Monday, August 24, 2009

Report from ... Prince Edward County Tour with the Wine Writers – Day 3 - August 23, 2009

Another early day, this one had a jam-packed morning. I woke at 5:30am and posted my notes from Day 2 … then it was time for breakfast and out the door for a 4-hour, 4-winery tour. It’s just like it sounds, each winery visited had one hour to show us their wares, then boom, back on the road we went. It’s the wine writer’s version of the smash-and-grab.

First up (9:00), Closson Chase. Now to be honest I have always found Closson Chase to be very pricey for my pocketbook – especially for what they were offering, which was a named (and fairly celebrated) winemaker in a new and unproven region. But with a few years of production and experience under their collective belts I think they are finally beginning to hit their stride and the price to quality ratio doesn’t seem so out of whack – we’re really starting to see what the early envisioners of this winery saw all those years ago. It was here that the $40 2007 South Clos Chardonnay mesmerized all who tried it. Bottom line on this one is, if I bought $40 Chardonnays, this would be my chosen poison, so to speak.

In the ten o’clock hour we found our way to Keint-He, a new winery set to open in early September. Keint-He is run by winemaker and self-admitted “soil geek” Geoff Heinricks, who provided us with some pretty interesting facts and quotes about growing grapes in the County. Geoff believes that “high density planting is very important to the region and the best way to express the terroir.” Geoff started making wines in 2003, but has been growing grapes in the area since 1995. Currently, he has three vineyards: Little Creek, Big Lake and Foxtail Swamp, totaling some 27 acres. His best wine was also a Chardonnay, the 2007 Foxtail Vineyard version, for marketing reasons they drop the ‘swamp’ moniker from the label, but the truth of the matter is the vineyard is located off a road called Swamp College Rd. (you can all make the appropriate jokes now).

Eleven o’clock came and we found ourselves in the barrel cellar of Dan Sullivan (Rosehall Run). He poured quite a few wines in a short period of time and managed to speak over the throng. It just seemed that the writers were getting a little rowdy with their banter and commentary back and forth amongst one another; and then to top things off, the representatives from the Wine Council showed up halfway through the tasting, thus causing even more commotion as they made their apologies and said hello to everyone. Dan was pouring some great wines, but decorum seems to have been left on the wrong side of the cellar door. As we left everyone thanked Dan for a wonderful tasting – for his part Dan looked relieved to see us all go and get his barrel cellar back in order and back to a more peaceful state. I don’t usually give a double recommendation from one location in my report from the County, but for what Dan had to endure I’ll tell you the two that really stood out: the consumer friendly, $14.95 Sur Lie Chardonnay 2007 and the big fruited ‘Cold Creek’ Cabernet Franc 2007.

Noon saw us rolling our convoy into Norman Hardie’s place – basically across the road from Rosehall Run. Norman wasn’t ready for our arrival, “first time I’ve ever seen the wine writers on time,” he remarked good-naturedly, as he scurried about organizing packages of technical notes for us. He took us for a look-see of the vineyard, which produced some interesting nuggets of information, such as this one on the living vineyard: “Frogs are a good indication on the health of your vineyard.” It has something to do with their thins skins. And his affirmation of why he chose the County over a more famous Ontario region (a place he sources some of his fruit from): “I’m here because I believe in what’s here.” Norm, often considered to be a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist, showed us something pretty interesting in his 2008 Pinot Gris.

Final stop of the journey was Fieldstone Vineyard, where some of the County’s newest and smallest congregated for a sampling. With the rain pelting down outside 5 wineries showed off their wares inside the barn … so much for the beautiful weather we had been having and the planned outdoor BBQ lunch. I would have to say it was yet another Chardonnay that impressed at this gathering … the Karlo Estates 2008 Chardonnay.

And with that the we were done, out whirlwind, 2 day jaunt through Prince Edward County was over. We visited 9 wineries and tasted wines from 18 – had we had more time than a weekend we could have done the proper rounds. For some it was their first time, for others it was just one of many visits to the County; but whether novice or veteran it’s not a trip one will soon forgot. Thanks to Sadie Darby and David Lawrason for organizing the trip and all the wineries who accommodated and put up with us. (Read Day 3)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Report from ... Prince Edward County Tour with the Wine Writers – Day 2 - August 22, 2009

Day 2 saw us criss-crossing the County to visit four wineries and taste wines from 9 different wineries. How is that possible, you ask? Simply put, with our limited amount of time in the County (Saturday and Sunday) and more than 20 wineries, there is no way a large inquisitive group such as ours could hit that many places – so, some wineries were invited to pour at alternative locations. For example, we visited Amy Mumby (winemaker) and Ed Neuser (owner) at Waupoos Winery first thing in the morning, here we tried Waupoos wines as well as wines from 33 Vines and Fool on the Hill (a label produced by the County Cider Company). Best wine at this stop was from the Fool, delivering up a delicious and tasty 2008 Pinot Gris.

Black Prince Winery was another winery where other wines were being poured, this time wines from Harwood Estates also hit our collective glasses. The big news here wasn’t the wine it was what they are putting the wine into: the Prince has an interesting barrel program. An Ontario company called The Carriage House Cooperage are currently making Prince Edward County barrels (Canadian oak barrels sourced from wood grown wild in the County), which Black Prince is experimenting with. Here we tried a Chardonnay using the new kind of barrel and a double shot of Cabernet Franc – one aged in French wood the other in Prince Edward County wood – with dramatically different results. Terence Van Rooyen (consulting winemaker for the Black Prince), proclaimed “this redefines local”.Our next stop was at The Grange of Prince Edward County where a delicious lunch of local perch, lamb, wine and lots of fixins’ was prepared for us by acclaimed local chef Michael Potter, who addressed the topic of local food with wit and good humour talking about “happy sheep with a glint in their eye” and local products being the source of real flavour. Also pouring wines at the Grange were the wines of Sugarbush and Sandbanks wineries. I tasted the Sandbanks 2008 Riesling back during Terroir (when it had just recently been bottled), even back then I was blown away by this wine; now with a few more months of bottle age it has integrated nicely and not only gets my vote for wine of the visit, but quite possibly wine of the day. A brief tour and tasting in the barrel cellar with winemaker Jeff Innes had him proclaiming, “While the County is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay I thing Cabernet Franc is a grape to watch, a real hidden gem here, it’s pretty consistent every year.”

Final stop was Huff Estates, where winemaker Frederic Picard allowed us to sample one of last three bottles of his (and the County’s) very first sparkling wine (2004 Cuvee Frank L. Huff, Blanc de Blanc – now sold out). Then we did a tasting comparison between the 2003 and 2007 Chardonnays – the ’03 was really holding its own, despite being very lightly oaked. Huff’s current wine that should be on your table, “toute suite” as the French say, is the 2008 Riesling sourced from Niagara fruit.

Back to the hotel (this time it’s the Clarion in Belleville) – quite the array of interesting rooms here. Now off to the top secret Wine Writers Circle of Canada’s annual BBQ … sorry, wish I could let you in on that but it’s members only.Justify Full

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Report from ... Prince Edward County Tour with the Wine Writers Circle of Canada – Day 1 - August 21, 2009

Arrived in style (at 5:00pm), by train, and picked up in a white stretch limo, felt like a rock star as we piled into the back and drove through town; and why not – Prince Edward County is the new “in” place where winemakers, winery owners and chefs mingle and have made PEC the hot bed of culinary activity it is.

The limo took us to Waring House, an incredible inn that I have passed on the highway driving from winery to winery, but never stayed at, now I’m not sure why. I was put up in the new wing (Quaker Lodge) room 202, which was absolutely beautiful and spacious with a sitting room, bed room, and bathroom you could play football in; two televisions (one for each room, but not the bathroom) and a soft, luxurious bed big enough for 6. My understanding is that each room is decorated differently and furnished with the last placed and delivered order by the now defunct Gibbard & Sons furniture company from Napanee, Ontario.

Dinner was scheduled for Clara’s restaurant in the Claramount in, but first it was a hop skip and a jump over to the pub for a quick pint with fellow wine writers David Lawrason and Alan McGinty. David enjoyed the local bitters from Barley Days Brewery, I opted for the dark ale … I had a sampling of both and thought them good, but my leanings this hot afternoon was for something with fuller flavour.

Whisked off by same limo to Clara’s … but first we had a brief meeting with the rest of the wine writers at the water’s edge for a glass of welcome cheer and to watch the sun set, then a brief walk up to the restaurant (100m up hill) to help work up an appetite. Good thing we did, because dinner was an amazing 5 course feast prepared by chef Michael Hoy and his staff, who subscribe to the ‘locavore’ philosophy of the 50-mile diet (kinda like the 100-mile diet, but even closer to home) … the only thing served that was not grown or caught at least 50 miles away were the Niagara peaches for dessert.
Each course was served with wine, after all it was a winemaker’s dinner, and the five winemakers were in attendance – they rotated through each table at dinner, planting themselves at a different table for each course to discuss the County and their particular wine.
First up was the Pan-seared Lake Ontario Pickerel with citrus, sambel olek, fresh cilantro and beurre orange; paired with a Harwood Estate 2007 Gewurztraminer.Next was Pure Springs Rainbow Trout Gravalax with buckwheat blini Hagerman golden beet and sweet herb remoulade; paired with Rosehall Run’s 2007 Chardonnay “Rosehall Vineyard”.
Third on the list was the Flintshire Farms Breast of Guinea Hen with roasted shallots, fresh thyme and Neil Spikes’ fava beans, no nice Chianti served here, instead it was a 2007 Pinot Noir from the Grange of Prince Edward County.

Final main was a Century Game Park Bison with Windatt Cherry Baco Noir Sauce; served with Waupoos Estates 2008 Baco Noir Reserve.For dessert it was Italian Lemon Semi-freddo with ripe Niagara Peach along side Huff Estates 2007 First Frost.

Regular readers know my opinion on the First Frost, but the rousing winner of the food pairing this evening was undoubtedly the Rosehall Run 2007 Chardonnay.

And I can’t fail to mention the lovely hors d’oeuvres we had on the patio to start the evening … sushi rolls, duck confit with homemade pickled ginger and scallion with a mango chutney, and phyllo stuffed with caramelized apples and chevre. Everything was delicious.

Tomorrow it’s up and out early for a trip through the County for some power tasting at various wineries … too bad, I was just starting to get used to my room. (Read Day 2)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Report from - Dinner at Rundles in Startford ... August 13, 2009

I have been a regular Stratford Festival attendee for the past 20 years, I catch at least one play each year - more likely 2-3. This year I saw Colm Feore in Cyrano de Bergerac and Brian Bedford in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of being Ernest - both excellent productions. On August 13, we (my fiancee Erica and I) attended Brian Bedford's reading of Oscar Wilde's letters called 'Ever Yours, Oscar, afterward we were invited to Rundles Restaurant by sommelier Richard Maloney, who informed me that he is proud of their Ontario wine content and intends to add more.For those who have never been to Rundles, let me try to describe it ... better yet, let's just go for the description of the front - I'll let the pictures of the inside (below) fill the other thousand words. Rundles is located at 9 Cobourg Street, which is a side street populated with houses and apartment buildings; it is hidden near the end of the street tucked behind an abundance of foliage in a very contemporary building. Now remember, I have been attending performances in Stratford for 20 years, I have walked it's streets, I have partook in quite a few of its restaurants, so when I asked how long Rundles had been around I expected to hear an answer like '2-3 years'. So you can imagine my shock and amazement to learn that Rundles has been around since 1977, "It's our 33rd year in business", I was told. I guess I didn't know Stratford like I thought I did.
Rundles restaurant is split into two parts: the main restaurant at the front, which seats about 50 people; and the Sophisto Bistro at the back, which seats about 25. The Bistro is in its second year of operation and was a response to those who wanted a little more choice in their prix fixe menu, for less dough. We ate in the Bistro - trust me when I say you sacrifice nothing by going for the more relaxed and fun atmosphere, its the same chef with the same great quality of food.
Richard presented me with the wine list - and also the Bistro menu, pointing out the house wines: Rosehall Run (from Prince Edward County) 2007 Riesling and 2007 Sullyzwicker Red, both excellent wines for the price - and great to see a restaurant offering Ontario wines as their house wine. "I wanted to showcase the local wines," Richard said to me, "local meaning Ontario of course". Perusing the wine list I noticed quite a bit of Ontario aromatic whites (ie: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris) and dessert wines, the only places lacking were in the Chardonnay, Sparkling and Red departments - there was one Chardonnay and a couple of reds, as oppose to the half and half split in the aromatic whites listing. Richard told me those are areas he intends to beef up next year. Rundles is only open for "the season", May to October from 5-8 (dinner) and lunch on the weekends - closed Monday. I gave him a few recommendations.

But if I could find a small fault with the wine list I could find nothing wrong in the food department, all created by chef Neil Baxter, we had an excellent meal. Starting with a tasting of the Lobster Bisque and salt cod croquette - mind you this was just a sample tasting.We then moved on to our appetizers: Belgian Endive and Roquefort Sald with roasted walnuts (with a sour scream and roquefort dressing with hunks of cheese sprinkled on top).
Along with a 'sampling of Rundles Charcuterie which includes cured meats and various types of sausages' - all made in house by the chef.As we waited excitedly for the main course we met the staff: Emily (Bistro Senior and resident name speller) and Curtis, who kept foisting the best homemade bread onto us, they were like Lay's potato chips, "betcha' can't eat just one"-slice ... I ended up calling him "the bread pusher" though I know he performed many other duties. We were also told about Kiki Sontyart (the bread maker) and Serene Choo (pastry chef). While we waited and learned chef Neil Baxter sent out an extra little bit of excitement taken from the main restaurant menu: 'A tartare of lightly smoked salmon garnished with Florence fennel and sour apple, and salmon roe', plus a plate of 'Shrimp, Dungeness Crab and Cucumber Roll with orange and ginger essence, and tobika (flying fish roe) coloured with wasabi. Both dishes were stunning in their presentation and delicious.

Out came the mains: Erica was served a Sweet and Spicy Vegetable and Israeli Couscous fresh ulses and summer squash in and exotic stew, which is sprinkled with toasted almonds and raisins. Myself, I ended up with the most succulent dish of Beef Short Ribs Braised in red wine and garnished with bacon, mushrooms and horseradish cream. The meat literally melted in my mouth and I savoured every bite.

Finally, as if we hadn't tried enough already, here came the homemade desserts, everything created from scratch: Dark Chocolate Cream pralines espresso granita, and "Indian Summer" zabaglione for her; Poached Apples and Candied Apple Ice Cream with crisp farina croquettes for me ... honestly after that I could not pack away another bite.

Unbelievable. I learned from watching Top Chef Masters that everybody remembers dessert, but I'd have to say the whole meal was memorable, from the first glass of wine (Riesling) to the last spoonful of ice cream (candied apple). Thanks to Richard Maloney (sommelier) and James Morris (owner) for a fabulous evening and I look forward to seeing the improvements to the wine list to include more Ontario wines to pair right beside this extravaganza of food excellence.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Report from ... SWOVA New Vintage Tasting at Sprucewood Shore – August 9, 2009

SWOVA is the South Western Ontario Vintners Association – otherwise known as the wineries of the Lake Erie North Shore (LENS). They get together annually, in August, to promote their newest and finest wines (one year there was a short fall of new wines, so that’s where the idea of also promoting their ‘finest’ came into play). I am happy to report this year there was a plethora of new wines to taste, and plenty of wineries were quick to point out that this was/is a new vintage tasting, so all they were pouring was the new stuff.

Here’s something I have always loved about this gathering of the clan (wineries), it roves … that means it goes from winery-to-winery every year: 2 years ago it was at Erie Shore, last year Mastronardi hosted, and this year it was Sprucewood Shores turn to put on ‘the really big show’ (details for next year’s tasting can be found at the end of this report). The reason this is such a wonderful idea is because of Ontario’s arcane alcohol selling laws, which prohibit wineries from selling their product at tastings – except of course for the host. Because the SWOVA tasting roams it gives each winery not only a chance to showcase itself and how it throws a party, but also allows them the benefit from the traffic and sell their wine. This also meant that Sprucewood could be a little more generous with their pours because they had product on-hand and at-the-ready. Noticeably absent from this year’s tasting was Sanson Estate and Viewpointe – somebody said it was because they are not part of the association; this got my head working overtime as I thought back even further to previous year’s tastings … I am sure I have seen both of them there before, in fact Viewpointe hosted back in 2006 … just goes to show that there are always rebels in every crowd.

Sprucewood put on quite the spread on this very hot afternoon. With highs reaching a balmy 94F degrees (~32C) with lots of sticky humidity. The food consisted of hot hors d’oeuvres tables scattered throughout and a hot entrée horseshoe in the very center of the large tent – unfortunately I did not take advantage of the food so I can’t comment. But from the looks on the faces of those sitting at tables – and the piled high plates, as well as seconds, thirds and possibly fourths, I’m going to say the food was as big a hit as the wine. But I was on a mission: to find the best wines of the SWOVA tasting, the rest (with full reviews) will turn up in newsletters and Weekly Wine Notes over the next few months.

Bubbling Under … the 4.5-star wines …
There were quite a few 4.5 star wines (full reviews pending – check the website or sign up for the newsletter to keep up-to-date), including Mastronardi’s 2007 Cabernet Franc – a steal at $12.95; Muscedere’s 2007 Syrah – a $40 limited edition (25 cases) wine that really delivers. Colchester Ridge, now wanting to be known as CREW, 2007 Merlot – at a mere $14.80 is a real bargain; Pelee Island’s 2008 Riesling over delivers with crisp flavour especially at the unbelievable price of $10.95. Newcomer Black Bear Farms (fruit winery) has a hit on their hands with their fresh strawberry flavours and aromas Strawberry sweet wine; while another fruit winery that seems to play around successfully with grapes, Wagner Estate, took an old favourite and jazzed it up a bit: his usual Vidal only Log House White ($11.00) had 10% of a minerally Riesling added to it with stellar effects. My final four-and-a-half-star selection was as big a surprise to me as it may be to you: Aleksander Estate 2007 Baco Noir ($11.95) – which lacked the usual unruly earthy-gaminess I find in Baco and replaced it with a big port-like appeal: fruit and chocolate.

Something from the Host …
It would be rude not to mention the top new wine from the host, and that would be their 2008 Riesling ($12.95), which was described by winemaker Tanya Mitchell as yummy – and I would have to agree.

5 Star Selections …
This year’s tasting produced 2 stellar bottles that are must buys right now – that means get your hands on them right away, because, as it turns out, both are fairly limited in quantity.

Muscedere Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30.00) … first time the boys at Muscedere have worked with the king of reds, and what a debut. Made from grapes taken from 3-year old vines, cropped down to 10 clusters per vine or one ton per acre. This wine is big in the fruit forward department, lots of cherry, raspberry and blackberry along with vanilla and herbs backing it up. The entry is sweet blackberry and raspberry with good tannin structure and balancing acidity. Aged 12 months in new French oak the wine shows signs of good ageability; alcohol was kept in check at 13.3%, though the hot growing season of 2007 would have had brix (sugar) levels high; and then there’s the big extended fruit finish. Only 75 cases made. Price: $30 – Rating: *****

Colio Estate 2007 CEV 9-Barrel Shiraz ($19.95) … another low production wine from the stellar 2007 vintage. Back in 2005, winemaker Tim Reilly created the first Shiraz ever for Colio and called it “6-Barrel Shiraz”, in 2007, another good red vintage, he got a little more to play with – and once again created something extraordinary. Aged 16 months in 100% Hungarian oak, or which 30% was new. Great red fruit, spice and pepper on the nose, the palate is smooth and supple, there’s great fruit in the mouth with solid tannin structure, lots of raspberry notes with an interesting change up of pepper from nose-to-mouth: white pepper aromas, black pepper palate. This wine must be tried and buyed (I mean bought) to be believed it’s from Ontario. Price: $19.95 – Rating: *****

Next Years’s SWOVA Tasting: Sunday August 8, 2010 at Muscedere Vineyards – see you there.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Report from ... The wines of Scott Harvey at Champane Wines Cellars – August 7, 2009

This evening I had the opportunity to meet winemaker Scott Harvey at Champane Wine Cellars in Warren, Michigan – my buddy Dave (of Drinking with Dave fame) invited me to the tasting. Scott now has his own label(s): Scott Harvey and Jana – but before that he was the brains behind the wines of Renwood and started the Menage a Trois brand for Folie a Deux (now part of Sutter Homes/Trinchero) amongst other projects he has done and had success with … so now it’s his turn to shine.

Tonight we tried 14 wines from his portfolio, including: a white and red blend called One Last Kiss, wine from his Jana label – a tribute to his wife, and his eponymous label – of which there is the Mountain Select (entry level) and Amador County (reserve). As usual I had my favourites … below I give you my top 3 selections.

Jana 2007 Leelanau Riesling … there were two Rieslings on the table, one from Napa the other made from local (if you live in Michigan) fruit sourced from the Leelanau Peninsula (I visited there this summer). Scott told me he made the wine by proxy, visiting a few times (to pick the block and check on the fruit) and then with the help of the folks at 45 North (winery) and UPS. Scott did some apprenticeship training in Germany (at K. Fitz-Ritter winery) so he has a soft spot in his heart for Riesling and it’s a grape he loves to work with it. There really was no comparison between the two wines, the Michigan fruit just burst in the mouth with fresh acidity, the balance between fruit sweetness and acid was excellent. It began sweet and fruity in the mouth with apple, peach and pear, then continued through to a great, mouthwatering finish. Scott told me that both Rieslings were made in a ‘half-dry’ style, using the German terminology (“Haltrocken Kabinett”). In my notes I called this one “refreshing with bite”. Alcohol was only 10.5%. An excellent Riesling. (****½)

Scott Harvey 2006 Barbera Amador County – J&S Reserve … this is from Scott’s reserve line of wines, which means the fruit is taken from a specific vineyard in Amador County, one that Scott believes grows the best representation of that varietal. Barbera is a grape with Italian roots but can also be found (amongst other places) in California (mainly due to the Italian immigrants who settled the area years ago and brought their favourite grape along with them from home). Scott makes two Barberas, one in each of his lines (Mountain Select and Amador), after trying both I can say the Amador version is worth the $10 price jump. There’s an excellent balance here between the high alcohol (14.5%), the fruit and the acids. A great sweet fruit entry with blackberry, black currant and spiced plums rolling around in the mouth … the delicious finish lingers with chocolate-cassis liqueur aftertaste. Delicious. (****½)

Scott Harvey 2005 Syrah – Mountain Select … amongst all 14 wines poured, this was the All-Star of the tasting. It’s part of the Mountain Select (entry level) tier of wines – meaning: fruit is sourced from Amador County but from different vineyards (more on that below). This evening the wine was specially priced at $14.99 … an absolute steal. Scott told me this is “my under $20 label”, and even at $19.99 this would have been a hell of a bargain, but even more so at $15. The grapes are sourced/selected from 3 vineyards in Amador County and spent 21 months in French oak. This wine also benefited from a “too much wine” situation from Scott’s top vineyard, 54% of the wine comes from the designated ”reserve” vineyard. The nose was fairly simple, with white pepper and black fruit, but in the mouth it really popped: red and black fruit, white pepper, smooth and luscious with those sweet fruits intermingling with the pepper and oak notes, mmm mmm. This could be a dangerous wine, at 14.5%, it goes down so easy and smooth, watch out. I’m giving this 4.5-star wine and extra half star for value. (*****)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Report from ... VICE Martini Launch Party - July 30, 2009

Everybody has their vices and Vineland has just given us one more. VICE stands for Vodka and Icewine or maybe it’s Vineland Icewine or even still, Very Interesting Concocted Elixir … but whatever it means, VICE is the newest product from Vineland – a blend of 60% Icewine and 40% Vodka, a premixed Icewine martini. For the launch, at One Restaurant in Yorkville, Vineland took a page out of the beer and spirits marketing book employing the “VICE Squad”, very leggy, very attractive and very well endowed ladies with the brightest smile I’ve ever seen (thankfully there was no sign of Tubbs and Crockett). But this kind of glitter and flash usually means one thing: no substance. But in truth VICE there is much thought behind the VICE brand. For now it is a niche product for restaurants and bars that should sell exceptionally well; later this year when the consumer friendly 500ml size (~$33) comes out – you too should give it a whirl.

As for the substance and thought, many asked why now and why this product? In a conversation with Brian Schmidt, winemaker, I got where the idea came from and why. With a sagging icewine market Vineland felt they had to do something to jazz up the category; one of those things is to give people an idea about what to do with icewine. So as much as they want people to come out and buy their new product they are also hoping to boost the sales of icewine across Ontario, at all the wineries, not just their own. I do hope it catches on, because there is lots of icewine out there. The price of the pre-mix is definitely less than if you purchased the ingredients separately. The concept of an ‘icewine martini’ is not new; someone told me that this idea was first thought of by Donald Ziraldo (Inniskillin), who had one commissioned years ago – but this is the first time any company (winery or otherwise) has marketed one commercially.

As for VICE, here is the bottom line … this is one tasty beverage, and it goes down so easily with just a touch of sweetness, the blend is almost too perfect. After my fifth, or was it sixth (heck, I think I lost count around that point) I was glad the launch party wasn’t an all night affair or I would have had problems remembering where I lived. Kudos to Vineland for taking this little piggy to market … with no crying wee wee wee wee all the way home.

Report from ... Andeluna Cellars Tasting - July 29, 2009

It’s always exciting when a new wine comes to town – especially one you can buy – and I mean actually buy, not just because it’s available, but because it’s priced to purchase.

Andeluna (moon over the mountain – Andes) was started up by a Texas good old boy named H. Ward Lay. If that last name sounds a trifle interesting or seems to jog the memory a bit it’s because his father was Herman W. Lay – founder of … you guessed it, Frito-Lay … and it’s pretty fitting too because after trying these wines all I kept saying to myself was, ‘can’t buy just one’. Ward made his money as a Pepsi bottler in Mexico, in fact he owned the Mexican market until head office stepped in and bought him out. He then traveled to Argentina where he was convinced to buy property, and start a winery with the vision of making wines of world-class quality and value (a company vision and philosophy maintained to this day – as you will see in the pricing). The first vintage was in 2003 and the original idea was to sell wine in the United States … but they soon learned that the U.S. wasn’t the only market interested in these wines; nor can you survive as a wine company selling to only one country, so they went to places like the Netherlands (big for them) and other European markets, the Orient and now they are coming to shore here in Canada.

Enough background, time to talk turkey about the wines themselves. Today, we tried 8 wines from the entry level tier to the reserve and grand reserve line up … keeping my eye on value for price I would say these guys have stuck to the marketing plan, as many of these wines offered excellent value to the consumer; in fact 6 of the 8 received more than 4-stars on my grading scale, here are my top three picks:

2005 Chardonnay Reserve ($24.00 – private order, Stem Wine Group) …
A nose of vanilla and pineapple really drew me into the glass. Only 60% of this wine has gone through malolactic – which means it retains quite a bit of acidity; the palate delivers buttery vanilla notes, a creamy mouth feel, hints of butterscotch and enough fruit to keep you coming back to the glass for another sip. (****½)

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.00 – consignment, Stem Wine Group) …
Aged 7 months in a combination of French and American oak, then bottle aged an additional 6 months before release. Red and black berries with sweet herbs on the nose; palate loaded with sweet fruit, blackberries and spice. Value of this wine merits and extra half star. (****½)

2007 Malbec ($16.00 – consignment, Stem Wine Group) …
Aged 7 months in French and American oak, then 5 months in bottle. The ’06 version of this wine garnered 90-points and thankfully, even with that kind of rating, the ’07 has not seen it’s price rise into the stratosphere. Nose is sweet raspberries, red licorice and luscious red fruit – palate retains the bitingness of the raspberries with chocolate, blackberry and a slight bit of pine on the finish – very smooth on the palate. 350 cases currently in Ontario and an absolute steal of a price, which is why I give it 4-and-a-half stars. (****½)

Report from ... Santa Rita “Memorable Every Time” Tasting – July 23, 2009

It’s time to “re-launch” a brand, and that can only mean doing it over a lunch. We met with winemaker Carlos Gatica Dlopp at Sharkey’s Village Café on Bloor West on this very rainy (so what else is new this summer) afternoon. The sad part of the “re-launch” is that I hadn’t noticed the brand missing from LCBO shelves, I thought it was still there – actually I think this was all about the need for a makeover. Santa Rita ‘120’ brand is a mystery to many – why is it called “120”? The brand is named after the historic events of 1814 when 120 soldiers took refuge in Santa Rita’s cellars during Chile’s Independence war against the Spanish. Rumour has it these soldiers were able to evade the Spanish army, get reinforcements and gain Chile’s independence. A brief synopsis is now on the label: “Honouring 120 patriots who helped lead Chile to Independence.”

The wines of the ‘120’ brand are stainless steel versions of their varietals (of which there are about 9 – with only the Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc available in Ontario) bottled under screwcap and released early to “preserve each variety’s fruitiness and natural aromas.” Truth is, I’m not sure I’m ready for a Cabernet that hasn’t seen oak (in some form or another) and neither is Santa Rita … the Cabernet, while made in stainless steel tanks, has wooden staves added to add some complexity. Today we tried a variety of wines from Santa Rita – including the two ‘120’ re-launches … below a review of both 120’s and some other favourites:

Santa Rita ‘120’ 2008 Sauvignon Blanc: pretty standard new world Sauvignon Blanc with the grassy, grapefruit, melon and tropical scents on the nose; palate has lots of grass, lemon-lime acidity and a lingering finish with hints of melon … it’s the $10.45 price tag that makes this one an easy buy and because of that it rates 4-stars (****)

Santa Rita ‘120’ 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: this wine sees four months of stave treatment to gain complexity. Pretty basic red with a nice spicy quality added to the blackberry, blueberry and currant finish. An easy sipper that won’t offend or break the bank, especially at $10.45. (***½)

Other Santa Rita treats

Santa Rita Floresta 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) – from the Leyda Valley, this single vineyard Savvy B. is worth the jump in price from the above mentioned 120. This is a wine for those who want complexity in their Sauv Blanc. Big mineral notes, grassy, nice balancing acidity with spicy-mineral on the tongue. (****½)

Santa Rita 2005 Triple C ($49.95) – stands for the Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon along with Carmenere. Was first made in 1997 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of a Danish importer. The nose is loaded with soft red and black fruit along with whiffs of chocolate – the flavours deal out big jammy new world fruitiness that’s pleasing to the palate. This is a “Bordeaux blend with a new world interpretation,” said Carlos. Aged 14 months in 100% new French oak. (****½)

Santa Rita 2005 Pahuen Carmenere ($54.95) – named after an indigenous pine tree (but has nothing to do with the flavours or smells). 85% Carmenere with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 20 months in barrel and made from 60-70 year old vines in the Apalta Valley. Chocolate smells fight it out with powerful blackberry aromas. This one needs time to settle as the black fruit fights with tannins for supremacy in the mouth. In 5 years or more this will be superb. (****½)

Santa Rita 2005 Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.95) – this label was established in 1989 and has been under the guidance of the same winemaker ever since. This is a single vineyard, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the La Poblacion vineyard (part of the Maipo Valley) which is part of the estate vineyard of Santa Rita, and can be viewed on the label. The vines are 50-60 years old and comprise an 8-hectare block from which they yield 6-8 tons per hectare. This wine is complex with mineral, chocolate, blackberry, cinnamon and vanilla on the nose; the palate is dry with cocoa powder notes along with spice, black fruits and gritty tannins. Delicious now and delicious later – lie down 5+ years and enjoy. (*****)