Chinese wine – swear to the Sun-God ...
Torontonians got their first official look and taste of wines from China, Great Wall Wines, who had a small booth in the middle of the show (so small that if you blinked you would’ve missed it), what‘s more they had wines to try too: 1996, 1999, 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2003 Chardonnay; and 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. And to answer your question, yes, they grow grapes in China. In fact they make about the 80-million bottles a year, of which only three to four percent are exported. Great Wall also touted the fact that they were the official wine for the Beijing 2008 olympics ... and the wines were made from 100% Chinese grapes – Hello, Vincor … please, please, please - take note of this (Esprit link).
Have some Madeira my dear …
For those who have never tried Madeira it can be quite the exotic experience. These wines are both fortified and heated, so they are high in alcohol and oxidized, but they have such unrivaled flavors and longevity. Casa dos Vinhos Fine Old Madeira - 5 years old ($18.95 - general list) was served with a lemon peel which added flavor and fragrances that were quite appealing. While the Henriques and Henriques 10 Year Old Malmsey ($38.00 – Vintages) had beautiful flavors and aromas reminiscent of almonds and orange peel.
Somethings Sweet ...
From the south of France came Odysseus from Joseph Nadal ($25.00 – Vintages); made from Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris – a bayuls grand cru wine that has a light touch of sweetness to go along with its cherry, almond and orange peel appeal.
Getting away from the orange peel and into something rich and fruity, how about Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage 2003 Port ($18.95) – plumy, black cherry and chocolate, very warming in the belly.
Or the Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny ($68.95) – complex yet delicious with great cherry flavor an incredible smoothness.
Fladgate Fantasies …
Speaking of incredible, where else can you try Taylor Fladgates 30-year-old and 40-year-old Tawnys without plunking down a small fortune, $178 and $225 respectively. The man from Fladgate explained their high prices to me: "there's a 3% evaporation rate of wine every year; which means, for every bottle of 40 year old we make we lose three bottles to the air." The gods really are taking their share of this scrumptious wine and I tasted why. First, there's the 30-Year-Old with orange peel, dried cherries, and almonds on the nose; lush and smooth in the mouth with liqueur soaked cherries, caramel and butterscotch, along with some of the above scents traveling through the mouth. The 40-Year-Old was just beyond description, it was simply incredible, wonderful and palate, as well as nasally, seductive. If you're looking for a special gift this season check out Fladgate’s hundred years of tawny, which has a half bottle of 10 – 20 - 30 and 40 year old tawny for $289 - fantastic port from a house that's been doing it since 1692.
Beers of Note …
Getting away from wine for a moment, don't worry we’ll get back in a minute (or however long it takes you to read or skip this part). Fruit beer can be fun, so check out Friuli, a Belgian strawberry wheat beer ($2.35 each / $14.50 4-pack), made with 30% pure strawberry and has only 4% alcohol; it’s also high in B-complex (the anti-aging vitamin) and besides all that it's very good and has more of a strawberry than a beer taste.
Nickle Brook’s Apple Pilsner from Burlington, Ontario is also a very refreshing beer for fruit lovers, made with 5% green apple juice and partially fermented apples (fermented separately) and a touch of lemon juice. Very appley.
Finally, there was the Great Lakes Brewery (from Mississauga) makers of one of my favorite red beers "Red Leaf", who are making a very tasty Winter Ale that comes in 750ml bottles with 6.2% alcohol, for a mere $6.95 a bottle. Made with a concoction of ginger, cinnamon, dried orange peel and honey. I definitely picked up the cinnamon on the taste - the nose was all that and a bag of chips (as the young once said) ... a very yuletide kinda beer.
A Few Wines of Note ...
There's lots of the same old same old for me here, stuff I have tried through Vintages releases or at country-specific shows; but every so often someone pulls me aside with a "must try" wine, as Robert Ketchin did with this most impressive Ranui 2006 Pinot Noir ($24.95 – Vintages) from Marlborough’s Wairau Valley (New Zealand) made in only 30% new French oak. My first impression was what a fantastic nose this wine had (direct quote: "great nose – holy shit”) - great sour and black cherry along with hints of vanilla; that carries through on the palate along with strawberries and raspberries. Where do I get me some of this? (Vintages I was told).
There was the Santa Alicia Reserva Carmenere ($11.95 - general list) with its raspberry, blueberry, spice and touch of mint - good value at under $12.00
Valdivieso is back in the market, this time they have a full line of wines on display, my favorite was a 2006 Cabernet Franc ($20.00 - private order) cherry, raspberry, and violets – deliciously smooth.
All in all a successful Gourmet Expo with plenty of interesting products to sip, sample and savour.
In Closing - an LCBO Faux Pas
These two photos were taken at this year's Gourmet show and sent to me with the caption "Bait and Switch" on them - the taker was incensed that the LCBO would pull this kind of stunt - but not surprised; after all they put the VQA and "Cellared in Canada" wines together all the time. For those without a keen eye or who need a little nudge - they put Chilean wine in the VQA section - classy, real classy.