Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Report from ... Chilean Wine Festival – October 7, 2009

A walk around tasting with lots of good food and good wine to go with it. I noticed at this year’s event that plenty of wineries had an “Icon” wine or “Icon”-blend, this is usually a sign of a wine region coming of age, and also the sign of higher prices. While not always the best wine value on the table, some of these wines were very good. But Chile has always been known for their value and during my walk around tasting I was looking for wines that offered up bang for the buck (of which there were quite of few), but I was also looking for something that made you stand up and take notice. The problem with being a wildly successful region is that there are a lot of copycats on the block and wines start to taste the same … the key is to stray from the pack and make something uniquely your own and avoid the uniformity-trap. Below the wines I deemed worth their price and worth you taking them upon your palate for a change from the usual.

Anakena 2008 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir ($14.95) – excellent value for a wine with familiar character from an unfamiliar location for this grape. Earth, sour cherry, raspberry and strawberry notes with a nice spice on the finish. (****½)

Vina Ventisquero 2008 Reserva Shiraz ($13.95) – white pepper, red fruit, juicy flavours with tasty red raspberry and strawberry on the mid-palate to finish. (****½)

Vina Maipo 2006 Limited Edition Syrah ($29.95) – this one’s lovely from entry to exit; spiced red fruit and a peppery palate which leads to chocolate on the finish. (****½)

Cono Sur 2009 Viognier ($9.95) – great value for this peach, apple and tropical flavoured wine that can best be described as “yummy”. (****)

Carmen 2006 Reserve Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.90) – blueberry-blackberry and mint on the nose leads to juicy blackberries in the mouth. (****)

Botalcura 2007 El Delirio Reserve Syrah/Malbec ($13.95) – nice fruit though a touch brambly on the nose, blackberry with good spice on the palate. (****)

Best Icon …
Vina La Rosa 2004 OSSA Icon Red Blend ($164.95) – beautiful cherry jam nose, smooth with the right amount of grit, lots of red minty fruit, very lush. (****½)

Report from ... Skillogalee Wines at the Fine Wine Reserve – October 7, 2009

Since 1976 Skillogalee has been making wines to impress, from grapes grown exclusively on their 125-acre estate. All the grapes are no more than 500m from the winery, which means when they get there they are as fresh off the vine as they can get. The main grapes grown on the property are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Shiraz and Muscat … of these they are probably most well known for their Riesling. The vines on the estate were planted in the early 1970’s and because of their age they do not require thinning (or green harvesting / dropping of fruit), “the vines do it naturally,” says Dave Palmer, owner and winemaker, “the kangaroos also take their share, we wish they wouldn’t of course, but they do.” Seven wines were tried tonight, of which three earned a 4½ star (excellent) rating:

Skillogalee 2009 Rosé ($18.95) – made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec this is a delightful rosé with a beautiful strawberry nose and delicious red berries on the palate. The wine is made from the free run juice after only 20 hours of skin contact (just to give it some colour) and by doing a very light pressing of the grapes … in the heat of summer this wine would be perfection. (****½)

Skillogalee 2005 The Cabernets ($26.95) – most people don’t think of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec as a typical Aussie blend, that’s what makes this wine so unique. A creamy smooth mouth entry which turns to white then black pepper; then chocolate and black fruit take over – this one’s an easy sipper, delicious and very well balance with fruit and palate cleansing acidity. (****½)

Skillogalee 2006 Basket Pressed Shiraz ($26.00) – this handmade Shiraz is one of the flagship wines of the winery, and a perennial favourite of mine. I tried both the 2005 and 2006 version, and the ’06 won hands down (though the ’05 did still receive a 4-star rating). The wine can be seen two ways, as either a complex wine to be mulled over or a wine to be drunk without much judgment at all – either way its very enjoyable. For those looking you’ll find blackberry, black pepper (staples of Shiraz) with mineral and floral notes, nice spice, great mouthfeel and good acidity, all keep you coming back for more, all so very worth the revisit as more flavours materialize with each sip. (****½)

Favourite Quote:
When talking about the red fruited, easy drinking, chocolate-laced, touch of pepper on the tongue 2006 Take Two Shiraz/Cabernet blend, Dave Palmer said: “this is our entry level wine, but I don’t like to use the term “entry level” so I call it ‘non-challenging’”. And it was, but it’s still delicious. (****)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Report from ... One More Time with Catena Wines, Laura Visits – October 1, 2009

In 1902 Nicola Catena planted his first vineyard on 4 hectares in Argentina; today his heirs own 500 hectares of estate vines on 5 vineyards throughout Argentina, have made long term deals with countless other growers, and their name stands at the top of all Argentinean wineries. Today we met with the personable and gregarious Laura Catena, whose father Nicolas has just been named Decanter Magazine’s 2009 Man of the Year. She took us on a tasting tour of Catena’s high-end wines and explained the reason for Catena-Zapata’s success: high altitudes and a pioneering spirit.

According to Laura, most Argentinean wineries aren’t interested in single vineyard production, or even showing the concept of “terroir” (sense of place) in their wine; but, she argues, if any country should be showing off it’s terroir it’s Argentina, and that is due to the uniqueness of the ‘terroir’: “We should be more Terroir-ists than they are in Burgundy,” she claims, “it’s because of our soils that we should be concentrating more on showing off our terroir.” She explains about the make up of Argentine soil vs. that in France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). Because it rains so much in these French locales the soils have a way of settling and layering: sand on one level, then lime, clay, and rock; but in Argentina they have far less rain, so the soils remain mixed together – they have the same components, they just have a different pattern and no layered stucture.

Tasting Terroir …

We tried 7 wines that showed both terroir and blends that showed a mix thereof, none more compelling than the Malbec line from the Nicasia and Adrianna Vineyards. Both wines are treated the same way: 18 months in 100% new French oak, they have the same alcohol level (14%), same acidity and only a 0.05 difference in their pH levels. The Nicasia Vineyard is a southern vineyard at 1180m of elevation, has cooler climate conditions and poorer soils than it’s counterpart Adrianna, which is on the eastern part of the vineyard and is located at an elevation of 1500m. These two wines could not be more different though. The Nicasia Malbec is the more feminine of the two: sweet blueberry and vanilla aromas; creamy smooth mouth feel with a juicy entry, a mix of red and black fruit and a beautiful spiced-cherry finish – real elegance in the glass. By comparison the Adrianna Malbec is angular and bold, it’s more closed off, has more pepper and power and feels chunky in the mouth … it truly is the difference between night and day. The other wine in this line up blends the wines made from these two vineyards and give them 24 months in oak. You can actually taste the influence of each vineyard in the glass. It combines the smooth-creaminess from Nicasia and the peppery angles from Andrianna to great effect. The two single vineyard wines retail for $70 each, while the Argentino (blend) is $83.

Other wines of note …

Catena Alta Malbec 2006 ($55.95) – a nose of blackberry, raspberry and other spiced red berries; leads to a juicy black and blue berry palate that’s delicate and flavourful with a dry, slightly tannic finish that feels and tastes like a spoonful of cocoa powder.

Catena Alta Chardonnay 2007 ($39.95) – fruit mostly sourced from the Adrianna vineyard, a vineyard Laura claims is the best Chardonnay vineyard in Argentina. The nose is toasty and buttery, while the palate offers up lots of mouth watering acidity and a very dry finish. Also look for vanilla, butter and nutty flavours with bit of spice on the tongue.

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($50.00) – blackberry, coffee cream and toasted cinnamon smells; juicy blackberry and cassis upon entry, mid-palate doles out lots of spice finishing with spiced raspberry and good acidity.

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2005 ($83.00) – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (78%) and Malbec (22%) taken from three vineyards. This wine has power and heft from beginning to end – the nose has chocolate, blackberry, white pepper and black cherry. Upon entry into the mouth the wine has a creamy smooth feel with sweet jammy fruit, the finish is juicy with black fruit and a fine pepperiness. This wine has it all: pepper, fruit and chocolate, the 3 basic wine food groups … What do you get the wine that has everything? A glass.

Report from ... Vintages Platinum Wine Tasting, Australia - September 30, 2009

There’s a mighty push by Wines Australian these days as the Aussies try to claw their way back to the top of the heap in the wine world. This tasting was held in the back room of Brasaii restaurant on King Street West and although I rarely speak of the food at events likes this I have to tell you that the shrimp wrapped in kadifi pastry (a Greek pastry that’s thin, spindly and phyllo-like) was out of this world delicious. Okay, now that I have that off my mind it’s back to the wine.

The wines featured today are the ones that will appear in Vintages (or exclusively on-line) between now and February 2010 – I’ll break ‘em down here by release month – wines rating 4.5 to 5 stars below, with mini-reviews of 4-star wines further down the page – aw heck, just read ‘em all.

October 2010 …

Evans & Tate 2004 The Reserve Chardonnay ($29.95) – there are only 15 cases of this beauty showing up at the board, which is why it’s an on-line exclusive. The nose is roasted-vanilla with a light butter and caramel base; that all follows into the mouth along with nice roasted peach flavours. Firm and full in the mouth (14.5% alc.) but without the alcoholic taste or smell to ruin the experience; this one is toasty, tasty and complex. (*****)

Henry’s Drive 2007 Pillar Box ($17.95) – a brawny blend made from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; big fruit and dark chocolate, a little hot in the mouth (15% alc.) but with nice spice and pepper notes. This one’ll go great with bbq’ed fare. (****½)

Tamar Ridge 2008 Devil’s Corner Riesling ($29.30) – from Tasmania, this is a nice cool climate Riesling that has crisp acidity, petrol, apple, pear and peach; seems simple at first but develops nicely in the mouth. (****½) – look for a hot climate style Riesling coming in December.

Tamar Ridge 2007 Pinot Noir, Kayena Vineyard ($28.90) – the only Pinot on the table, and in the room, but what a gorgeous example. Soft fruit with cherry, raspberry and floral aromas; palate is fruit driven with a touch of earth and mineral – delicate and balanced, especially for a Pinot with such elevated alcohol (14%). (****½)

Thorn Clarke 2006 Shotfire Shiraz ($24.95) – dark purple in colour with pepper on the nose, the palate really shines here: dark chocolate, plum, white pepper, a bit of grit on the tongue, but it’s mostly big fruit and bit pepper with finesse and a long finish. (*****)

November 2010 …

Gemtree Vineyards 2007 Uncut Shiraz ($24.95) – this Shiraz is loaded with finesse and mineral; white pepper, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry with excellent mouth feel and length on the finish. Not your typical jammy Shiraz. (****½)

Gemtree Vineyards 2008 Bloodstone Shiraz-Viognier ($17.30) – chocolate, mineral, blackberry, herbs and vanilla; great price for such a tasty wine. (****½)

Thorn Clarke 2007 Shotfire Quartage ($24.95) – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec, this wine is both complex and incredibly smooth: blackberry, white pepper and vanilla notes dominate, coursing through the mouth leaving a lovely spiced raspberry flavour behind. (*****)

Glaetzer 2007 Anaperenna Shiraz-Cabernet ($59.95) – what many consider the penultimate Aussie blend, Shiraz and Cabernet, this one has a big blackberry nose with licorice and cherry; there’s nice acidity and juicy flavours including chocolate, blackberry and a whole gamut of sweet fruit that ends with a lingering finish. Big alcohol at 15%, but nice balance so that it goes un-noticed. (*****)

December 2010 …

Petaluma 2008 Riesling, Hanlin Hill ($21.95) – this is a heavier style of Riesling than the Devil’s Lair, reviewed above; still with nice fruit, good acidity and bright tropical fruit – there’s a certain delicacy that lingers in the aftertaste for quite some time. (****½)

Other options – 4-star wines (mini-reviews) …

September –
Coriole 2006 Redstone Shiraz ($17.95) – lots of red fruit.

October –
Grant Burge 2007 Miamba Shiraz ($19.95) – graphite, chocolate and toasty.
Glaetzer 2007 Wallace Shiraz-Grenache ($24.95) plum and cherry fruit, easy on the palate.

November –
Thorn Clarke 2007 Terra Barossa Cuvee ($15.95) – a little bit of everything in this wine, which adds up to a lot of taste.
Grant Burge 2007 Summers Chardonnay ($19.95) – peachy, tropical, vanilla with a smooth mouth feel.
Richard Hamilton 2007 Gumprs McLaren Vale Shiraz ($18.95) – spice and pepper, nice finish and plenty age-worthy, all at a nice price.

January 2010 –
Chapel Hill 2007 McLaren Vale Shiraz ($20.95) – jammy black fruit and easy drinking.

Report from ... Savour Stratford – September 27, 2009

Savour Stratford is one of those events you have to experience to believe. No amount of description can truly tell you about the extraordinary food and delicious drink that you can find there. Sure I can tell you about Distinctly Tea’s carbon filter cup lid – an ingenious invention (unfortunately not of their own invention) that filters out, not only the loose leaf tea leaves they us to brew their tea, but the harsh tannins and bitter flavours from over-steeped tea … I tried to prove it wrong, I couldn’t.

I could tell you about the Swedish Mini Burgers sauced in Merlot-Ketchup and topped with Radish Sprouts, but you’ll scratch your head with a “really?” When I asked the guy behind the table about the sauce he said, “It’s really difficult,” he then smiled, “believe it or not it’s red wine and ketchup, that’s it.” “Shut up and get out,” was my response, but he showed me the recipe, it was actually Merlot and Ketchup; and it was delicious.

How can I describe a Rheo Thompson’s milk chocolate smoothie to you, or Duck Confit Ravioli? Elk skewers swerved with four different sauces, or the delicious breads of Rundles restaurant? There was such a multitude of exquisite foodstuffs that it is making my mouth re-water just thinking back on it. The answer is I can’t describe them. What I can tell you is that 9 breweries, 7 wineries and 29 food booths equal up to one amazing event. And if pictures are really worth a thousand words, then here are 8000 words to describe the event.

Report from ... Lunch with Jane Ferrari of Yalumba - September 24, 2009

Not sure if you caught my meeting with Jane Ferrari last time she was in town, but this time it was a more intimate affair. Eight of us got to sit around the table for a lunch with the lady who tells stories of the Australia we have all never experienced. Jane is a wealth of knowledge, not just about her employer, Yalumba Winery, but of the whole of Australia. And she’s not just a great storyteller; she has one of the most congenial and wry senses of humour you’ll even have the chance to be around. She is also straightforward, honest and what some would term as “real” as any person can get. Like when she talks about Australia’s big Chardonnay mistake: “15 year ago we shot ourselves in the foot with over worked, over oaked Chardonnay.” Or when she talks about her past life as a winemaker: “I’m a winemaker by trade but not by vocation,” she says, “I’m a better storyteller than I was a winemaker.” And when you get her onto the topic of her Hollywood crush she is unabashedly a George Clooney fan, “though I’ve moved on from him,” she reports, “since he won’t return my phone calls,” she finishes that statement with a sly smile. Her favourite movie, she claims, is Syriana, but she flies back in her chair and squeals with delight when the movie Michael Clayton is mentioned, “Yes, I love that one too – that one blew my tits off.” She says while gales of erupt from all in attendance; “I’ve never heard that one,” says the writer next to me, wiping a tear from his eye; we all talk briefly about the important plot points, Jane with added enthusiasm.

It’s that fresh, lively, off-the-cuff conversational style that makes Jane a pure pleasure to visit with; the kind of person you could have a beer (or a glass of wine) with and lose yourself in a variety of stories, all while whiling away the evening. As proof I offer this example: we sat down for lunch at 12:00 and didn’t get up till 3:30.

She talks about wine with the same passion she talks about George: “With a Shiraz-Viognier blend the magic level is 5%, we tried higher we’ve tried lower but 5% gives the right character to the wine; over that and you get too much Viognier character, a gluey palate and too much of that Viognier smell.” She also talks frankly about organic farming and how the Yalumba winery has been organic farming for years, the only difference: “organic farmers would leave their crop to mildew if they had that problem [meaning they’d lose the crop], we would spray if we had to, that’s what keeps us from being certified organic.”

But my favourite comment of the afternoon was an off-handed remark she made after one of the writers in attendance talked about hitting oneself over a mistake: “Self flagellation is something I am not familiar with,” she deadpans, “though I have seen a couple of movies lately,” she pauses, “just kidding.” With Jane on the road Yalumba is putting a face and a story behind the winery, and a meeting with Jane is not one you will soon forget, and along with that comes the name Yalumba, who’s 160 history is in good hands.

The Wines …

Yalumba 2008 Y-Series Riesling ($15.95) – Jane says the wine has a “snap, crackle and pop texture” and is “explosive, even at cold temperatures.” I enjoyed this Aussie Riesling with its lemon, lime and talc aromas and a palate that follows, it also suit and has good acidity with a nice long dry finish. (****)

Yalumba 2006 Barossa Shiraz-Viognier ($19.95) – a very supple wine with a nice deep colour for this red/white blend. Dense black fruit and white pepper take the palate by storm; while there’s a smoky, violet aroma that wafts up from the glass through the fruit; there’s heft here with delicacy, a Yin-Yang kinda thing. (****)

Yalumba 2006 Mawson’s Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95) – “This is a wine that can sit vegetarian or can sit carnivorous, which is my world,” said Jane Ferrari. Mine too I agree, as I dig into my burger. The wine showed some elegance and finesse. Big black fruited nose with berries and cassis … fruit follows onto the palate with spices and mineral notes; there’s also a lovely red berry finish. (****½)

Report from ... Sonoma in the City – September 21, 2009

Thirty Sonoma County wineries came to town to talk Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a few other varietals thrown in for variety, but mostly it was about Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The pre-tasting seminar about Sonoma showcased 6 wines: 3 Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from different regions of this California county.

Let’s Start with the Stats …

Sonoma County is located 60 miles north of San Francisco and has well over a hundred years of wine history. You’ll recognize such names as the Gallo’s, who have been there since the 1930’s, and Seghsio, since 1935. There are 13 AVAs in Sonoma County (American Viticulture Area); 62,000 acres under vine (planted to grapes); 450 wineries, which is creeping close to pre-prohibition numbers when there were 500 wineries. There are some 18,000 growers in Sonoma, 40% of whom have less than 20 acres. Even with all these seemingly big numbers only 6% of Sonoma is under vine (the rest: 49% forest, 9% urban and 36% pasture). Diurnal temperature (fluctuation between daytime high and nighttime low) can fluctuate as much as 40 degrees in a 24 hour period. The rainy season runs between November and March, and yes Sonoma irrigates, “we have to give the vine what it needs, no more, no less; remember, we don’t have rain after March.”

Best of the Seminar …

MacMurray Ranch Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($19.95) – beautiful black cherry aromas all the way through, there was also a floral note thrown in to pretty it up a bit; you’ll also find a touch of vanilla. Nice balance, good fruit and a decent price all add up to a 4.5 rating. (****½)

On the Trade Floor (the magic 13) …

Blackstone Winery 2007 Sonoma Reserve Chardonnay ($22.95) – nice lively fruit, vanilla and butter are also present but not over-powering. (****)

Chalk Hill Estate 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – a winery primarily known for their whites, but this is one delicious Cab; black fruit, chocolate, chalky tannins with vanilla and licorice notes to boot. (****½)

Flowers Winery 2006 Andreen-Gale – forget the price for a moment (it’s well north of $50) this wine has delicacy of fruit with a deft hand in the oak department (meaning subtle), there’s also a nice mineral component to the flavours. (****½ … **** when considering the price.

Foppiano Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir ($22.00) – juicy cherry with mineral notes and nice tannins. (****)

Geyser Peak Winery 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($20.95) – lots of melon, tropical and grapefruit notes; a real summer quaffer. (****)

Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards (one of 3 wineries that have two wines in the magic 13): this sparkling house really shines with these two wines …
NV Blanc de Noirs – creamy with hints of sweetness. (****)
2002 Royal Cuvee – yeasty, creamy, vanilla and toasty … delicious. (****½)

La Crema (the second of the 3 wineries with two): this house is renown for Pinots and Chardonnays …
2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – lovely red fruit, vanilla and nice acidity, smooth through the palate. (****)
2007 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley – tropical, vanilla and creamy; a total delight on the tongue. (****½)

Pekki-King Vineyards (the last of the big three): I know these guys for their Zinfandels and they didn’t disappoint …
2005 Zinfandel, Sonoma ($28.00) – vanilla, plum, cherry, mineral and cola; what Zin can be like given good fruit and good vines. (****)
2005 Zinfandel ($33.00) – big Zin with robust flavours that burst in your mouth: vanilla, spiced plum, black cherry, a full on assault of spice, great mineral note, lively and balanced; there’s also some cherry fruit and vanilla sweetness, a whopping 16.2% alcohol. (****½)

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($17.95) – crisp apple, citrus and subtle vanilla; well priced. (****)

Thomas George Estates 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel – spicy, vanilla and plumy; has some heft from the tannins, delicious finish with lots of cherry, plum and chocolate. (****½)