Sunday, March 29, 2009

Report from ... Bokke Tasting - March 25, 2009

At a minimalist art gallery in downtown Toronto we assembled for the second time in almost six weeks to try more offerings from Eleanor Cosman and her Bokke wine agency … if you missed my last Bokke article check it out here. Bokke is the agency that brings in the Goulart wines, one of which I found quite impressive last time out. During a recent visit to the U.S. I made the discovery that their labeling for the U.S. is a little flashier than our more conservative packaging here in Canada and with different names for the same wine - check up my review of the "Classico” Malbec.

Today's tasting focused on nine wines, most, as expected, from South Africa. The exceptions were the Goulart wines from Argentina and an excellent Pinot Noir from New Zealand: Coney Wines Pizzicato Pinot Noir 2006 ($38.00) - a rich beautiful nose loaded with cinnamon, vanilla, black and sour cherries; the palate showed lots of sour cherry; a touch of spice and cranberry on the finish … it also had a nice seam of acidity running through it.

Wines from South Africa …

There were three from a winery called Viljoensdrift (Fill-Junes-Drift) with the name River Grandeur emblazoned across the middle of the label. Of these three the 2007 Shiraz ($21.80) showed very well with lots of pepper and dark fruit and a spicy smooth finish - not jammy in the least.

A Chenin Blanc (2008) from Mont Destin ($18.45) caught my eye: a nice tropical, grassy and pineapple nose which followed onto the palate and lingered a long time on the tongue.

The 2006 Klein Genot Black Swan Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc 50/50 blend ($29.50) had a soft, almost imperceptible nose, but what it lacked on the snoot it gained between the lips: spicy-black fruit, vanilla, tobacco, herbs and black cherries - very nice.

But my wow wine of the tasting goes to Lammershoek for their 2006 Zinfandel-Syrah ($20.50), a blend of 75% Zin, 20% Syrah, and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon (5%). This one had everything you’d want from Zin, plus the kick of Syrah, and smoothness of a Cab. Plum, cherry, vanilla and a touch of spice on the nose; in the mouth a plethora of flavours: vanilla, cinnamon, red fruit, cherry, some tannins - yet not too aggressive, then there was the drying sensation on the tongue just before it became all peppery on the finish … exciting and tasty all at the same time.

Report from ... PMA Canada Chairman's Gala - March 24, 2009

Here's how the bi-annual PMA Gala, held at the Toronto Hunt, was described to me: "it's an all out eat-and-drink-athon. Nobody takes notes, you push a glass into the melee, get your pour, suck it back and move on." (obviously not said by PMA employee - or was it?). I decided to go anyway, with pen in hand, determined not to be lumped into those just looking for a free hand out ... I've got work to do. Of course, the title of the event should have given me pause as to dress code; I was the only one there in jeans … so much for being inconspicuous.

Seminar one …
The event kicked off at 3:00 PM with Heinrich Breuer of George Breuer Winery in Germany and a tasting of their Rieslings. Heinrich spoke in good passable English; with the expected German accent, thick as it was he was still very understandable but his though his attempts at humor fell on a dull crowd ...were they just chomping at the bit to try the wines or was he just not funny? You decide:

About his high acidity Riesling: "Our Riesling has high acidity, definitely not for people with stomach problems."

On why his Riesling’s are dry: "Sweetness is used to cover faults and high acidity - it's like a lady, the best ones don't need to use it."

On experimental wines: "Some wines don't turn out like you want, but good vinegar has to be made too."

And on climate change: "While my father told me that 1 in 7 vintages is a good one; I tell my daughter that 1 in 7 vintages is a bad one."

Heinrich took the assembled crowd, of no more than 50 people, through a brief history of the Riesling grape (first recorded mention is about 500 years ago); Germany's place in the Riesling-world (Germany produces 60% of the world's Riesling); other regions of who make fine Rieslings (in his opinion - Alsace and Austria); promised that the competition from other regions that are springing up and making good Riesling (like Canada) will only make them work harder to make better wines; and that the Rheingau (where his wines are made) is planted to 80% Riesling - and now 15% Pinot Noir. He also told us that his oldest vines are approximately 50 years old - he'd like older vines (“in 30-years they will be 80 years old”) but he claimed that a combination of phylloxera and a re-arranging of the vineyard were the current determining factors of their age … I would have to assume, although not mentioned, part of that rearranging came about because of bombs during World War II - but I'm just guessing here.

The real proof of the Riesling-pudding, so to speak, was in the tasting - and these were some awesome Rieslings. We tried a flight of single vineyard 2007’s, which Heinrich gushed about saying, "it was a great vintage". The stand out here was the Terra Montosa (translated as: mountainous field), which they make only 2 – 4 thousand bottles per year; a great mineral driven wine with good fruit, high acidity and an incredibly long finish. Heinrich then mentioned the potential longevity of these great wines and proceeded to pour a 2001, 1997 and 1989. The standout here was the 1997 Montosa Charta Rheingau Riesling … it tasted younger and fresher than the 2001, had lots of fruit, and a mead-like quality with dried peaches and pears; hints of petrol added to the flavour without overwhelming … and it all ended with an amazing lips smacking finish that demanded another sip be taken … then another … and another - soon my glass was empty and I hadn't spit a drop. This wine really spoke to, and helped to emphasize, his point about the quality and longevity of his wines.

Seminar Two …
I wish I could say that the South African seminar was just as interesting and entertaining, but alas I cannot. It was about Cape Legends sponsored by Distell – principals of which I have had the pleasure of dining with and enjoyed their stories and company. The speaker was Berenice Barker - who was quick to point out that the views expressed were her own and not those of her company – she was amusing enough as a speaker but I felt it was a sales pitch more than an informative seminar. She totally lost my interest when she compared the Lomond 2008 Sauvignon Blanc to ones from the Loire (in France), she said they were alike; I totally disagreed. The wine was had big palate cleansing acidity, mammoth grapefruit and grassyness on the nose and palate, while the finish was green and grassy … this was new world Savvy B all the way, without even the merest hint of Loire-finesse. I can see why this wine wins awards all over the world, but the comparison with Loire Sauvignon Blanc stops at the grape variety. The other good wine poured was the Tukula 2006 Sangiovese, lots of spices and herbs here, while the red fruit jumped right out of the glass at you and ended with a spicy-plumy fruit sensation that has hints of wood and vanilla … there may have been a little hollowness in the mid-palate but all-in-all this was a good wine.

Top Ten of the Tasting … (in no particular order)

Osborne Pedro Ximenez 1827 Sherry ($17.95 – Vintages) ... this is always a favorite, I have a few bottles and my cellar – a beautiful sweetie that has candied almonds and raisin pie flavours. (Spain)

Nugan Estate Manuka Grove Durif 2007 ($29.95 – Consignment) ... known also as Petite Sirah this wine possesses port-like nuances of cherry and spice without the sweetness; very smooth, very tasty. (Australia)

Nino Negri “Sfursat 5 Stelle” di Valtellina 2005 ($69.95 – Consignment) ... fun to ask for this by name "Stelle"- aside from that silliness this one’s got a wonderful cherry nose with dried cherry and herb flavours. (Italy)

Korta 2008 Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier ($12.95 – Consignment) … I was very impressed with Korta wines, especially for their value - you'll see why in a bit; this one was pleasantly fruity with a touch of acidity - great summer wine that won’t break the bank. (Chile)

Villa Maria 2008 Reserve Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($35.95 – Consignment) … lots of citrus/grapefruit, great grassy-gooseberry flavors with nice acidity that plays off the big fruit sweetness and leads to a long finish. (New Zealand)

Korta 2007 Barrel Selection Reserve Syrah ($14.95 – Consignment) … this is my value wine of the show - first and foremost, it tastes like it should be selling at double the price, but don't tell PMA that, I’ve ordered a case. Peppery, red berry and dark fruit all play on the tongue without being all heavy and jammy; this really is Syrah, not a Shiraz. (Chile)

Andretti 2006 Napa Valley Primitivo/Zinfandel ($44.95 – Consignment) … the nose is all plumy and cherry, as fully expected from this double Zinfandel - but it's the kick-ass spice and whooping acidity that makes this wine truly unique. (USA – California)

Collazzi Toscana 2006 ($46.95 – Consignment) … Lamberto Frescobaldi is very proud of this wine, he told me so himself - he also said this was a sneak peak because it is not yet available in the market; an amazing wine that's more Bordeaux than Italy with the three major French grapes at its helm. Herbs and spice take over the nose; dried fruit and berries in the mouth, while spicy-licorice notes also grace the palate … smooth tannins round this one off nicely and it has a sip-all-day quality to it. Superb. (Italy)

Alianca Quinta Dos Quatro Ventos Reserva 2006 ($26.95 – Consignment) ... plum, chocolate and black fruit are all over this one; smooth and delicious. (Portugal)

Bodegas Norton Perdriel Single Vineyard 2005 ($64.95 – Consignment) ... a Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend aged 16 months in 100% new French barrels. This one's juicy with blackberries and sweet cherries - there's also hints of mint and menthol on the nose; barreling is hardly noticeable with all that fruit. (Argentina)

Beer …

I met Neil Sharp from Innis & Gunn, a Scottish beer company that oak ages their beers. The Blonde ($3.45) is a refreshing and lightly oaked beer that has a little kick to it … but the star was the special Canadian Cask Scottish Oak Aged beer ($4.95), which was made to celebrate Canada Day 2009, in honour of how well their beers have been received here. Former Canadian whisky barrels are used for the aging the beer (71 days) ... the result is a full bodied toffee laden beer that tastes slightly sweet and downright delicious, eh! The lingering finish is perfect for those who enjoy sipping, rather than guzzling there beers, and sipping will definitely be in order here, the 7.1% alcohol could pose a problem otherwise, if you have too many.

Food …

As for the nibblies and all you can eat munchies ... I’m not much of a foodie so most of the cheese, shrimp, salmon, beef, lamb, pork loin, etc. were lost on me - but I have to admit I did get my fill of some of the most amazing ribs I've had in a longtime ... and they went well with that Canadian Cask beer.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Report from ... Wines of Portugal - February 26, 2009

What a tough tasting … over 200 wines from the varied regions of Portugal. Can you taste the difference between the Douro and the Dao? Alentejo and Estremadura? Beiras and Bairrada? In the end it was not about which region made the best wine, it was about which wines tasted the best. Most of these wines are not available here in Ontario, so if you can find them elsewhere give them a try - hopefully we’ll see some of these producers’ wines in the near future. Where winery info is quoted I did not make any of the spelling or grammatical errors - I was just copying straight from the guide; but no matter how silly they sound I keep in mind that their English is better than my Portuguese.

Bacalhoa Wines - Founded in 1922
So Touriga Nacional 2006 … sweet vanilla, oak and a great spiced fruit palate.

Casa Agricola Roboredo Madeira (CARM) - “all the production is organically grown”
Quinta do Coa 2006 … plum, vanilla, cola and sweet cherries
Quinta do Coa Reserva 2006 … adds spice to the above description while pulling back on the plum.

Companhia Das Qunitas / FWP - “aim is to bring Portuguese wines of the utmost quality to wine lovers of Toronto”
Quinta de Pancas 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva … very spicy and chocolaty with both red and black fruits.

Herdade dos Grous - 536 hectare estate of which 73 is dedicated to top quality wine production, the rest to “horticultural production, olive yard, farming and cattle raising horses”
Herdade dos Grous 2007 Red Reserve … nice spicy palate with a raspberry-spice finish.

J. Portugal Ramos Vinhos - Formed by 4 producers from four different regions
Marques de Borba Reserva 2004 … rich and plumy with sweet red fruit and a nice touch of spice.

Julio Tassara de Bastos (Dona Maria Vinhos) - “Wine has been produced in this estate for over 130 years”
Dona Maria 2005 … plumy black cherry.
Dona Maria Amantis 2005 … sweet red fruit and delicious in the mouth.

No Winery Info Given
Cortes de Cima 2006 … smooth cherry with port-like nuances, the price would be about $24 on this side of the pond and would be worth it.

Vale D’Algares - “Our mission To make a difference, producing and selling high value-added quality wines that are synonymous of excellence and that set an standard for the Ribatejo”
Vale d’Algares Merlot/Touriga Nacional 2007 … very nice wine with smooth plum and black fruit notes.

Sogevinus - no winery info
Hutcheson Colheita 1978 … orange peel, cinnamon, cherry and spice - the stunner of the show.

Report from ... More Wines from California, the Wine Writers Tasting - February 20, 2009

On a Friday afternoon the Wine Writers’ Circle got together to taste “Wines from California over $20”. There were a few under, but most fell into the price range set out and all were available in Ontario in some form or another: consignment, private order, LCBO or Vintages. 53 wines were tried, some were worth their price tag, others, not so much; but I tried the ones that interested me (ones I have not tried in a while or at all) and below I give you a run down on the wines that I thought were worth a sip and the shekels.

Looking for a bubbly without paying those high French prices, check out the Mumm Napa Brut Prestige ($27.95 - #265678) it’s a very good foreign bubble without the hefty price tag, and it’s got what you’re looking for in the fizz, yeasty, toasty and tasty.

I love interesting grapes done well, and I especially love them done well at a good price. So the Fleur de California 2006 Petite Sirah ($19.99 - Consignment) was very appealing to me. Nice dark colour, slightly muted on the nose, but I suspect it opens up with time and a bigger piece of glassware … why do I say that? Because the palate was just too good with lots of delicious strawberry and raspberry and hints of pepper …and oh what a smooth palate - delicious.

At a recent California Wine Fair pre-tasting I found the Cabernet Sauvignons tasted similar - not bad, just similar, as if they were all being made by the same winemaker or taken from the same vat. I guess I am just looking for something more from California than the same old same old (I was like that last year with their Chardonnays). Looking for something tasty at a good price in Cali-Cab? Well look no further than the 337 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($20.79 - Consignment). Does it deliver more than you’re usual Cab? I would have to say not really, but it does deliver what the higher priced Cab deliver, for less. The nose is jammy with red fruit, cherry and chocolate while the palate adds vanilla and juicy cherry to the finish.

Here’s an under $20 Cab that gives you nothing more than what you’re looking for … fruity as all get out - easy on the palate and sippable: Gnarly Head Cellars 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.95 - #68924).

The highest priced wine on my list is this one right here: Treana 2005 Red ($40.95 - #11221) - big in alcohol, 15.5%, big on fruit and chocolate, there’s blackberries, sweet vanilla, fine ripe tannins and juicy blackberries along with lots and lots of plum. It blends 70% Cabernet and 30% Syrah with very tasty results.

Final wine on my list is from Beaulieu Vineyard, their 2005 Zinfandel ($25.95 - #80242 - Vintages); the first bottle open for us was corked (or off in some way) – the second was much better, offering up typical Zinfandel smells and flavours with the mainstays being plum and chocolate - this was the best Zin poured this afternoon.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Report from ... Essence of Port Luncheon - March 5, 2009

Port fans unite … what an amazing tasting of vintage and non-vintage ports this was; and we had the managing director of the Fladgate Partnership, Adrian Bridge, to take us through it. So let’s start this Port lesson with who the Fladgate partnership is.

If you drink port or even casually know about Port these names are as familiar to you as your own: Taylor Fladgate, Croft and Fonseca - they all fall under the Fladgate umbrella. But before I get to what I thought was the real reason for us assembling let’s meet Adrian and learn a little about Port.

Adrian is one of those guys that comes to the wine world by way of non-traditional means, as many do. He was an investment banker and before that was part of the British army … then he married into the Fladgate family – welcome to the world of wine. He still retains his British accent, you know, the one that seems to make all the women on this side of the pond melt; and I have to admit he says the word “port” with the aplomb and debonair lilt that I am sure we all wish we had when we said it … very British.

By the Numbers …
There are 120 million bottles of Port made every year (industry wide), that’s roughly 10.5 million cases of which only 1.5% is vintage port and 4.5% is Late Bottled Vintage Port. 30% of all port sold is done so in France – they are, in fact, port’s largest market (though Adrian was quick to point out that this is low end Port). 90% of all Port is exported. Most, if not all, of the Taylor/Croft/Fonseca Ports are still foot trodden and that equals a long day - 8 hours of picking, 4 hours of treading on 2000 tons of grapes per year.

Choice Quotes from the Afternoon …

On the purchase of Croft by Taylor: “We bought Croft on September 10, 2001; before the world changed a little bit.”

On going bio-dynamic: “I find there is confusion about bio-dynamics, do I pack horns full of dung or sing to the moon? What it means to me is attention to the details, after you’ve certified organic.”

Are Ports being made to drink younger? “We are not making Port to be drinking younger, we’re making them better. Modern technology allows us to do things that take the edge off the wines that were there because of the primitive nature of the way we made it in the past. For example, we got electricity at Vargellas in 1978 … pumping became a lot easier as you can well imagine.”

On whether or not Taylor will be making table wine: “We have no plans to do so in the near future. We focus on special category Port, that’s what we do best and have for the past 300 years.”

And that quote brings us to the real reason we assembled. The Fladgate Partnership has introduced the newest style of Port, Rosé … it is the first new Port category since the last time Taylor did so in 1970 when they launched Late Bottled Vintage port. In an attempt to de-seasonalize port Croft is introducing a Rosé style port called “Pink” - although it is not a recognized category in the region of Portugal where Port is made … yet. It took 3 years to get LBV approved so this wine is probably going to be in the same boat. They are expecting to sell 50,000 cases in the next year. It is still made in the same way “real” port is made, this one in particular is a blend 3 vintages worth of grapes and for the record still comes in at 20% alcohol - so it is not a wimpy wine in any sense of the imagination. It also takes 3 times as long to make and is made with all the traditional Port-grapes we know and love - but the one’s for Pink have to be of even higher quality fruit and hand sorted because of the delicate flavours of the wine. Grapes are bladder pressed and there is no more than 24-48 hours of skin contact; then it is cold fermented for 6-7 days and then fortified with 77% neutral high quality spirits. As for what it tasted like … I was so busy being fascinated by the colour, the taste and uniqueness of the product that I forgot to take notes. I know it was served chilled, it was amazingly fruity and delicious and went down way too easily. This could be the next big, exciting thing in port that brings it more in line with the masses; taking the stigma of having to be a stodgy old fart that comes with liking Port. This style of port is not cigar-ready it’s summer ready and when was the last time you drank Port in the summer? If you answered, like 95% of people do, that you don’t drink Port once the hot weather hits, that’s exactly their point … welcome Pink Port … coming, hopefully soon, to a liquor store near you; and it looks like it’s going to be a very reasonable $20 for a standard sized bottle.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Report from ... New York Tasting - February 18, 2009

New York ... State of wine

A couple of summer’s ago I was in New York state tasting their wines in the Finger Lakes area … in fact I wrote a couple of articles about it in two newsletters (#63 & #65). It has been quite a while since New York Wines crossed the border to let us try their wares en-mass. Sure we see them at the Wine and Cheese and Gourmet Shows in Toronto, but this time they were on their own and I was more than happy to get another taste of the wines from down-under-Ontario …

New York by the Numbers and Regions …

There’s a lot to learn about New York wines and the easiest way to get some footing here is to pile a whole bunch of numbers on you and from that you can take what you will - but what I hope you come away with is that they are not just screwing around with wine in New York State, they are giving it some serious due.

- There are 8 AVAs in New York State (Lake Erie, Niagara Escarpment, Finger Lakes, Hudson River, Long Island, North Fork Long Island, Hamptons, Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake) of which the Finger Lakes and Long Island are the two “key” areas.

- The Finger Lakes boasts the highest amount of wineries with 96, next comes Long Island with 50 and the Hudson River with 33 - so that means there are plenty of wine soaked vacations that can be had by visiting.

- For those interested in when NY got into this whole wine business, it would seem they have been at it for some 300 years, the first record of grape growing was in 1647 when the Dutch put the first vineyard on Manhattan Island … seems they grew buildings better than grapes, that’s why they moved out of the city to more hospitable terrain. The first commercial winery was established in 1827.

- There are some 34,000 acres of grapes, 1384 growers, and 255 wineries. 26% of the grapes grown are for table wine.

- NY is still dealing with a majority of American (read: native) varieties (70%), with another 17% being French Hybrids and only 13% Vitas Vinifera (European varietals).

- Of those viniferous grapes Chardonnay (23%), Merlot (20%) and Riesling (15%) are the top three. The majority of Chardonnay is grown on Long Island (56%); Merlot is lumped in with his buddies, the Cab brothers: Sauvignon and Franc) and 80% of these can also be found in the Long Island area. Riesling is a big grape for the Finger Lakes, 90% of New York’s supply is grown there.

- Other grapes of interest: 56% of the state’s Gewurztraminer and 90% of the Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the Long Island area; 55% of the Pinot Noir grown can be found in the Finger Lakes.

The Wines of New York ... (beware, they are not cheap)

Enough with all these percentages and numbers … time to tell you which wines and wineries you should be visiting when you cross over the border, and which ones are worth sneaking back in quantity - I mean declaring to customs on your way back. We sat for a structured tasting where 10 wines were sampled; from Merlots and Meritage to Rieslings and White blends … here are my structured tasting top 3 -

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery 2005 Cabernet Franc ($47.20 - Hudson River) … astonishing wine made from 100% estate fruit … black cherry, cinnamon, a touch of spice, black raspberry, vanilla, pepper - unfiltered, so look for sediment - smooth and very good tannin structure - this one’s a real star.

Dr. Frank 2006 Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes) … one of the forefathers of NY wine and a torch barer for the Riesling grape. Pretty nose, nice fruit, pleasant and crisp acidity with a nice finish. It’s cool climate Riesling so you should be able to put the fruits in here - think Ontario, then double the price.

White Springs Farm Estate Winery 2007 Gewurztraminer ($22.60 - Finger Lakes) … this is a beauty with rose and orange peel on the nose; the rose petals continue in the mouth with a good touch of spiciness and wonderful finish.

As my “almost made the top 3” selection I would have trouble turning down a glass of Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards 2005 Meritage ($54.35 - Long Island) … another unfiltered number that was complex on both the nose and palate - white pepper seemed to be the mainstay on both.

The Best of the 50 others …(with selected notes)

The tasting continued upstairs with 50-free pour made from a wide range of grapes available for tasting these wines were the best of their tasting flight.

Riesling - 9 wines:
Hermann J. Wermer 2007 Riesling - $26.15 … Finger Lakes
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2007 Riesling - $25.40 … Finger Lakes
Paumanok Vineyards 2007 Riesling - $33.20 … Long Island

Chardonnay - 8 wines:
Millbrook 2007 Chardonnay - $36.00 … Hudson River
Nose - vanilla, smoky, woody and buttery … Taste - caramel, butterscotch with dollops of white fruit - yum.

Pinot Noir - 2 wines:
Millbrook 2006 Pinot Noir - $28.00 … Hudson River

Merlot - 8 wines:
Jamesport Vineyards 2004 Merlot - $32.00 … Long Island

Cabernet Franc - 7 wines:
Macari Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Franc - $47.00 … Long Island
Prejean Winery 2006 Cabernet Franc - $22.00 … Long Island
This one is all cherry made in a very easy drinking style.

Red Blends - 7 wines:
Bedell Cellars 2005 Musee … Long Island
I’ll hold off on the price until after I tell you about it … a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Stellar nose and palate. Nose is full of luscious fruit: mainly black fruit and black cherries. On the palate I thought for sure this is a “ringer” (from somewhere other than the rest of the tasting) - but after checking the label and making them open another bottle I was convinced – this is New York wine at its finest. Chocolate, mocha, coffee, cocoa, blackberries … wow. A little hollow in the middle, but that might come around with age. Currently the beginning and the end are powerful and delicious. Sit down, cause this kind of spectacular comes with a cost attached … $83.95. I still had trouble believing this kind of red wine came from New York, a state noted mostly for its white wines … if this is an example of the kind of wine they can make down there then watch out California – sure they have a few years to catch up but they are well on their way.

Drinking with Dave - Part 2 ... March 20, 2009

Ever since I published my first article about Drinking with Dave back in December, and labeled it "Part 1", many people have been asking me: "Where is Part 2?" ... I tell them all the same thing - I meet up with Dave on the occasions when I find myself in Michigan and both he and I have some time on our hands - usually he on his lunch hour and me waiting to pick up my sweetie from work. The hour goes by too quickly and we end up shooting the proverbial shit for too long ... we gab about wines we tried, wines we want to try and places we'd like to go or have been. Last week Dave mentioned me in an article he wrote for Canoe, about a new wrestling themed wine out of South Australia.

This time we had decided to extend our visit outside the boundaries of Champane's Wine Cellar (the place Dave works) and have dinner at his place, along with some special wines. I was looking forward to meeting Dave's wife and sipping wine in a more relaxed atmosphere ... but the fates worked against me and the proposed Wednesday night dinner had to be cancelled due to a wicked cold I was nursing. So I rescheduled with Dave to meet him at Champane's on Friday - fates willing.

Turns out the fates were on my side by Friday because it was the first day I was able to breathe without the use of drugs and a third of a box of Kleenex ... and it was also the first day in three that I had been out of the house. I met with Dave in the small pub attached to Champane's were he was nursing a bowl of soup. He took a few slurps from his spoon, packed up and we slid into the back room where he has his tasting bar and openable wines in racks. I apologized again about dinner. He told me that I missed a good spread and nice wines - though he did have to change a few of his choices. Turns out a buddy of his does not dig on the Italian wines so he had to switch up a Gaja 1990 Sori Tildin for something else ... with any luck his buddy's loss will be my gain as we are eyeing up May as a possible make-up wine play date.

Today, Dave opened up a bottle of Falcor 2002 Le Bijou, a Californian blend of 44% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot. Falcor is a winery owned by a Washington lawyer who has a vineyard in California, and who's son runs the joint. The initial nose on this one was grapy and spicy with a hint of chocolate. Dave then poured the wine through a hand held aerator into our glasses and we also coaxed the wine with some swirling. A few minutes later there were plums, chcocolate, cherry and spice. The wine was a lot lighter than I expected, especially from that grape combination ... over the course of the next few minutes it also developed wood (cedar) characteristics and a touch of cinnamon; but still did not show much weight ... but I had no complaints, it was a easy, coiffable, totally enjoyable wine. [an email I received Monday morning from Dave updated me on the wine: "Just a quick tasting note, the Le Bijou we tried tasted a lot bigger the next day, lot more came through and showed very well, even slightly bigger in body"].

Lunch was over and it was back to work for Dave, but before I left he thought of one other wine to pour - sure it had been opened for a few days (since Monday) but he thought it still had a little life left in it to show. A to Z 2006 Pinot Gris from Oregon ... it had faint signs of oxidation but still had great minerality, melon and peach notes; and instead of being one of those sweet Gris' you are apt to get, this one was quite dry and lovely. I would say that fresh this would be a fabulous summer sipper for the patio.

Now, don't get all over anxious, part 3 will be along soon - I promise ... you're just gonna have to wait for it ... as I have to wait (and hope) to try that 90 Tildin.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Report from ... California Wine Fair Preview - March 10, 2009

April is California Wine Month … I say that because it's the month the California Wine Fair rolls into town with some 450+ wines to taste. I never get through the whole event … I think it's physically impossible … but there sure is a lot of wine on offer. That's why I take any opportunity I can to taste beforehand, giving me an outside shot at doing the entire show properly. This evening we got a chance to try about ten percent of the wines that would be at the show, as we got an insider preview … an opportunity for me to glimpse into the world of California wine before hitting the floor of the Royal York on April 6. This event always gives me an idea of what interesting wines or producers I should be putting on my must try list. If you're going, here are some of my selections you might like to search out and try:

Chardonnays … 11 tried- 4 recommends:
Kendall Jackson 2006 Grand Reserve Chardonnay
Sonoma Cutrer, Russian River Ranches 2007 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Cuvaison 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay, Carneros
Merryvale Vineyards 2007 Starmont Chardonnay, Napa Valley

Pinot Noirs … 5 tried – 1 recommend:
Lewis and Lewellen Vineyards 2006 High Nine Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara Coast

Zinfandels … 7 tried – 3 recommends:
Kenwood Vineyards 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi
Bonterra 2007 Zinfandel
Treana Winery Non-Vintage Candor Zinfandel (this is a second label for Treana)

Cabernet Sauvignons … 14 tried – 2 recommends:
Sebastiani 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County
Heitz Wine Cellars 2002 Martha’s Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

"Other Reds" … 8 tried - 3 recommends:
Bogle Vineyards 2006 Petite Sirah
JanKris Winery 2005 Crossfire (50% Cabernet Sauvignon / 25% Merlot / 25% Syrah)
JanKris Winery 2005 Riatta (50% Sangiovese / 25% Zinfandel / 25% Cabernet Sauvignon)

To find out what you like from California you'll have to go to the show (April 6, 2009).

Report from ... Woodman Wine and Spirits Tasting - March 2, 2009

This event was interesting, not just for its wines, but for its venue … we congregated at The Spoke Club on King Street. Now, I’m a Western grad and at Western (London Ontario) we had a pub on campus called "The Spoke", Rick Magee played there regularly and to graduate you had to have stepped into the place and ordered a beer at least once (I believe that was written into the constitution of the University); the other stipulation was that you had to understand the irony and on occasion question, but never get an answer to, the reason why they named a building University College. But as usual I'm off topic.

Today, I visited The Spoke Club (but not the one I knew in my youth) to taste what Woodman Wine and Spirits were offering up; a decent little tasting of 18 wines – the perfect amount for an afternoon tipple. Woodman is the agent for the Ontario winery Angels Gate in Niagara; I’ll have a separate review of their 2007 Gewurztraminer in an upcoming newsletter in the next little while. Right now let's focus our attention on the other wines from around the world Woodman brings in. I came up with my ‘top of the crop’ list for the tasting, this time it seemed a little tougher than usual, but I finally managed to cull it down to a top five. The good news is some are even LCBO bound or already there. In no particular order here are my top five:

2005 First Drop 2% Shiraz ($33.00 - 107599 – Vintages, April 11) … the 2% mentioned in this Shiraz is not the Shiraz itself, it refers to the 2% Albarino (white grape) they throw into the blends to give it a little pep. There's no doubt on the nose or palate that this is an Australian Shiraz with its blackberries, pepper, black raspberries and smooth chocolate … the finish has a bit of tenet bite - but it's worth the nip.

2005 Artesa Chardonnay ($24.95 – Consignment) … a very pleasing Chardonnay for under $25.00 - there's lots of wood notes here, and plenty of barrel flavour: buttery, vanilla, caramel - but the fruit also plays a good role here with melon and apple being the two key fruits. It's when the vanilla and melon join or the caramel and apple commingle that this one truly sings on the palate.

2007 Bouchard Pere & Fils La Vignee Pinot Noir ($17.95 - 605667 – LCBO now) … an affordable Pinot with all the bells and whistles you expect: cranberry, cherry, earth and good acidity - a pleasure to drink on its own or with your favorite poultry dish.

2007 Palacios Remondo La Vendimia ($15.95 – 674564 – Vintage, March 28) … from Spain comes this excellent bargain and taste sensation - big black fruit, hints of mint, raspberry, chocolate along with black-berries/raspberries dance across the tongue … delicious and a great finish.

Gonzalez Byass Nectar P. X. Sherry ($18.95 – 87577 – Vintages, March 28) … what is there really to say about Pedro Ximenez Sherry except "holy cow" … thick and luscious, like raisin pie or pecan pie filling – sometimes it even has the taste of pecans, caramel and chocolate (oooo, I love turtles) - this is dessert all on its own.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Report from ... Cuvee Weekend 2009 - February 27 to March 1, 2009

The Ontario wine Oscars were announced Friday night and its easy to encapsulate them by saying that the big winner was Creekside, taking home four awards; while both Tawse and Hillebrand walked away with two each. This year they added a new wrinkle to the format of the presentation, by announcing the silver and bronze medal finishers in some categories; this elicited a few groans from the audience as favorites just missed the mark. There were also some ties along the way, like the inevitable Riesling tie (there's just so much made in Ontario that this is bound to happen) between Tawse 2007 Sketches of Niagara and Legends 2003 Reserve (thinking about it I think this is a greater coup for Legends, putting in an the aged wine up against all those fresh and fruity ones took guts - good for them). Peninsula Ridge, tied with themselves for best Sauvignon Blanc (only thing worse than that would be to beat yourself); and the best Limited Edition White award was shared between Cattail (2007 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay) and Creekside (2007 Reserve Viognier). I seem to have a good track record for picking winners, going 9 or 16 with my choices from the Cuvee Media Pre-Tasting. Considering there were multiple winners and not all the winning wines were up for tasting that day, I think that’s pretty good score ... if you wish to check up on me then just click on through to my picks, I've updated the posting.

Saturday: I find myself at the Experts Tasting where I am sat between Debi Pratt (Inniskillin) and Darryl Brooker (Hillebrand, and winner of the Tony Aspler Cuvee Award of Excellence). This year's tasting focused on Sparkling Wine. The event kicked off at 10:00 AM and finished (or at least I left) a little after 2:00 PM. The "Experts Tasting" is comprised of media-types, restauranteurs and sommeliers from out of town (most of whom attended the festivities the night before). We all sit down to taste a varietal or style that flourishes in Ontario, and hear some experts talk on the subject (winemakers). Having recently written an article about Ontario Sparkling for Tidings Magazine I wholeheartedly concurred with the selection of topic; but I questioned before, and still do now, (as I am writing this piece) the timing of such a tasting. Let me show you how my mind works on this subject. You have a whole bunch of media and restauranteurs congregating in Niagara during a time when an event called Cuvee-en-Route is talking place, this is where 50+ wineries are not only pouring Cuvee winners, but past winners, older vintages and newer wines ... would you not want these people to experience those wines and the wineries that make them instead of cooping us up in a room for 4+hours? I am not questioning Brock and CCOVI’s (Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute) commitment to Ontario wines, they are one of their best promoters, but does this seem like the logical time to do this tasting? Discuss amongst yourselves and get back to me on this issue.

As for the wines we tried, we had four flights of five wines each - most from Ontario with a few "ringers" thrown in, including a Cremant d’Alsace and a Champagne. Seems that our stuff (from Ontario) fared as well or better; I didn't pick any outside wine as a favourite. Here were my picks for best of each flight – the ones that counted anyway (three in total – the fourth was an experimental tasting of Henry of Pelham wines led by winemaker Ron Giesbrecht):

Flight 1 (winner): Vineland 2007 Brut ($28.00) - pleasant and fruity with a touch of lemon and hint of sweetness.
Flight 2 (winner): Cave Spring Cellars 2006 Chenin Blanc Extra Brut ($24.95) - a buttered toast nose with bracing/racy acidity and a nice apple-lemonade quality.
Flight 3 (winner): Stoney Ridge 2005 Brut ($18.95) - bread crust nose, fresh fruity palate with apple crispness and a toasty finish.

Sunday: Finally I got a chance to hit the winery trail, but instead of giving you a rundown of who did what I’ll let you know that I have fodder for upcoming newsletters, with wine reviews from such wineries as Rosewood Estates, 30 Bench Winemakers, Alvento, Vineland, Featherstone, Twenty-Twenty-Seven and Creekside - amongst others, so if you are not a newsletter subscriber … what are you waiting for?

I will throw a few wine notes your way: A trip to Hillebrand and a taste of the now $30.00 2005 Trius Red really proved to me what a great vintage 2005 was and what a dang fine winemaker Daryl Brooker is. This wine showed no age it all, granted it has only been three years, but still … Check out the Taste It Again blog for my 2005 Trius Red review. Finally, I stopped by Angels Gate, where a flight of three old vines Chardonnays was on the menu (2003, 2005 and 2006). The ’03 seemed to be losing it with smells of beets and cinnamon; the ’06 was tight, lacking both fruit and acidity, I have a feeling this one is what some critics call "in a dumb phase" - try again in six months with hopefully better results. The ‘05 was spectacular, fresh and lively, good fruit character, buttery, minerally and alive with great acidity.

Now, enough talking about wine, I need a glass of one …