Monday, April 13, 2009

Report from ... French Wine Trade Tasting (11 Tables) - April 07, 2009

A quick rundown of some of French wines tasted at this event. These are mainly producers/suppliers who are looking for representation here in Ontario. A buddy of mine once pointed out, "there's a reason they aren't represented," while that is true for most, here are some that are standouts. A went from table to table (eleven in total) and for the most part picked one shining star from each – quotes come from the event program:

Table 1: I don't do Cognac so I left this one alone.

Table 2: Chateau Castigno
The Quote: "Their ambition is to arouse feelings and share them."
The Wine: Terra Casta Rouge 2007 Chateau Castigno … 100% Carignan - lots of pepper, plum, and black fruit - smooth with chocolate on the finish; delicious.

Table 3: Cyril Labeille Distribution
The Quote: "We make sure that vine growing and wine making practices ban every "artificial" intervention that would spoil the wine of its natural characteristics and would damage the vines and its soil over the time."
The Wine: Rose Row – Marie Niel – Viognier 2008 … 100% Viognier - a delightful summertime white, lush tropical fruit - easy drinking style, amazing banana/pineapple finish.

Table 4: Vignobles Dubard
The Quote: "The rich personality of our wines is brought to light by numerous medals and good reviews earned in the wine press over the past few years."
The Wine: Chateau Nardou – Cuvee du Bois Meney 2007 (Bordeaux) … smooth wine with juicy red fruit as its mainstay.

Table 5: Domaine de la Dourbie
The Quote: "Our philosophy and our search to produce authentic wine that beautifully reflects the Languedoc growing area.”
The Wine: Domaine de la Dourbie Grande Cuvee – Coteaux du Languedoc 2005 ... a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Cinsault - great smells and flavors here: spicy, leathery and pepper nose follows through on the tongue with a balanced fruit to acid ratio.

Table 6: Flavones-MWC
The Quote: "Distributor of an exclusive selection of up and coming mid-range wines from individual family run vineyards in Bordeaux."
The Wine: Sorry, not much here - I tried to play it safe by going with the Chateau Condom, but alas nothing came out of it. (Rim Shot)

Table 7: Chateau des Seigneurs de Pommyers – PIVA SCEA
The Quote: "We are certified in France, Europe and USA Organically by Ecocert.”
The Wine: Chateau Pouchaud-Larquey 2005 … 50% Cabernet Sauvignon / 10% Cabernet Franc / 40% Merlot - quite smooth through the palate with a little bite at the back – nice cinnamon, woodsy, black fruit mix.

Table 8: Chateau Rousselle
The Quote: "Has existed since 1636 … the wines are already sold in 20 countries and over three continents, and to guarantee the quality of business relationship, Mr. Lemaitre is always the direct contact (no French traders, no agents)."
The Wine: Chateau Haut-Vigneau 2005 (Cotes de Blaye) … lovely wine here - sweet vanilla oak, touch of spice and wild raspberry, full of delicious flavors: touch of cinnamon/nutmeg, sweet wood and lovely fruit - balancing acidity makes this one age-worthy and great with food.

Table 9: Selles Vins
The Quote: "The Selles family is from four generations wine producers and wine merchants."
The Wine: Domaine Dieumercy 2007 (Cotes du Rhone) ... fabulously smooth, beautiful red fruit nose and red licorice Nibs flavours; not too much of the drying sensation on the tongue makes for juicy fruit in the mouth - good everyday sipper with or without food.
And Another: Cotes du Rhone Villages 2007 (Plan de Dieu) … from the little heard of Plan of God appellation - this wine totally rocks and is said to be a third the price of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines. Touch leathery, but a smooth supple leather - a little floral, a little mint, a whole lotta flavour with great balancing acidity – I’d take a case of this beauty (actual retail price dependant of course).

Table 10: Vinovalie
The Quote: “Vinovalie is a group of 4 leading wine cooperatives from the South West of France."
The Wine: Astrolabe 2005 Malbec … a welcome surprise addition to the tasting list that the rep secreted into the country via her suitcase, good thing she did. Purple in color with spiced blackberry lots of mouth drying tannins but ultimately rich flavor and all black based.

Table 11: Rivoyre & Varenne
The Quote: "Specialized in Bordeaux wines since 1865."
The Wine: Les Cedres D’Hosten 2004 … a little perfumed but with enough acidity and fruit stuffing to make it enjoyable.

Report from ... California Wine Fair – Monday April 6, 2009

The 29th installment of this annual bacchanalia was held once again at the Royal York in downtown Toronto. This year, as last, I got a chance to feed my face on California's dime, at their seventeenth annual "Toast to California" luncheon. Salmon, steak, cheese were all highlights of the menu, along with a few nice wines (listed below) - but the real highlight for me was guest speaker Joel Peterson, winemaker and master of Zin at Ravenswood winery. Regular readers know, I’m a fan of good Zinfandel and there's no better show to find such taste treats … but to listen to one of the head Zin-makers of California, well that's a treat unto itself.

Choice Quotes …
"We live in a fantastic time of wine and people's acceptance of wine."
"When you make a wine recommendation you can change a whole life." In reference to a bottle of 1945 Chateauneuf-du-Pape and his son’s own wine company: Bedrock Wine.

Zin-istory and Zin-bits …

Zinfandel started its life in Croatia moved to Vienna than to New York and Boston before finally founding a home in California during the gold rush in 1851.

The 1883 Harrod’s catalogue has a Zinfandel for sale listed as “good wine” and during prohibition it was mainly Zinfandel that home winemakers were making their allotment from.

During the Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway this year Zinfandel was served.

ZAP (the Zinfandel Advocate and Producers) first met twenty years ago, poured approximately twenty wines and had approximately 50 people at the tasting; today that get together is a weeklong festival with over 300 wineries pouring more than 900 wines to well over 9,000 people.

Lunch Time Wines …

Ferrari-Carano Winery 2006 Alexander Valley Chardonnay - very smooth and creamy with butter and vanilla smells and flavors.
Ferrari-Carano Winery 2006 Siena - a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, quite delicious and well balanced with primarily black fruit, chocolate and herbs.
DeLoach Vineyards 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir – line priced at $14.95 ... nice strawberry on the nose with hints of earthy-strawberry in the mouth and a nice pleasant finish.
Paul Hobbs Winery 2005 CrossBarn Cabernet Sauvignon - big peppery, blackberry smells with silky tannins on the tongue and good acidity.

The Wines of Note …
With over 532 wines on display (133 wineries times approximately four wines each) - there is something for everyone ... but surprisingly, not a Riesling in the room. Here's my list of top wines, (value and price have nothing to do it, because in some cases price wasn’t known or listed for this market) … and of course I did not try them all – or I would probably still be in hospital, so when I say “best” they’re the best of what I tried:

Best Chardonnay … a California staple – this actually came down to the following three wines:

Newton Vineyard 2006 Napa County Unfiltered Chardonnay - stunning, lots of pineapple and vanilla, great fruit, good acidity - powerful and delicious.

Merryvale Vineyards 2007 Carneros Chardonnay - creamy, buttery, toffee with a great mouth feel and deliciously smooth.

Carmel Road 2000 Chardonnay - for good value this $25.00 Chardonnay from Jess Jackson delivers: great fruit nice acidity – lemon/lime, kinda Sprite-like without the fizz and/or sugar. Beautiful.

Red Wine Blends …

Big House 2006 GSM - once a Bonny Doon property, the winery was sold to Coca-Cola’s wine branch: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre - with a very Zin like nose, fruit forward with lots of cherry.

Bonny Doon 2004 Le Cigar Volant - nice nose, good black fruit and white pepper with balancing tannins.

Cline Cellars 2006 Earl’s Late for Dinner Red - eleven grapes make up this blend, a real everything but the kitchen sink combination. Developed for the popular Earl’s restaurant chain you can now get it in Ontario on consignment for $18.95 a bottle, it's a great easy drinking red.

Justin Vineyards and Winery 2006 Savant - a Syrah-Cab blend that’s got peppery-spicy-chocolate … believe me it's a good combination.

Newton Vineyard 2006 Red Label Claret - I've liked this blend for years, I found the 2005 disappointing but the ’06 seems to be a return to form for this wine. A nice smooth juicy red with delicious character.

6 Killer Zins (as opposed to the seven deadly ones) ...

Blue Moon 2006 Old Vines - coming November 2009 to a Vintages location near you - nice spiced-plum notes with chocolate and some tannins along with good acid bite. This’ll turn ya into a Zin-fan if you’re not already one.

Clos LaChance 2006 Central Coast - a lighter style Zin (13.5% alc.), good acidity backs this one up along with nice, though typical, fruit … very tasty.

Delicato Family Vineyard 2006 Brazin Old Vine – one of my favourites wines on the day … made from their oldest plot of Zinfandel vines: lots of vanilla, plum, pepper, spiced-plum and other flavors, I totally dug into this one.

Haywood 2005 Los Chemizal Vineyard Morning Sun – made from fruit grown at the lowest elevation of the vineyard, I found this one to have bright fruit characteristics and lots of vanilla oak to carry it along … soft and easy.

XYZin 2007 - lots of fresh fruit, vanilla and plum on the finish, sound pretty standard for Zin but a lovely taste of juicy fruit really made this one stand out.

The Three from Z-52 …
A house that specializes in Zinfandel, I tried three that they make from fruit sourced in different parts of California; it was here that I found three very different faces of Zinfandel.

2005 Agnes’ Vineyard (Lodi) - from 48 year-old vines, rich plum and great cherry, soft on the palate with a sweetness typical of Zinfandel; typical but delicious.

2006 Clocksprings Vineyard (Amador County) - 46 year-old vines in a great place to grow Zin (or so I am told by an independent third party), Amador County, big black cherry, huge fruitiness, loaded with tannins.

2005 Truchard Vineyard (Napa) - a limited production Zin, only 365 cases produced, lighter fruit than the big jammy ones above, more cranberry like elements with tarter flavors, delicate and more refined, not your usual Zin-big fruit sweetie ... this one's atypical but A-OK and a real welcome change.

Catch a Cab … avoiding a Cab in California is impossible, but trying to find one with unique character can also be tricky - here are a few I found that were quite a lot of fun.

Artesa Winery 2005 Napa - juicy fruit with blackberries and nice tannins, aged 21-months in French oak.

Ridgeline 2004 Alexander Valley - this one was at the Artesa table but had no markings of the Artesa brand … who’s ever it was it was lovely - lots of red berries (strawberry / raspberry) and just a lovely taste treat. A follow-up email confirmed that this was not an Artesa wine, so I ask, who was that masked wine? And why did it taste so good?

Darioush Winery 2006 Napa - this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon has rich blackberry and juicy chocolate … or should that be the other way around?

Dierberg Family of Wines Three Saints Vineyard - juicy black fruit, ripe tannins, a great finish that proves to be both a little spicy and herby … not jammy in any way.

Esser Vineyards 2006 Lodi - this wine was tasty with nice red fruit and a touch of wood, but it was the price that jumped out at me, $17.95, now that's a good value wine.

One More for the Road ...

Vina Robles 2006 Petite Sirah - lovely wine, if you like spicy and peppery as the main components of your glass of red … there's also lots of black fruit here, but it's the spicy/peppery that really shines through.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Report from - The wines of Penny’s Hill and Mr. Riggs ... March 31, 2009

We find ourselves at the Fine Wine Reserve to taste wines from the small yet connected producers Penny’s Hill and Mr. Riggs. How are they connected you ask? Mr. Riggs is actually Ben Riggs, who is the winemaker for Penny’s Hill. Riggs has been a winemaker for over 24 years, fourteen of which were spent at Wirra Wirra in Australia before moving over to the Hill in 1995. Of the five wines poured, three from Riggs and two from Penny’s, these were my top choices:

Mr. Riggs 2006 Shiraz ($55.00 - available in limited quantities at the LCBO) … this is the premium level of Riggs wine, aged two years in 100% French Oak and carefully barrel selected from the best barrels. The nose is very pretty for a muscular wine like this -smells of floral, red berry and chocolate are followed up in the mouth by white pepper, chocolate, juicy black fruit (like blackberries and cassis), and a smooth sweet finish - due in part, I’m sure, to the 15% alcohol.

Penny's Hill 2007 "Red Dot” Shiraz ($30.00 - not available yet) … this wine just smells juicy yet there's a firmness in the leather and spice that goes well with the black fruit. Chocolate/mocha touches the tongue and leads to raspberries and cassis before giving way to white pepper with a long lingering finish – slightly confused? Taste it and you won’t be, you’ll realize, as the Aussie’s would say, “it’s bloody good” and tasty too.

Report from ... Piper vs. Charles: the Heidsieck Tasting - March 31, 2009

It wasn't long ago that the versus statement in the above title was true. The Heidsieck name in Champagne started in 1785, subsequently it was split by three members of the family each taking the Heidsieck name, which had become famous in many parts of the world for quality Champagne. The houses became: Charles, Piper and Heidsieck & Co. Monopole - and these houses were fierce competitors to say the least. Today, two of the three houses are back under one umbrella: Charles and Piper, and controlled by Remy Cointreau. At this tasting we tried seven Champagnes made by these two houses - some side-by-side, to establish the difference of house style; some on their own, because they were too special to compare.

Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Brut NV vs. Champage Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV … they say you're either a Charles Chooser or a Piper Person (it’s a Beatles and Stones kinda thing) - I think in this category I’m a Piper; it was just a fresher more fruit driven bubbly. The nose was toasted lemon, yeasty, sweetish and had hints of, of all things, chocolate ice cream. The taste was crisp, fruity and easy to drink with fresh bread and lemon on the finish - and what a great long lingering finish. To me the Charles had that older more stale bread smell that someone more politically termed "autumnal”. Another comparison made was that the Piper was a morning wine and Charles an evening one. I get up at 6:00 every morning, rain or shine, holiday or weekday; so I guess I’m considered a morning person, so it stands to reason I would like Piper … so there.

Piper Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000 vs. Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000 … here, it turns out, I’m a Charles Chooser - this time Charles showed more class in the glass with classic aromas and tastes and yet still needs time to come around; Piper was pretty much ready to go now, though he would last another 4-5 years comfortably – Charles, on the other hand, had yet to show all his cards and has a good 10-years ahead of him before he’s even close to peaking, maybe more.

Piper 1999 Rare Vintage … there have been only seven releases of this wine since 1976 and it gets eight years of aging in bottle (this one was just released in the fall of 2008). This was a real creamy-minerally treat with hints of nuttiness – think of citrus soaked bread crust with a medium length finish; the only drawback, after a few sips that finish became very short. Only 20,000 bottles are produced.

Champagne Charles Heidseick Blanc de Millenaires Vintage 1995 … another rare wine that has only been made four times since 1983. Sweet almond flavors with hints of lemon brioche and a great lingering fresh apple finish.

Finally, we tried the Piper Rosé Sauvage … yeasty with a touch of raspberry on the nose; quite fruity with strawberry on the palate and quite a great deal of heft on the tongue - this had more of the weight and feeling of a fizzy red than your typical rosé - probably because of the 25% red wine in the blend. The Sauvage was first released in 2003.

Report from ... Churchill Cellars Portfolio Tasting - March 30, 2009

The Churchill tasting is very interesting, because every time they do this tasting I have run out to the LCBO and picked up a few bottles of something. Last year it was the Hardys Gewurztraminer/Riesling, the year before that it was the Bankside Shiraz. This year I didn't get a chance to make my post-Churchill LCBO run because I was off to see Joe Sealy’s tribute to Hoagie Carmichael at the Old Mill immediately following the tasting -but I'll tell you what my "run out" wine would have been had I not taken that side trip.

Churchill's entire tasting was comprised of wines on the general list, in vintages or coming to vintages - so that makes it easy to recommend wines and easy for you, dear reader, to run out and get some.

And here is a list of the wines I deemed worth you getting into your car (or walking) to your local liquor retailer:

Robertson Winery 2006 Wolfkloof Shiraz ($17.75 – Vintages - South Africa) … nice blackberry and pepper on the nose; black raspberry and white pepper on both the palate and the finish.

Marcus James 2008 Merlot ($9.25 - General List – Argentina) … very fruit driven offering, most prominent of which, blueberry.

Hardys 2008 Stamp of Australia Riesling/Gewurztraminer ($9.60 – General List – Australia) ... still a big summer bargain – rosy-grapefruit with a touch of sweetness, big and fruity in the mouth - great price.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2006 Merlot ($19.80 - General Llist – California) … nice red fruit with chocolate and a lovely smoothness on the palate.

A little out of my price range … (but still worth buying)

Two very nice Napa wines: Robert Mondavi 2004 Merlot ($34.75 - Vintages – California) … chocolate and blueberry on the nose - sweet red cherries fill the mouth. Yum. Mount Veeder 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50.00 – Vintages – California) … this had lots going for it on both the nose and palate: blackberry, cassis, spice, pepper, chocolate, and a big peppery-spicy finish.

My (would have been) “Run Out and Buy” wine:

This would've been a no-brainer. For some reason I've always passed up on this wine due to its over simplistic brown-stationary looking label, but tonight I would've gladly served it, or stored it. Deep black fruit, very juicy with a sweet red berry and spice finish, all at an unbelievable steal of a price: Blackstone 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Monterey ($14.95 – Vintages – California).