Friday, February 27, 2009

Report from ... Castagna Tasting - February 16, 2009

Former film and commercial director Julian Castagna came to town and set up shop at the Fine Wine Reserve with six of his wines (his "entire portfolio"). Julian is a very interesting character; he left the film business in the nineties to take up winemaking. At first he bought grapes from area growers to see if he was adept at making wine - better to waste someone else's grapes than your own. In a bizarre twist of fate Julian’s two sons have undertaken each side of his persona: one has followed his father’s past path in film, while the other it is learning from dad now, as a winemaker. I tasted all six wines, two of which are made by his son. My top three picks are as follows (all wines are currently private order moving, hopefully, to consignment come the spring):

3) 2008 Allegro Rosé ($39.95) … we tried both the 2007 and 2008 version, I found the 2007 flat and boring while the 2008 was vibrant with lots of red berries: an intense raspberry nose with an intense strawberry flavour all finished with a surprisingly dry finish, especially for a wine with so much upfront fruit. Julian pointed out that they were two very different types of vintages, which explained the night-and-day difference in the wines.

2) 2007 Adam’s Rib ($49.95 … this wine is made by Julian's son, a Chardonnay / Viognier blend - the nose was sweet with tree fruit (apples and peaches), while the palate was scrumptious showing peaches and hints of vanilla.

1) 2005 Sparkling Genesis Syrah ($99.95) ... usually, sparkling Shiraz is about as exciting as watching grass grow - but Julian is trying to improve on that reputation. He is experimenting with this sparkling to see what the difference age will have on his wine. First, he barrel aged the wine for 18-months, making only 6 barrels in total. He then divided them into three batches of two barrels each, bottled them and then let the secondary fermentation begin. He released one after twelve months – which Julian says was nice. The batch we tried was the 24-month experiment, then in another year he’ll release the 36-month batch. In the end the best batch will become the standard he uses from that day forward. In his opinion, the 24-month shines well above the twelve-monther, and he's looking forward to trying the 36. Lots of Shiraz character here with spicy-peppery notes, and lots of black cherry following on the taste with a healthy dose of fine bubbles. I just hope Julian comes back and lets us try the 36er.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Report from ... Lifford's Blogger Tasting - February 11, 2009 (7:00pm)

Lifford Wine Agency had one of those notions that I've never heard of before - I think they call that "an innovative idea": invite bloggers to an evening tasting. Greeted at the door with a hearty handshake, one of the reps in attendance said to me, "it's nice to have writers here who'll actually write something." With less than twenty people in attendance plus (what seemed like), one agent for every attendee, Lifford paraded out twelve wines (1 Champagne, 4 whites, 7 reds) all now available, or soon to be available, at the LCBO. Liffords owner made a brief speech before the tasting began. His key phrase, that I am sure he wanted us all to remember, "we sell enjoyment", which he must have repeated three times; all he needed was the Casino Rama tagline, "big time", and I think he just might have a slogan for his next print ad. Anyway, here are my top selections from this evening's offerings:

Both Australian’s Cockfighter’s Ghost wines were excellent. The 2006 Un-Wooded Chardonnay ($19.95 - February 14 Vintages) has fresh apples and lemons ... while the 2006 Tasmania Pinot Noir Reserve ($33.95 - May 2 Vintages) was all you'd expect from good Pinot. From the get go you find some earthiness, sour cherry, nice tannins and a drying finish, as you delve deeper into the glass, raspberry and strawberry also emerges - lovely.

The assembled crowd, of mostly men, though two or three women did show up to this sausage party, (included my friend Kerri Henman – if you’re going to have any class in the room you should always start by bringing your own). They all seemed to adore the Ironstone Symphony Obsession ($14.95 – April 11 Vintages); this perennial favorite is a sweet, grapy number that smells and tastes like a cross between Muscat and Catawba grapes - it sells well because it appeals to everyone, but in truth neophytes and the ladies love it.

Finally, my two favorites where the following big reds: Italy’s Il Borro 2005 ($59.75 - February 28 Vintages) - this monster is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot; it has lots of red fruit and spice on the nose; followed by a textured palate that was complex and dry with lots of black fruit and spiced cedar. I located a decanter in the Fine Wine Reserve’s glass cabinet and converted a few tasters to this wine by opening it up a little (I was surprised the agents hadn’t thought of this because this wine really needed it). My other favourite was the Joseph Phelps 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($73.95 – Vintages currently) - deep cherry, rich fruit, lots of spice on the palate … this is a big wine with a big price tag. I ended my evening by pouring myself a full glass of this one, then I lounged in a chair while talking with a few of my colleagues about wine – some of whom don't even blog on the subject, nor have they ever been to a tasting ... interesting.

Report from ... Bokke Inc. Tasting – February 11, 2009 (3:00pm)

I met Eleanor Cosman, President of Bokke Wines, a few weeks ago at the Australian Masterclass ... she handed me a card and invited me to her small portfolio tasting of about ten wines (she called her "Top Ten Tasting"). These are not all the wines she represents, just a small sampling of them (from what I gather, her most popular). Bokke specializes in South African wine, that's because Eleanor grew up very near South Africa's wine country, so these wines are near and dear to her heart ... she also has a few wines from Austria, New Zealand and Argentina on her list. As usual I had my favorites – here is my top three of the top ten:

3) Lammershoek 2006 Syrah ($34.00) … this big alcohol red (14.5%) was front loaded with cherry fruit on the nose; the palate showed more complexity with a smooth texture that had blackberry, black cherry and hints of white pepper. Good firm tannins and a dustiness on the finish ended this wine off nicely in the mouth.

2) Lammershoek 2005 Roulette Red ($26.80) … this South African blend is made from Shiraz, Carignane, Viognier and Grenache and has a great sniff-all-day-edness to it … lots of pepper and black fruit. The palate leaned red with nice herbs and hints of spice ... this was smooth and an absolute pleasure to drink.

1) Lugilde Goulart 2006 Paris Goulart Glam ($24.50) … this wine was the real unexpected gem of the showing. An Argentinean Malbec (60%) – Cabernet (40%) blend from a winery that boasts 91-year-old vines. The smell was very much reminiscent of old vines Zinfandel, full of ripe red cherries and perfumed plums … the palate was even more exquisite with plum, blackberry, chocolate, spice and big tannins that dry out the tongue. The lingering finish was plum and red berry that left a dustiness behind (or as someone once said to me, "my tongue felt like flannel").

Bokke also has another Argentine Malbec: Domiciano 2006 Malbec. I mention it here because it's a fine example of Malbec at an extremely reasonable price ($16.80) -mocha, pepper, blackberries, cassis, herbs, dark chocolate, firm tannins - all appear in my note about this wine – so do the words “excellent value”; but the real winner was the “Paris” - and for $5.00 cheaper I would have begged my way into getting six bottle - someone would have shared the case with me for sure.

Report from ... Cuvee Preview Tasting - February 11, 2009 (10:30am)

Before the big awards are handed out (Gala, February 27, 2009 Fallsview Casino) the press is given a preview of the highest rated wine from each winery.

For those who don’t know, Cuvee is the Academy Awards of the Ontario wine industry. Panels of winemakers sit in a room with hundreds of submitted wines, blindly screening the work of their peers. Thing is, because it’s blind, y9ou don’t know if you voted Slumdog of Benjamin Button until the winners are announced at the Gala event and tasting. Nobody knows the outcome until Price-Waterhouse, or whomever is guarding the Cuvee knowledge, releases it on the big night ... the only thing the press can do is surmise as to who possibly could have won what. Though the wineries do know their top rated wine because they are asked to provide samples for this very tasting.

The following is a list of wines that impressed me – full reviews of these wines will be coming to my website (, be featured in an upcoming Weekly Wine Note, or as a Pick of the Bunch in my newsletter in the coming weeks. All wines that were previously reviewed (before February 25, 2009) are linked for your perusing pleasure.


Chardonnay …
Unoaked – Vineland 2007 Elevation Chardonnay ($25.20 – winery only) ... 3rd Place - Chardonnay
Oaked – Peller Estates 2007 Signatures Series Sur Lie ($30.00 – winery only) ... WINNER - Best Chardonnay

Gewurztraminer …
Calamus 2007 Gewurztraminer ($15.20 – winery only) ... WINNER - Best Gewurztraminer

Riesling …
Legends 2003 Riesling Reserve ($29.00 - winery only) ... WINNER - Best Riesling
Tawse 2007 Sketches of Niagara Riesling ($18.00 - winery only) ... WINNER - Best Riesling

Other whites …
Creekside Estate 2007 Viognier Reserve ($29.95 - winery only) ... WINNER - Best Limited Edition White
Peninsula Ridge Estates 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Wisner Vineyards ($18.95 - winery only) ... WINNER - Best Sauvignon Blanc


Cabernet Franc …
The Grange of Prince Edward County 2007 Northfield Block Cabernet Franc ($29.80 -winery only) ... 3rd Place - Cabernet Franc
Limited release – Thirty Bench 2006 Small Lot Cabernet Franc ($35.00 - winery only) ... WINNER - Best Red and Best Cabernet Franc

Pinot Noir …
Niagara College 2007 Dean’s List Pinot Noir ($32.95 - winery only) ... WINNER - Best Pinot Noir

Red Blends …
Featherstone Winery 2007 Onyx ($24.95 - winery only)

Other Reds …
Thirteenth Street Wine 2006 Sandstone Old Vines Gamay ($25.00 - winery only)
Lailey Vineyard 2007 Syrah ($25.00 - winery only) ... 2nd Place - Syrah/Shiraz

Sweeties …
Inniskillin 2007 Riesling Icewine ($69.95 / 375ml - winery only) ... WINNER - Best Sweet Wine
Pillitteri Estates 2007 Sticky Beak Red Icewine ($50.00 / 200ml - winery only)
Riverview Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine ($59.95 / 375ml – winery only)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Report from ... Report from - Musar Tasting at Oasi - February 3, 2009

I have always been interested in the age worthiness of wine, but Chateau Musar has turned this fascination of mine into an art form. Here they don’t release wine before its time, and time usually dictates a few years in barrel and bottle. The current Musar release is the 2001 vintage, so that should give you an idea about what the term “time” means to this winery. I have written about Musar before, so instead of boring you with a rehash of details I invite you to learn more by reading my previous article – as for this article, let’s get right to the tasting.

Today, a small group of us tried 6 Musar wines in the comfort of Oasi Restaurant (fellow wine writer John Szabo’s place). Three whites (1995, 1999, 2001) and three reds (1991, 1997, 1998) were offered up for tasting all of which are being released thru the new on-line store Vintages has set up (Vintages On-line Exclusives). My top three wines were as follows:

Chateau Musar Red 1991 ($140.70) … proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that these wines age ever so gracefully. Serge Hochar (owner and winemaker) once said “as Musar ages they get younger” – we’ll call this the Benjamin Button effect. You would never believe this wine is 18 years old. The nose is still vibrant with fruits like sour cherry and other red fruit … the palate follows in the same vein with dried red fruit that seemed sweet yet dry at the same time – this wine truly defies description as you hold it in your mouth and put your nose to the glass, all the while the number 18 sweeps through your head. “No way,” I kept on saying to myself, “No way this wine is 18 years old.” Amazing. If the other two reds (1998 - $69.00 and 1997 – $79.00) age this well, they’re a steal at their current price.

The other two wines from Musar that I enjoyed were white … these are rare finds in the LCBO system and are just starting to come back into the marketplace. The 2001 ($35.00) had nutty aromas and tastes with lovely spice, clove, rusty apple and vanilla – good acidity in this wine makes it feel vibrant in your mouth. The 1999 ($63.95) had caramel nuances along with slightly oxidized peaches and pear with firm acidity – these wines really have to be tried to be believed – that goes for the reds as well as the whites.

Report from ... Osoyoos-Larose Release and Tasting – February 3, 2009

In his opening remarks, Antoine Merlaut (managing director of Group Taillan) said, “When I pour this wine for people they say ‘I didn’t know Canada made wine’ or the more knowledgeable know about icewine ... I will be happy when Canada is known as a wine producing country all over the world.” With that he thanked the crowd and took his seat at the 5th vintage release / 10th Anniversary of Osoyoos Larose – a partnership between Vincor Canada and Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux. From humble beginnings in 1998, their first vintage of 3700 6-bottle cases in 2001 (released spring 2004) to the now 20,000 cases of the 2005 Grand Vin (released last year in B.C. – February 28 in Vintages in Ontario) and 8000 cases of the second label Petales d’Osoyoos (available on consignment), Osoyoos-Larose has made quite a name for itself. Last year they showed up to launch the 2004 vintage – if you wish to read further background from my previous story click here.

We were informed that Osoyoos-Larose had just beat out Opus One in a recent tasting in Japan, where the wine fetches $120USD – which makes our $50 a bottle price tag seem like a real bargain. Of course this is significantly less than what a bottle of Opus One will set you back in either country. O-L is now sold in five countries (Canada, France, U.K., U.S. and Japan) with the majority sold in Canada (85%).

Some interesting pieces of info came from the presentation this year – and not just the numbers - the principals behind the wines Alain Sutre (Technical Project Manager) and Pascal Madevon (Winemaker and vineyard manager) were quite candid with their remarks.

On growing Cabernet Sauvignon in their vineyards: “’06 was the first time we really understood the Cabernet Sauvignon [in relation to the terroir].” – Alain Sutre.

On pressing: “We are moving back towards using a basket press, we get better results especially with respect to Le Grand Vin. When we basket press 70% of the juice goes into Le Grand Vin while 30% ends up in the Petales; using the pneumatic press those numbers are reversed. By 2010 all the wine will be basket pressed.” – Alain Sutre

On closures: “Never synthetic, they are a misery, horrible; always cork on the Grand Vin … [pause] … maybe screw cap on the Petales in the future, but we have no plans to do that at the moment.” – Alain Sutre.

On ageing of the wines: “My feeling is that 10-15 years will improve these wines; we don’t have the track record, but my experience with the 2001, which I serve at home, is drinking fantastic now after 8 years … so I’d have to say they will age very well.” – Pascal Madevon

As for the tasting, we tried the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 (barrel sample); along with the 2005 Petales over lunch … The Petales is drinking beautifully right now and will continue to develop over the next 3-4 years; it has beautiful red fruit, herbs and cherries on the nose; the palate was loaded with cherry and what Bud Light commercials call “Drinkability” – this wine was decanted which added an extra level of complexity … delicious.

Of the Grand Vin the 2005 (soon to be released in Ontario) is drinking very well with a soft nose of red fruit, oak, spices and nutmeg; while the palate shows a bit of a greenness with nice acidity, big tannins and drying finish.

The 2006 is going to be a monster, with a closed nose that hints at what’s to come: tobacco, blackberries and cinnamon, this wine has a quiet disposition that will roar in time. The palate is also a quiet lamb biding its time … big blackberry, lots of wood, plenty of tannins and a firm disposition. I see this one being able to sit longer than any previous vintage of this wine.

The 2007 was still too young to properly evaluate.

Once again Pascal and his team have created world class wines that all of Canada and and should be proud of.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Report from ... Australian Tasting: Masterclass - January 29 ... Consumer Show - January 30, 2009

Welcome to Australia, home of some of the best wines in the world, the oldest plantings of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre, and to some of the world’s biggest misconceptions. As the Australian’s market share falls for the first time in almost a decade, the Australians came to town hoping to prop up their wines by letting everyone know: “we are more than those drink now critter wines we have become known for.” That Australia is about regionality and not just a general country designation; you should be able to say I like Margaret River Cabs and not just Australian Cabs. And finally, Australia wanted to inform us that they are vacating the “low end” part of the market, “the Chileans and Argentineans are doing a better job down there anyway.”

But enough of the baffle-gab, what did the wines have to offer and are they worth the money? I sat down during a “Masterclass” where 20 wines were poured and discussed, with another handful served with food later on … the following evening I found myself at the Consumer Show where I tried a few more worthy wines.

Riesling …

Masterclass: Many of the Riesling I tried at the masterclass session were uninspiring, although the moderator seemed keen, I’d have to say that he is paid to be so. Though I do have to single out the Mesh 2007 from the Eden Valley ($39.95), which saved me from walking away with the opinion that all Aussie Rieslings are flabby and boring.

Consumer Show: Skillogalee Clare Valley Riesling 2008 ($21.95)

Chardonnay …

Masterclass: Here I found the Aussies were scaling back from the over-wooded monsters of the past and moving towards more mineral and fruit driven numbers. They are also fans of using wild fermentation (indigenous yeast), which seem to add a flinty or “fresh struck match” quality to the wines. This is enhanced or subdued with lees contact. Some great examples of good Aussie-Chard were: Heggies 2006 Chardonnay ($24.50) and Yering Station 2006 Reserve Chardonnay ($75.00).

Consumer Show:

Scrubby Rise 2007 Unwooded Chardonnay ($15.95)

Clairault Estate 2005 Chardonnay ($30.50).

Pinot Noir …

Masterclass: Not the usual country you think about when the heartbreak grapes comes to mind, but surprisingly there are some delicious, and affordable, Pinots coming out of Oz; two favourites from this portion of my Aussie-two-days were: DeBortoli 2007 Gulf Station Pinot Noir ($19.95 - #15511), Stonier 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir ($44.95), and Yering Station 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir ($75.00).

Consumer Show: Yering Station 2006 Little Yering Pinot Noir ($15.95)

Red Blends …

Masterclass: Pretty much a no brainer here, the Aussies do it just as well as anybody, given the right grapes (that goes for anybody too). Gemtree 2007 Cadenzia ($40) – Grenache/Tempranillo/Shiraz; and Schild Estate 2007 GMS ($18.95 – Grenache/Mourvedre/Shiraz.

Consumer Show:

Wirra Wirra 2007 Catapult Shiraz Viognier ($24.95)

McPherson 2006 Chapter Three Shiraz Viognier ($18.95)

Tempus Two 2006 Copper Wilde Cabernet Merlot ($18.95 - #91710)

Parker Coonawarra Estate 2005 First Growth Cabernet Merlot ($110).

Cabernet Sauvignon …

Masterclass: A Cab is a Cab is a Cab, not according to the Australians, these wines proved that that is not always the case: Celestial Bay 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20); and Jacob’s Creek 2004 St. Hugo Cabernet Sauvigon ($39.95).

Consumer Show: Evans & Tate 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($35.00).

Shiraz …

Masterclass: The grape that made Australia famous. There are times that these wines taste the same – drink enough of them and you’ll start to feel that way too – but these one’s really stood out and had a life all their own: Wirra Wirra 2007 Woodhenge Shiraz ($36.00) – see my review of the 2006; Mount Langi Ghiran 2007 Ghiran Shiraz ($65.00); Roackford 2004 Basket Press Shiraz ($65.70); and Celestial Bay 2007 Shiraz ($20.00).

Consumer Show:

Alkoomi 2005 Jarrah Shiraz ($34.95 - #686634)

Thorn Clarke 2005 William Randall Shiraz ($44.00 - #922773)

Stella Bella 2006 Shiaraz ($22.95 - #48553).

One last wine of note that did not fall into the categories covered at the “masterclass” – here’s a Sauvignon Blanc that really made me wish that summer would hurry up and get here: Stella Bella 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($21.95 - #108159).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Report from ... Days of Wine and Chocolate, Niagara-on-the-Lake – February 7, 2009

With an expanded roster of 20 wineries (up from 18) the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake embarked on a new event that tugged at the heart of both the wine lover and chocolate lover: Days of Wine and Chocolate, taking place the first 3 weekends in February.

“It’s normally a slow time for us,” said Andrea of Coyote’s Run, “and it’s a way to bring more traffic into the winery at this normally slow time.” And from all reports it seems to be working. The passport, a mere $30, gets you access to all 20 wineries, during any of the three weekends, and allows you to sample their chocolate and wine pairings.

“It looks like we may have a sold out event on our hands,” Roselyn of Cattail Creek told me, “we’ve sold over 300 passports and I think they printed about 350.” A feeling shared by Andrea, “they may not have realized the popularity of this event.”

In my opinion, Niagara-on-the-Lake still puts on some of the best winery/pairing/tour experiences, between the Wine & Herb and Taste the Season the wineries have created a brand synonymous with good quality events that deliver far above its price-point. And soon, with the addition of another winery (making it 21), there will be even more value added on. Wondering why this expansion of wineries into the group – see above links.

Bright and early on the very first Saturday of the event, my mother and I trundled down to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see what this new addition to the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake event schedule was all about. A day later, my mom was heard to say to friends on the phone, “I am all chocolated out!” And for a lady that loves chocolate that’s a big task. Below you’ll find out how the wineries accomplished such a feat, find out my top three choices and others that are must visits if you are one of the lucky 350 to be going.

#3 … Newcomer, Southbrook, came roaring out of the gate with a dark chocolate coconut macaroon-style treat paired with their newly released 2005 Vidal Icewine … very tasty.

#2 …Year-in-year-out, event-in-event-out Coyote’s Run continues to deliver the goods. This time it’s all in the matching: chocolate with a touch of cinnamon paired with a 2006 Meritage; the Meritage enhanced the cinnamon in the chocolate, creating a very complimentary taste sensation.

#1 … This was a perfect symbiosis of flavour and combination of wine with “chocolate”. You’ll hear that white chocolate is not real chocolate, but who cares, this Cranberry & White Chocolate combo, from Pillitteri, paired their 2006 Gamay Rosa with this confection and it was pure perfection – the cranberry flavours in the wine melding with the abundance of dried cranberries in the ganache cream center … lovely.

Special Mention …

Mom’s a fan of ginger, me, not so much, I’m told the candied ginger covered with dark chocolate and paired with the 2007 Riesling Icewine at Inniskillin was delicious together (I tried it but couldn’t taste it the way she did – the ginger just overpowered me) … of course mom prefaced it by saying: “you gotta like ginger.” I don’t, but if you do this is the pairing for you. As we traveled from winery to winery and were asked what we had tried so far, the ginger pairing was the love-it-or-hate-it pairing, and it always came down to whether or not you liked ginger.

Other Wineries to Visit:

A surprising combination of milk chocolate (with hazelnut) and red wine (2006 Meritage); the milk chocolate coats the tongue, then the acidity and tannins come along and break through … Maleta Winery.

Dark chocolate drizzled over top of a few almonds make up a delicious cluster with a lingering almond finish, paired well with a 2006 Cabernet Franc … Strewn

A dark chocolate wafer with a goodly amount of pecans sprinkled on top, all that was missing was the ribbon of caramel, but then I am not sure the 2006 red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (Trius Red) would have been able to match that sweetness … Hillebrand.

A reported strawberry white chocolate pairing turned into a raspberry white chocolate pairing that seemed super sweet … but ultimately delicious … paired with a 2007 Late Harvest Cabernet Franc … Niagara College Teaching Winery.

Finally, an odd combination that turned into something extraordinary. A thick dark chocolate, with a hint of mint, bowtie was originally paired with a Rosé – it was okay, but lacked umph! Then we tried it with the Cabernet Franc Icewine and voila, perfect pairing. When you get to Cattail Creek request the alternate pairing, you won’t be disappointed.

There’s a school of thought out there that believes wine and chocolate do not go together; I think the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are out to prove them wrong. Some of the pairings work, some don’t; some will surprise you, while some live up to expectations – but if you don’t try how will you know. Let’s hope this interesting experiment becomes an annual event or maybe even bi-annual, they could inter-change it with a wine and cheese pairing event on alternate years … now that would be exciting too. I wonder it mom could get “all cheesed out”? I know she’s been cheesed off, but that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Report from ... VinExpo Launch and Announcement - January 29, 2009

Hate to say this but there ain't much to report here, so this one is going to be short and sweet: VinExpo is being held in Bordeaux June 21-25, 2009.

And, oh ... world wine production is up and expected to continue that trend into 2012; so too is world wine consumption (stand to reason, I guess). For those interested, Canada will follow that trend ... and as they used to say on M*A*S*H, "that is all."