward (and during) is a lot of fun. Who knew that a pastry’s sweetness could be the catalyst for a 5-minute debate or that a simple apple and pear crumble could be wolfed down with gusto by one and shunned by another; that chocolate nuts would not be appealing or that a full turkey dinner could be achieved in a single bite. That is the beauty of the Taste the Season event and will continue to be for years to come. Save a weekend in November next year and we’ll see you on the trail.

Report from ... Southbrook Poetica Launch - November 19, 2008

Of late there has been lots written and said about Southbrook, and owner Bill Redelmeier has made it his mission to keep this winery in the spotlight over the past year. But this winery, with all its newfound bluster and new fangled building, also has a past, which we celebrated today while also looking ahead to the future.

For a winery that made little fanfare back when it was located in Maple (north of Toronto), these days you can’t open a wine magazine, newspaper or read a column about Ontario wine without them getting a mention. Today was the launch of Poetica, what many a Southbrook fan once knew, by another name, as their top of the line wines … that old name now has a Lord Voldemort complex about it (a name that should not be mentioned) … but I will use it here as I scan over each shoulder to make sure the Southbrook police aren’t lurking: Triomphus … now that you have read it I think you best bolt the door.

In truth, most of these bottles of the released Poetica wines have been re-labeled from the giant golden “S” that had previously adorned them, along with their seemingly hand-written Masi-esque front label. Now they have a stylized (seemingly hand-written) piece of Canadian poetry on the front label. And, much in the same way that Hillebrand selects its labels for its artist series of wines, so too will Southbrook chose their poetry for labels of Poetica in years to come. This first offering of nine bottles has poetry from the likes of bp Nichol “Blues” (the oldest poem chosen – 1966) to Wendy Morton’s “If I had a name like Rosie Fernandez” (2006 – Wendy was also on hand to read her poem). Other poets included P.K. Page (1997); Gwendolyn MacEwen (1969); Sarah Slean (2004) and Lesley Choyce (1998).

As for the wines we tasted they were the Chardonnays from 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2000 and 1998 – and the Cabernet Merlots from 2006, 2002 and 1998.

Top Chardonnays were the two oldest from the (winemaker) Derek Barnett era of Southbrook’s history; both wines are sold only in magnum (1.5L). The 2000 Chardonnay ($136) was golden in colour with toasty-buttery smells with hints of cinnamon and marmalade. The palate retained a spiciness with good acidity. Marmalade aspects from the nose also follow in the mouth along with nutmeg, cinnamon, butterscotch and vanilla … this was a big, mouth filling wine full of flavour.

The 1998 Chardonnay ($148) was still very nice, but had a bitterness on the back of the tongue (which was its only drawback); the nose was still fruity, buttery, and spicy with vanillaed-orange-flower nuances. There was a movie theatre popcorn taste, a good spiciness, cinnamon and orange marmalade with a brown sugar sprinkle.

Next in line was a toss up between the 2004 and 2006. The 2006 was buttery, big and oaky and tasted older than what it was, while the 2004 had orange marmalade, spiced orange and notes of honey on the nose, with spiced lemon, hints of butterscotch and marmalade on the long finish. So now that I’ve talked it through, I guess my third choice is the 2004 ($56 – 750ml).

As for the reds … I think the 2002 and 1998 Cabernet Merlots showed the best. The 2002 has coffee notes along with smoked green pepper and tobacco – there was also cinnamon, spices and herbs … much better than my bottle performed a few months ago. The 1998 Cabernet-Merlot ($168 – 1.5L) has those pleasant dried fruit characteristics and earthy tones – the wine travels nicely through the mid-palate, but ends with a touch of bitterness; must be something to do with that 1998 vintage.

These wines are all in limited quantity and available only at the winery.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Report from - Piedmont, Italy – Day 4 (Barbaresco Day) … September 30, 2008

It all started at the Charton-Hobbs tasting and ended with me nursing a stuffed nose for two-plus weeks; but I would have to say it was well worth it …

We are picked up by bus and taken to Barbaresco for a tour of this popular area and to taste some of its wines. We meet in a de-sanctified church, which was turned into a wine shop and tourist information center back in 1986 – this could only happen in Italy where wine is a religion ... turns out the town had two churches and that's one too many for a town this size.

Points of interest about Barbaresco …

- There are four areas of Barbaresco (three municipalities and a southern area) –Barbaresco, Neive, Treiso and Saint Rocca.
- Soil Breakdown: Langhe – calcarus, hard clay soil, more compacted, wine produced here has more structure and aging potential. Roero - sandy soil, looser, produces younger, more delicate and soft wines.
- Vines are not cultivated on north side of hills because there's not enough sun.
- Minimum aging requirements: 26 months, calculated from the first of November.
- Grapes of Barbaresco: Dolcetto, Barbera, Moscato (but not in Barbaresco Village), Chardonnay, Arneis, Fraise, Favaritta and of course, Nebbiolo.
- Over the past 40 years there have been eleven 5-star vintages: 71, 78, 82, 89, 90, 96, 99, 01, 04, 06, 07. And there have been ten 4-star vintages: 74, 76, 85, 88, 95, 97, 98, 00, 03, 05.

We then hop a bus to tour the area, we make frequent stops along the way: Faset, Aisili, Martinenga, Rio Sardo, Treiso, Neive, St. Christoforo.

At the highest point in the region we stop to visit with Andrea Sattimano, who takes us on a brief tour around his property ... we climb up this little hill which Andrea tells us is not only the highest point in the area (from which you can see everything) but it is also one of the few internet hotspots in the region; along the way I stop and pluck a few of the plump ripe grapes off the vines … they are juicy and delicious. Andrea and his family have worked this land for generations so he knows the grapes and the wines of the region intimately. He tells us about the flavors in the wine by region (this, of course, is his rule of thumb): Nieve - licorice and balsamic; Barbaresco – fuller, more robust body, big red fruit; Treiso – austere, elegant, finesseful, spicy … he also says that the producer can make all the difference.

Lunch is at a local trattoria where we sample four different wines from the Barbaresco region along with some local foods. Dishes like the Vitella e Tunnato (thinly sliced veal dipped in tuna cheese paste); Tarajin suga di carne (the local pasta, tarajin, egg noodles made with up to 30 eggs per pound of flour) with veal bits, a chicken dish and Bonetta (a thick rich paste-like chocolate cake). The pasta (tarajin) was the most amazing dish - this restaurant makes their own and uses approximately 18 eggs per pound of flour, which makes the noodles very yellowy in color - so yellow in fact that when red tomato sauce is ladled on top and mixed in the concoction turns orange, the color of Kraft Dinner - but the taste is nothing like KD … I had two helpings (I didn't know about the chicken course - but then again you can have chicken anywhere).

After lunch it was the truffle hunt ... we’re too early in the season for truffles (season: September 15 to end of December) - the good truffles don’t emerge until the middle of October. But we meet a fellow that looks as old as parchment paper and has been a truffle hunter for as long as he can remember. In fact, the truffle hunt has been in his family for generations. I also meet two very nice truffle-hunting dogs, who are eager to please but find nothing on this day.

There are a few people with working cell phones on our expedition, and there is a buzz going around the group that the Gagliardo people are looking for Tom … when we return to our lodging there is also a message left for him at the front desk. Tom believes he will be getting his promised helicopter ride. An hour later, a big black car shows up and takes Tom away, just minutes before we are to leave for dinner. I mention this only because we do not see Tom at our final dinner at the Restorante Conti Roero which lasts over three-hours … someone said that Tom had to take an earlier flight (out of a helicopter I joke, nobody finds this funny - maybe I’m hitting a little too close to home ... this is Italy afterall).

Our three day host, Stefano Gagliardo, returns to have a final meal with us … two references are jokingly made about the Tom incident the day before - one early in the evening, one a few hours later . The first one Stefano does not find funny and fails to laugh at, he doesn’t even crack a smile while the rest of the table roars its approval; but the second one he laughs at uproariously – I noticed that a few whispers are pasted into his ear throughout the evening before the second remark is made – and one of the whispers illicits a wide smile and a nod proceeded by “good” ... this is Italy don’t forget.

Dinner is lovely, and culminates in a fantastic last course of pork cheeks that is melt in your mouth delicious. Five of us decide to skip dessert, as it is already late, and we have a two hour ride ahead of us back to Milan where we are flying out the next morning. Before we leave Stefano pours the showstopper wine of the evening, the 1982 Gianni Gagliardo La Serra Barolo - of which, it is admitted, there are only a few bottles left. The nose is dried: raisins, figs, other fruit, and leaves - while the palate is smooth, but also dried (fruit, cherries) with a hint of chocolate cherry liqueur. Two bottles were opened, one was poured for the left side of the table, the other for the right. I was left side table; supposedly the right side’s bottle was still on the fresh side (or fresher) with more jump to the fruit - that's one of the beauties of an old wine: bottle variation.

We say goodbye to our hosts with hearty handshakes and cheek kisses, five of us pile into a small bus (which seats 10) for the trip to Milan ... along the trip we open a local Moscato D’Asti and one of the gift bottles of 2004 Barolo we received from the house of Gagliardo. We do not have proper glassware so we end up sipping the wines out of plastic cups we liberated from the hotel bathroom - and while that may not sound like a very dignified way to end a trip through the Barolo region of Italy, I have absolutely no complaints about it. Wine is always about the people and the place (in other words, the circumstances you drink it under), sitting in that bus with three newfound friends and the guy that got me on that bus in the first place, it just felt right; I also remember that that young Barolo had some really good fruit.

Addendum: a few weeks after my return home I receive an e-mail from Tom ... it was a generic email about how good it was to meet me and about my “fine sense of humor” ... I am convinced it was a cover, if you had been privy to the scene Tom had caused and the demands he made – and generally the way he talked to people that day; I feel Tommy is at the bottom of the Tanaro River (the main river that cuts through the Piedmont region) swimming with the fishes, as they say … he disrespected the family and after all, it was Italy.

Report from - Piedmont, Italy – Day 3 (More About Barolo) … September 29, 2008

It all started at the Charton-Hobbs tasting and ended with me nursing a stuffed nose for two-plus weeks; but I would have to say it was well worth it …

Up Up and Away …

It's our third day in Italy and once again we find ourselves back at Gianni Gagliardo’s winery - some of the press folks are starting to get upset, because they now believe they were brought here under "false pretenses" for a tour of Barolo (which they assumed would be different wineries) and instead find themselves time and again back at Gianni’s place. I, on the other hand, am experiencing being both Europe and Italy for the first time, so looking out over the countryside, albeit the same piece of countryside, is still as enthralling on day three as it was on day one … for the first time since we landed it has finally hit me, "I'm in Italy".

So today it's one of those days that everyone, including the complainers, has been waiting for – the helicopter tour of the Barolo region. First, Stefano gives us a bit of brief history about the area, he even turns the map on its side to give us a better understanding of the area (this way it actually sits North/South on the easel). He tells us of the three hills to look for, that show the recession of the sea in three stages – Serralunga, Barolo/Castiglione, and La Morra - which are oldest to youngest. According to Stefano the best growing area for Nebbiolo (the grape of Barolo) is between 200-300 meters above sea level, 50m in either direction can make all the difference in flavors. We are also told that the Nebbiolo grape does not "travel well" - meaning that it grows best in this region, the region of Barolo, and this region makes the best wines from it - a little hubris on his part, but what do you expect. Finally, we are told about the two regions of the area Langhe and Roero of which Langhe is the oldest and the more traditional grounds for Barolo production because the first families to make Barolo wine were in the town of Barolo, which is located in the Langhe region - makes sense to me.

Before we go helicoptering, and for those who don't know - the name Nebbiolo is derived from the word for fog (Nebbia) because Nebbiolo is harvested during the foggy season.

Helicopter rides lasted about ten minutes and they toured us around the above described regions. We saw little hamlets and towns, plenty of vineyards and some great castle-like buildings (see pictures to left - click to enlarge). Since there were about twenty of us, and we had to go in groups of three, there was a lot of downtime and waiting. We were served a white wine called ‘Fallegra’ as we waited. I found myself staring at a little gecko sunning himself on a wooden slat; everything was so peaceful and serene with a only the comings and goings of a helicopter to interrupt it.

A commotion behind me shook me from my reverie. One of the journalists on the trip named Tom, is making a scene - he didn't get the ‘special’ helicopter ride promised to him ... as a photojournalist he needed to have the front seat or at least the door open so he could snap “proper pictures” ... neither was done for him. He stomped around angrily, spoke in menacing tones to anyone who would listen, and even went as far as speaking in those same harsh tones to Stefano himself. This was a bad and embarrassing scene and went on for a good half hour. Many of us felt bad for the special events coordinator and press handler, as both women were put into an impossible to control situation. In truth, they had told him "we will see what we can do", which he took as the promise of "we'll do it ". Finally, the helicopter left because it was running out of fuel; Tom sulked and stewed and stomped about - and suddenly their was no doubt in your mind about why Europeans hate Americans. Tom demanded another helicopter ride, and was told, "we'll see what we can do." More on this situation on day 4.

With all the excitement and brouhaha finally under control, many were happy to get back the business at hand - tasting wine. We all sat down for a formal five wine tasting of the top wines of Gagliardo, including three Barolos. The clear winner of this tasting was the single vineyard 2004 Cannubi Barolo with its hefty 14.5 percent alcohol and full on flavor profile that kept you coming back to the glass for more. The nose was red berry, spicy and floral; while on the palate there was a delicacy and balance of fruit, wood, acidity and tannins. Red fruit dominated with sour cherry nuances, spices, vanillin … I could go on all day - suffice it to say this was the wine bottle I went back to to fill-up my glass ... when I think of the trip and the wines I tried, this is the one I’ll remember.

Lunch was another magnificent meal, chicken salad, pasta and a Sicilian Canoli.
Seminar instead of sleep ...

We say goodbye to our three days hosts; turns out we are finished with the Gagliardo family (though Stefano will be joining us for our final dinner). We are transported to the Consorzio Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Roero where we are seminared … one of those lectures you detested in high school – where the teacher reads the over head presentation; this was compounded even further because our host didn’t speak any English, so he spoke Italian and then the translator spoke English – but in essence read from the slides that were up on the screen. I speak little to no Italian but I could have done that job.
By the numbers ... points of interest before sleep kicked in :

- 1934 safeguards are set up to protect fine/typical Barolo and Barbaresco wines.
- 1947 area gets recognized as a DOC in Italian wine laws.
- 1980 area gets DOCG status.
- 1994 incorporate all wine denominations of Alba region, not just Barolo and Barbaresco.
- Piedmont makes 2,723,946 hecta-litres of wine (2007 numbers); only 447,593 is simple table wine … of that remaining wine approximately 86% is of DOC status and 14% is DOCG.
- The top five grapes of the area (in order): Barbera, Moscato, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Cortese.
- The Consorzio’s job is to make sure the wine laws of the region are enforced.

We then tried five wines that were labeless, except of the stamp of the Consorzio … these wines were to show the typicity of the wines made from the area grapes only – and not to show off individual producers.

The day ended with a fancy dinner at La Ciau del Tornavento and a tour of their vast cellar (see pictures) I’ll let the pictures write my thousand words of awe here.

Report from - Piedmont, Italy – Day 2 (Barolo Press Conference and Auction) … September 28, 2008

It all started at the Charton-Hobbs tasting and ended with me nursing a stuffed nose for two-plus weeks; but I would have to say it was well worth it …

We started the morning off in an old theatre (teatro) for the Barolo press conference. The press sat in the seats in the main body of the theatre as 3 speakers, from different aspects of the Barolo region, talked about the wines, the vintage and the tourism from the main stage.

Claudio Rosso discussed harvesting, Barolo’s DOCG status, the next Barolo launch to market (the 2005’s will see the light of day in January 2009) and the 2008 grape growing season: fresh spring, below average July and August with a hot summer-like September. His wrap up assessment: “Not an abundant crop but good grapes with excellent flavours and good acidity … these will be good wines for ageing.” He then told us that Barolo is sold in 48 countries – 14% of the wine is sold in the U.S. while another 34% is sold locally and over 10 million bottles are made annually. Claudio then sat down and took a hefty belt from his glass of wine (remember, it’s about 10:45 in the AM – what a great country, or as Konrad put it at the airport, “civilized”.)

N. Argamante addressed all in attendance with tourism facts … many around me nodded off during this part of the proceedings. I, on the other hand, stayed awake by watching them trying to stay awake. Bottom line here is that tourism numbers have doubled in the last few years and restaurants are booming trying to keep up with demand.

F. Curtaz then stood up and delivered his report, which turned out to be a repetition of much of Claudio’s speech, but he did add in a few helpful details about Barolo of his own, like a list of the outstanding Barolo vintages of the past decade (2001, 2003, 2005), that they’ll be making about 5% less Barolo this year then the average and that the 2008’s will be elegant, powerful and long lived. He then concluded with an old grape grower’s saying: “A late vintage is never a bad vintage.”

We then headed downstairs to the basement for a taste of some of the wine to be auctioned off that afternoon – of them the Cerretta 2004 was the best of the lot … lots of mineral component, good structure and a definite earthiness – there was also red currants, cranberry and drying tongue appeal.

A 30-minute break before lunch had me snapping pictures in the town square, and the 30-minutes of free time after lunch brought me to a gelato shop for Pistachio gelato. This was my only free time on the trip.

Barolo Auction …

We arrived at Gianni Gagliardo winery at 2:00pm where I had plenty of time before the 4pm auction to walk the winery, its cellars and into the kitchen. I mention the kitchen because when I wandered into it I stumbled onto what I thought was my own personal piece of heaven (you’ll see a few pictures to your right – might I suggest clicking on them to enlarge them to get the full scope of what I found myself in the middle of) … yes it is a plethora of chocolate. Later on, after the auction, these delicacies were put out on long tables for the post-Barolo Auction party. One table was all chocolate and desserts, the other was nibblies and other finger foods, including a mountain made of Prosciutto (see pictures).

During the auction the 2003 Preve Barolo Reserva was poured (producer: Gianni Gagliardo): plum, sour cherry, cinnamon, wood with good red and black fruit smells; the palate was dry, tannic and ballsy – the wine still needs lots of time.

The party ended at 7:30pm. With our stuffed bellies they piled us into a bus and drove us to a local pizza place for dinner; seriously, Italy really is all about food. This place (to which I never caught the name) had the most wonderful thin crust pizza and served exquisite local beer in 750ml bottles (this is where I picked up a bottle of beer named after my honey, Erika (she spells it Erica), quite apropos, it’s a honey beer. Not sure she got the connection though, I guess when you expect fine Italian jewellery and end up with fine Italian beer instead it’s a little disappointing). The day ended with our collective distended bellies being full of salted, cured meats, chocolate, enough hors d’oeuvres to kill a horse then capped with pizza and beer … the Italians do love to eat – God bless ‘em.

Report from - Piedmont, Italy – Day 1 ... September 27, 2008

It all started at the Charton-Hobbs tasting and ended with me nursing a stuffed nose for two-plus weeks; but I would have to say it was well worth it …

Flying Air Italia at a time when the airline is close to bankruptcy is a scary proposition –the question of, “how the heck will I get home?” kept running through my head. But as someone pointed out to me, at least you'll be stuck in Italy. My road to get there was just as interesting as being there ... the call came in on a Monday to replace a last minute cancellation; I was up in the air 4-days later flying to Italy for my first European "vacation". Dinner on board consisted of a chicken breast and lasagna; breakfast was ham and cheese on egg bread with a danish; I loved the sweet red orange juice served at both meals. Final destination was Milan, which meant having to change planes in Rome. Walking through the airport to get to our connecting flight I noticed that the place looked more like a shopping mall. How surreal - this is an airport? My fellow traveler and wine-writer colleague Konrad Ejbich comments, "this is a civilized airport.”

We arrive in Milan a few minutes before noon (a few minutes earlier than expected), collect our bags and go to exit 4 to meet our ride. We wait, and wait, and wait … at 12:45 Enzo shows up making apologies, but alas he does not speak a lick of English. He leads us to two different levels of the parking garage and down four different aisles on each. Enzo, it would seem, has lost his car. He returns Konrad and I back to the arrivals “lounge” while the intrepid and somewhat inept Enzo goes off in search of his (and our) ride. By 1:15pm he returns for us; he has found his car and we are to follow him. He makes another wrong turn in the parking structure, but does eventually find his car. Enzo makes me very nervous - he drives way too slow, on a road that’s speed limit is set to 120km, Enzo does not break 80 … fatigue takes over and I fall asleep in the back seat, Konrad nods off in the front, neither of us can bear to watch the train wreck that is our greeter and driver.

3:15 PM we arrive in Alba, it's 15° and sunny. We have a little free time to grab some quick groceries (namely water) at a store that is recommended to us, just a few blocks away (La Famiglia). Here I found bottled water in a 1.5L size for .08-Euros ... I buy 6. Back to our accommodations to get ready for a 6:00pm dinner at La Morra and what should be a very busy few days.

Dinner in La Morra Vineyard ...

From the pictures you can see that dinner was actually held in the middle of the vineyard –we literally receive a candle-lit red carpet treatment leading up to where we would eventually eat dinner. At the back, a makeshift kitchen was also set up in the vineyard. Hosted by Gianni Gagliardo winery, who is represented at dinner by the winery’s namesake, and his son/winemaker Stefano, who took us through explanations of the various wines, vintages and the winery itself. I was lucky enough to be sitting at the table with Stefano so I caught many of his bon mots. We were served five wines with dinner, over the course of a few hours – and as the darkness of night drifted in around us the air took on a chill, which helped the wines, but not the people in attendance ... thankfully, and thoughtfully, the winery provided us all with long red polar fleece material scarves. The wines were part of the Batier line (pronounced "Bat-T-Eh" and meaning “Baptised” – wines for special occasions); made from the Nebbiolo grape. The 2006 was far too young for consumption and the 2004 was also still quite tight. The 2005 Batier was robust and powerful yet delicious, with black fruit, cherry and chocolate along with some cinnamon and spice thrown in for good measure. The oldest of the wines was the 2003, which was beginning to come around with dried cherries and herbs on the nose, great flavours of dried red fruit that was smooth and long lasting on the tongue. Dessert was a Moscato wine called “Villa M.” – which tasted like Moscato should and was delicious.

Some of Stefano’s quotes, thoughts and feelings:

On his winemaking style: "I am quite traditional in my approach, I like cork, I am afraid of our older vintages because of the cork, but our newer vintages have the highest quality corks we can find, so they're safe. "

About the Nebbiolo grape: "It is never banal, it brings complexity to the bottle of Barolo, which is one of the most delicate wines in the world, but if you respect Barolo you're in for a great experience, and by respect I mean the right glass, decanting and the right occasion, because above all Barolo is about experience and become …"

Explaining the falling mask logo of the winery: "Because as the night progresses people eat and drink, their mask-persona falls away ... it is my feeling that it is in that way that wine brings people together, they drop their mask."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Report from ... Sommelier Service Tasting Evening - JK Wine Bar - November 17, 2008

In the spirit of full disclosure, allow me to say right now that I have done some work for Sommellier Service and it’s president Warren Porter in the past, and will continue to do so in the future; because I believe the everyone is entitled to their glass of wine. Those who read this column often also know that if I thought something was a sham I would tell you. That being said I was invited to the Sommelier Service tasting evening where nine wines were being poured and the principals were in attendance, mainly the aforementioned president Warren Porter and his de facto sommelier, and current star sommeliers of Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar and restaurant, Jamie Drummond.

For those of you who have never met Jamie Drummond he's quite easily recognizable, I have always thought he looks quite like Mick Hucknell, lead singer of Simply Red – and his British accent help finish off the resemblance nicely (being that Simply Red is a from-over-there band) … if you do spy him in the restaurant you’ll have to make the call on your own. Jamie has been a fixture at JK, and on the Toronto wine scene, for about four years now – the length of time he has been the sommelier of JK. "Warren approached me with the idea and I saw it as good cross promotion," Jamie told me. "I'm tasting wines all the time and not all of them get into the restaurant, why not put them into the hands and mouths of those who appreciate them.” Is what I think he said, over the din of the group of a appreciative wine tasters.

So what is Jaime talking about, and for that matter, what am I talking about? Sommelier Service. A wine club that puts consignment and private order wines, that you would normally have to buy in case lots of 12, into your wine cellar and on to your table ... in far fewer numbers than twelve. These are wines that you can’t get through the LCBO and are brought into the province by agents who sell them to restaurants and private collectors (wine buyers) – now you can get the inside track on some very exclusive, and very tasty wines.

The club starts out by profiling client’s palates and thereby their database can pick the wines that will be most enjoyed by their members; this ‘palate preference’ is based on a questionnaire they fill out. The wines are submitted by agents and tasted by Drummond and those who receive the highest scores get put into the database for selection to match with members’ profiles. My favorite quotes about the club were found in the National Post (November 08, 2008): "It's really no different than using a broker to pick your stocks or a realtor to pick your real estate," says Warren Porter. But I think the club really comes down to this quote found in the same article: "Our client wants maximum convenience but also wants wines in his home that his neighbor doesn't have." And that truly is the essence of Sommelier Service - wines picked for you by a respected palate that not everyone in the city can get ... well, everyone not belonging to Sommelier Service that is. Membership start at $150.00 per month, visit to get the full skinny.

As for those nine wines being poured, I thought six of them were delightful and the other three, well … they were not to my liking, though I can see why others might be thrilled by them. Here are my top three selection from the evening:

#3 - 2006 Leitz Rheingau Kabinett Riesling (Germany) ... delightful on the palate, and I just adore a well made Riesling – peach, apple, floral notes with hints of talc and petrol.

#2 – 2004 Bodegas Barreda Torre de Barreda Amigos (Spain) ... big alcohol (14.5%) leads the charge here; there's a spicy blueberry/blackberry note with some anise on the finish, but with red licorice through the mid palate – nice dusty tannins and cassis round off the finish nicely.

#1 – 2005 Lomond Estate Syrah (South Africa) … I tasted this wine before looking at where it was from and was surprised at its origin, this had none of that usual South Africa funk that you find on many of that country’s wines; instead there was a beauty of a palate made up of spiced/peppered raspberries and chocolate. The nose was also peppery and spicy with much black fruit to be had. Warren told me, "We might just take the whole 35 case Ontario allotment, we feel it’s that good; both Jaime and Michael [Vaughan] said it was a very special wine.” … If that's the case, getting your hands on this wine is just one of the many reasons to join the club. Spectacular.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Report from ... Le Sommelier portfolio tasting - November 12, 2008 (3:00 PM) – Part 3 of 3

Finally, it was off to the Niagara Street Cafe (Niagara and King, west of Bathurst) for the Le Sommelier portfolio tasting. In a small room upstairs, 21 wines were poured. Instead of making notes about all 21 this is a list of my top seven selections (in tasted order) ...

(Austria) – Nigl 2007 Gruner Veltliner ($20.95 – vintages) – fruity and crisp with plenty of citrus to go around.

(Alsace) - JM Sohler 2006 Grand Cru Winzenberg Pinot Gris ($28.94 – consignment) – owner Bernard Stramwasser told me that this is the wine that inspired him to be a wine agent. A beautiful wine with peach, talc and green apple notes, a touch of sweetness on the tongue and a nice long finish ... only 72 cases are made ... Interesting to note: this wine is aged 23 months in barrels that have been in use since the 1886.

(Australia) - DogRidge 2006 the pup Chardonnay ($20.95-consignment) - the nose is pineapple and vanilla by the palate has green and Mac apple with a bit of butter on the finish – there’s also real good fruit concentration here.

(Portugal) - Fita Preta 2006 Sexy Rosé ($15.75 - consignment )- a pleasant and appealing rosé that's nice and dry with flavors and smells of raspberries and strawberries, there’s also a touch of plum and spice. Sleek sumptuous and indeed very sexy. Vintages will be carrying the 2007 vintage of this wine in June, 2009.

(Australia) - DogRidge 2005 Cadenzia Grenache ($31.50 – consignment) - raspberry, strawberry fruit smells, follows with sweetness on the mid-palate with full-on fruitiness.

(Australia) - DogRidge 2005 the pup Shiraz ($20.95 – consignment) - tasty Aussie Shiraz, jammy and juicy with a touch of pepper, plum and blueberry … did I mention the juiciness? I'm sure I did.

(Italy) – Fanti San Filippo 2003 Brunello di Montalcino (~$74.00 – consignment) - nice rich, black fruit, cedar, cinnamon and a dusty dark cocoa powder finish - you'll also find some dried raspberries in the mouth.

Report from ... Jean Jean / Ogier - November 12, 2008 (1:00 PM) – Part 2 of 3

Next tasting on November 12 was a preview of the Beaujolais inspired wine from Jean Jean called Syrah Primeur 2008. This was a cloudy tank sample that gave us a sneak peak of what is to come on November 20 when the Beaujolais Noveaus are released. This strawberry-raspberry bubble gum confection of a wine is quite tasty and relatively inexpensive at $9.95 ... More on the Beaujolais Nouveaus and comparable wines next week.

I also have to tell you that there is no way you'll get a bunch of wine writers out to try one single wine, therefore you have to promise them more ... we got to sip on other Jean Jean wines, some Ogier wines and a few other wines carried by EuroVintages Wine and Spirits that will be hitting shelves soon.

Jean Jean ...

“Simple and tasty” best describes the 2007 Merlot ($10.45 - #582130) - with lots of red berry, black cherry and a bit of earthiness, this easy drinking wine is good value for the price .

Ogier …

Two wines from this label struck me as good value reds ... the 2006 Ted, aka Ted the Mule ($9.95 - #665463) with its smoky, spicy blackberries along with its dusty tannins on the finish; a pumped up 14.5% alcohol and a new lower price (down from $12.95) makes this one a steal for the holidays and festival party season.

The other wine is for the sophisticates on your list, 2006 Heritage ($15.95 - #535849) has more finesse than Ted, more open, more juicy berries and more fruit … there's also a very pleasing spiced strawberry aspect that keeps you coming back for more. Serve Ted at the party - give Heritage as a gift ... people think you spent more than you did.

Two more …

Ogier Caves des Papes Clos L’oratoire Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2006 ($39.95 - #993279 – Vintages December 06, 2008) … peppery, spicy black fruit dominated with a dusty bittersweet cocoa finish.

Domaines Cazes Excellence do Triniac 2005 ($16.95 – Vintages in February 2009) offers up great value in an every day delight ... juicy and sweet fruit on the palate, lots of blackberries and black cherries play on the tongue before giving way to a dry lingering finish.

Report from ... Wente Tasting - November 12, 2008 (11:00 AM) – Part 1 of 3

It's been a long day so bear with me … Today I went to three tastings, all downtown, and I walked to them all. For those of you who know Toronto, I was at the Sutton Place Hotel, then went south to the Esplanade, and finally a walk west to Niagara Street (off King, west of Bathurst). My legs are tired, my eyes are heavy and my palate is close to shot … but before I retire for the evening let me run down of the day's activities.

Started my day at the Sutton Place Hotel, where I met Carolyn Wente of Wente Vineyards, who are celebrating 125 years of winemaking excellence in the Livermore Valley (North of San Francisco). Carolyn proved to be an excellent host and the three writers present on this, the early leg of her meet and greet, helped guide her into some very interesting stories: like how her great grandfather (or is that great great?), founder C.H. Wente, found his way to the San Francisco Bay area; how the Wente brothers and Beaulieu circumvented wine regulations during the prohibition era on nothing more than a handshake; and about an upcoming Mexican-Californian venture they seem to be involved it. She spoke highly of winemaker Karl Wente, the fifth generation family member to be involved and how he brings the maverick approach and young sensibility to winemaking … and how his willingness to try new things lead to the establishment of the Nth Degree small lot wines (no more than 300 cases of each varietal made).

Wente started as a 47 acre winery in 1883, today they have 2,000 acres in the Livermore Valley and another thousand in Monterey. I have been a fan of their Morning Fog Chardonnay for that last couple of years now and it is a wine that continues to be in my top three of California Chardonnays – especially for the price ($16.25) … I recently reviewed the 2007 Chardonnay on my “What I’m Drinking Tonight” blog ... Speaking of Chardonnay, it is interesting to note that Wente was the first to plant the Chardonnay grape in California, labelled the first varietal Chardonnay, and that 80 percent of the Chardonnay growing in California today is from the Wente clone; (as late as 1960 Wente had 1/3 of all Chardonnay in California). When confronted with the topic of California’s over use of oak in Chardonnay Carolyn paused long enough to formulate a very good answer. "In 1970 therer a hundred wineries in California, today there are over 1,700 wineries. At one point, because of the proliferation of new wineries there was so much new oak in California from all these wineries ordering up their barrels and yet so few winemakers that knew how to control this oak." She went on to tell us that the neophytes to wine we're thrilled at being able to pick out a distinctive attribute in a glass of wine, namely oak, that many just kept up the practice of using new wood all the time. "Today the pendulum is swinging back to lesser oak." Carolyn concluded - Amen.

Other Wines Tried:

2006 Zinfandel – Beyer Ranch ($17.95 – LCBO general list) – 15% Petit Verdot and 5% Sangiovese also find their way into this bottle of Zin. Plumy, cherry and chocolaty … no perceptual taste or smell of alcohol, though it does have 14%. There's also cinnamon, nutmeg and spiced raspberry on the nose. Flavors follow the plumy cherry and chocolate route with a spiciness quality that's quite appealing.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Southern Hills ($17.25 - LCBO general list) - with six other grapes this wine could be called ménage a sept. Grapes include Petit Verdot (9%), Merlot (5%), Tempranillo (3%), Sangiovese and Barbera (2% each), Syrah (1%) and a partridge in a pear tree. Lots of red and black fruit, nice herb quality along with a raspberry-strawberry component ... smooth, easy and delicious - seemingly sweet mid-palate which drops off to dry on the finish.

2005 Merlot – Crane Ridge ($29.95 - private order) – chocolate and blueberry dominates the nose, what follows in the mouth are herbs and juicy blackberries. Tannins are fine, they do not overpower or try to take over from the blue/black-berry finish along with some herbs that stick around for awhile.

Report from ... Igor Larionov Wines Tasting - November 8, 2008

Golf pros have been at it for some time, so have actors, so it was only a matter of time before hockey took on the wine industry. Sure we've got Wayne Wines, on both sides of the border, now the Russians have the professor, Igor Larionov, who has had a fourteen year love affair with wine, which was nursed during his time in the Swiss hockey league (the year he took off from the NHL between Vancouver and San Jose). Today, Igor has approximately fifteen wines under his “IL” moniker, wines that are produced in both California and Australia and sold in the most unlikely of wine places, Russia and Michigan. On this Saturday afternoon, with a light rain falling on downtown Toronto, we congregated at the King Edward Hotel, for the launch of Igor’s first ever Icewine (made by Pillitteri) and at the same time, we celebrated his induction into the hockey hall of fame.

Igor’s wines fall into two main label: Triple Overtime, which are his entry-level wines, and Hattrick, the reserves. The first vintage of these wines was in 2004. Below, are a few tasting notes about the wine that bare the name of this very talented and award winning hockey player.

The Igor Larionov three star selection ...

The first star: 2006 Hattrick Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - Mount Veeder, Napa ($91.05) - very minty with cinnamon, juicy black fruit, good tannins and a peppery finish.

The second star: 2005 Hattrick “The Professor” ($76.20) - a blend of 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot - nice complex wine: peppery, woody, blackberries, cassis, cedar, vanilla, cinnamon, with a paprika finish … there's big wood here, meaning it needs more time to integrate and settle down.

The third star: 2005 Hattrick Reserve Merlot - Stag's Leap, Napa ($76.20) – perfumy smells with pencil shavings and black fruit.

Report from ... Stem Wine Group Tasting - October 28, 2008

The beautiful confines of the Eglinton Grand Theater was the home to the Stem Wine Group tasting. Over half of these wines come from Italy with a few other countries like the U.S., Spain, Greece, Argentina, Australia and France thrown in for good measure.

Best wine of the tasting ...
With all the Italian stuff I was surprised to find my favorite wines were actually at the lone American table, where seven producers showcased fifteen wines. The most impressive white of the afternoon was the Y3 Chardonnay ($33.95 - #67264) from Jax Vineyard, nice flavors and smells that leapt from the glass onto your tongue and down your throat, leaving behind a great long finish with crisp acidity: white fruit, spiced vanilla, tropical pineapple, caramel and brown sugar all combined in this smooth and balanced beauty.

My favorite red was also on this U.S. table, from a winery called Bishops Peak. Their 2005 Rock Solid Red ($20.99), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Sirah, created a luscious sweet vanilla, plum, chocolate concoction - and that was just on the nose; the palate had juicy blackberry, black cherry and a smooth palate with a pleasing finish ... great price for a wine you can happily drink all night.

Best Portfolio ...
From the $14.99 2006 Tempranillo (great red fruit driven nose and flavors), to the $39.99 2002 Seleccion (88% Tempranillo, 8% Grenache, 4% Mazuelo – dried fruits, blackberries and quite juicy) the Bodegas Darien line really impressed - especially at the price points. The 2004 Crianza ($19.99 – drier with blacker fruits, as compared to the ‘06 Tempranillo above) and the $26.99 2002 Reserva (cinnamon, vanilla, blackberry and toasted caramel - made with the same grapes as the Seleccion) all offered value for the money from this Rioja (Spain) winery. Ole.

Not Just Wine ...
An Italian brewery called Birra Bruton was also on hand sampling seven different kinds of beer which came in 750ml bottles, now that's a civilized way to sell beer. There was the Momus with its caramel, coffee, latte notes; the Stoner, which was white fruit dominated; the Lilith, with its sweet nose, citrus palate and touch of bitters on the finish; along with seasonal beers like the 10% Dieci (barley wine style) which was simply delicious and the St. Renna, their Christmas beer, that has caramel added and a Christmas spice nose. All beer was $16.99 for 750 millions.

Notable values ...
Az. Agr. Collemattoni 2006 Adone ($19.95) – ripe and juicy, with cinnamon, spice and black fruit.
Vinicola Tombaco 2007 Ca’del Doge Primitivo ($12.99) – ripe and jammy, sweet fruit with plum on the mid-palate. Very dry finish.
Vinicola Tombaco 2007 Syrah “Terra Nuova” ($12.99) – more Zin-like than the Zin-like Primitivo, if you know what I mean: plum, raspberry, cola nut and vanilla.

Woolshed 2006 Shiraz/Cabernet ($14.99) – peppery, jammy and chocolate … nice price too.

Other Wines that were nice with a “fine” price …
Boroli 2003 Barolo ($79.99) – herbs and spice, cherry bite and dried sweet cranberry.

Ca’del Baio 2005 Barbaresco ‘Asili’ (part of 9 wine box for $500) – ripe red fruit, cherry, strawberry – drier, more straight forward than the other 2 bottles in this collection of wines.

Delibori Vignetti e Cantine
2000 Villabella, Amarone della Valpolicella ($59.95) – 2001 Villabella ($65.95)
the 2000 is perfect with its liqueur cherry taste, while the 2001 is getting there … both have the rich robust chocolate, cherry jam, raspberry, strawberry with an oak derived spiciness.

Tenuta Monteti 2005 Monteti ($59.99) – blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc … ripe red fruit with funky herb notes, beautiful nose – nice juicy blackberry-blueberry taste.

Az. Agr. Masciarelli 2006 ‘Marina Cvetic’ Trebbiano d’Abruzzo ($49.99) – unusual spiced pumpkin seed nose, and a nice taste … good Halloween wine.

Merry Edwards Wines 2006 Sonoma Coast and Russian River Pinot Noirs ($63.99/$74.99)
Sonoma has the sweeter fruit here; Russian adds the complexity of herbs, vanilla, cinnamon with a long finish.

Maison Camille Giroud 2003 Chambertin Grand Cru ($249 - #76620) – only 40 cases came in from Burgundy and some bottles still reside in the Classics catalogue … dried cherry on the nose; dried fruit and a nice smoothness on the tongue, combine with the 13.5% alcohol to give it a sweet flavour.

Report from ... Tasting with Sebastian Labbe of Vina Carmen - October 27, 2008

Sitting in a small anteroom at the LCBO’s Summerhill location (just south of St. Clair on Yonge, Toronto), less than a dozen of us sat down to get the low down on Vina Carmen from a member of it’s winemaking team, namely Sebastian Labbe. Vina Carmen is part of the Santa Rita group of wineries who make up the fifteenth largest exporter of wine in Chile. These labels should be no mystery to those who regularly, or even semi-regularly, prowl the aisles of our liquor monopoly - both the Santa Rita brand and Carmen brand have both general list (available all the time) and occasional Vintages products (special small lots wines) go through the board. Carmen is an autonomous entity from Santa Rita with its own facilities, vineyards and winemaking team – though pooling/sharing resources and knowledge is not unheard of. During the tasting Labbe called their style, "a marriage of old world and new world."

Before tasting Sebastian took us on a brief photographic tour of Chile, showing us pictures and graphics of the Maipo (which has less rain than Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa); Rapel (great for reds) and the Leyda Valley (cooler climate, good growing conditions for Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc). He also told us about new growing regions like Limari (in the north) and the Elqui Valley (growing Syrah and Carmenere). Carmen has five different labels under its umbrella: Classic, Reserve, Nativa (organic grapes), Winemaker’s Reserve, and Gold Reserve (single vineyard) - we tried at least one wine in each tier.

Sebastian was proud to mention that Carmen has won winery of the year from Wine and Spirits magazine eight times ... here are some of the reasons why:

Classic Chardonnay 2007 ($9.95) – Casablanca Valley
Nose is loaded with melon and peach, nice mineral and grassy notes, the flavors are big on citrus, tons of acidity and a long melon finish ... this has more Sauvignon Blanc-like characteristics than Chardonnay – but very lovely.

Reserve Carmenere/Cabernet 2005 ($16.85 - 60/40 blend)
Plumy and minty on the nose, peppery blackberry with dusty-gritty tannins.

Reserve Petit Syrah 2004 ($18.95)
Nose has minty-ness with red cherry liqueur nuances, taste-wise you're looking at white pepper, black cherry with a sweet and sour finish.

Gold Reserve 1999 and 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (~$49.95)
This wine is made in only the best years from a single 4-hectare block which is hand picked and sorted … this particular block was planted back in 1957. The wine is aged fifteen to eighteen months in new French oak and bottle aged for an additional twelve months ... it's always made unfiltered.
1999: smooth, chocolate, juicy, dried fruit, fine tannins, very elegant with fifteen percent alcohol
2001: grittier, alcohol is more apparent with lots of red berry flavors and smells.
Years that the Gold Reserve has been made: 93, 95, 97, 99, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 07, 08.

Finally, for dessert, we tried the 2007 Moscatel (retails for under $15.00 and comes in 500ml bottles - not currently available in Ontario). It's a pity the LCBO has never brought this in, because this really is something special - especially at that price. Smells are apple, peach, white flowers and a bit grassy, while the palate dishes out pineapple, peach, easy sweetness and grapy flavors. Alcohol is only 12.5% and the sugar code is a mere seven. This is light, refreshing and incredibly tasty … the finish has a light hint of vanilla-caramel. Yum.
Other notes about this wine: 15% is made from botrytis-affected grapes. 50% is oak fermented; the other 50% is done in stainless steel.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pizza at Southbrook - September 21, 2008

A friend of mine insisted that I just had to get to Southbrook, and soon, to try the new and limited time "pulled pork pizza". Seems he had been doing a little talking with the chef the night before and knowing my love for pulled pork called me immediately. As it turned out I was in the area for the Wine Festival and had an opportunity to drop in and try this much-lauded creation.

Upon my arrival I bumped into one of my favorite sommeliers in the area, Archie Hood; you'd recognize Archie in a heartbeat - it's the mustache that's his claim to fame (click on the picture to play the "Who is the Real Archie" game.). He greeted me with his usual warm, jovial smile.

"Archie," I said, after our hellos and long-time-no-see greeting, "word on the street is you've got a pulled pork pizza." Archie's smile widened.

"Yes we do." He replied. "Word travels fast I see; we just launched it yesterday - would you like me to set you up with one?"

Archie disappeared out the door to the outdoor patio/kitchen (as opposed to the indoor event kitchen) where the wood burning pizza oven is located. A number of tables are set up out there for people to enjoy their pie and a glass of wine – but it was rainy and cold today, so I opted for the indoor eating experience.

Archie came back and offered up a glass of wine with "lunch" (it was about 2:00, Southbrrok serves till 3pm) ... he poured the 2006 Triomphe Syrah, a fairly light bodied red with nice flavours of sour cherry and, surprisingly, pink grapefruit (I swear it).

The pizza came, made on a vinifera additive dough (you have a choice between regular or this special variety), it's loaded with iron and reservatrol because the flour has the pips and skins ground up and added to it, and it also gives the dough a brownish-red color. Archie informed me that Southbrook offers three pizzas on a two week cycle - meaning that there are always three different pizzas every couple of weeks … so don't get too attached to one; each is paired with a wine: white, red or sweet. The pulled pork proved very popular, so popular in fact that the chef had to come back on Sunday morning to make a new batch of pulled pork for the toppings because they ran out on Saturday. Here’s hoping it comes back because it was very good.