Monday, December 6, 2010

South Africa Wine Up the Ying Yang ... December 3, 2010

Tonight, I attended the South Africa Wine Society's (SAWS) annual holiday dinner, food was decent, the people I met were fun and entertaining, but not as entertaining as their keynote speaker (who happened to be me) ... As a wine writer I was very interested in the wines being poured.  As I admitted in my address, on the whole I am not a huge fan of South African wine, I have liked quite a few, but many others have left me very cold with a bitter taste in my mouth.  So tonight I wanted to see what the SAWS drinks: do they bring in and sample only the best?  Turns out it was a very Graham Beck-centric evening, but their cellar was raided for some real gems.  

We opened with a selection of Graham Beck LCBO general list wines that will soon be de-listed ... what a crime because the 2009 Chardonay/Viognier blend is absolutely delightful - now granted, not for a cold fall evening, but a real pleasure for hot days in summer, I hope this one comes back.  Next we toasted the evening with a Graham Beck Non-Vintage Brut, the nose was loaded with toasted almond biscotti while the palate had the lightly sweet flavour of almond biscotti, all it was missing was the crunch.  Next up, the dinner wines both from 2002: Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir and Graham Beck The Joshua.  The Pinot was downright nasty:  too old, no fruit, lousy smell - I took a sip just to see if nose and palate did not match-up, but they did ... "waiter, more water".  The Joshua was a totally different story. A Shiraz/Viognier blend that was sublime:  white pepper and cassis on the nose was followed by pepper, cassis, a hint of tar and some burnt toffee notes that replayed in the mouth as it lingered there ... yum (best wine of the evening - if I wasn't speaking I could see myself getting loopy on this one).  

Finally, a Graham Beck 1999 Blanc de Blancs; first bottle was corked and even after I pointed it out to the table many continued to drink it and love it, forewarned is forearmed, but some people just don't understand - of course glassware would have made a difference but I hold out little hope that a banquet hall with invest in good glasses.  A fresh glass was poured for me and it really was a beautiful wine, smells of Dulce de Leche on toast with a palate that proved to be quite nutty with hazelnuts and some baked apple.  Lovely.  

Thanks to the South Africa Wine Society for having me tonight, I had a great time, I hope they did too.  To see pictures of the evening might I suggest heading over to my friend Andy McCraw's website, he's the official photographer of the SAWS, though I think he has doctered the pictures of me to make me look bigger.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Report from ... Taste the Season, Niagara-on-the-Lake ... November 6-7, 2010

When last we spoke about Taste the Season (version 2010) my posse had just picked their "most looking forward to" quintet of wineries.  Finally, the day arrived to take our passports and palates on the road to test out our paper impressions.  With 22 wineries we split the days into two, with each member of the group keeping their own individual notes about the wines, the foods and the pairings.  Thankfully, we are all old enough that our brains could not remember what our individual 5-star hopeful selections were going to be, so it was like dealing with a clean slate, nobody had any preconceived notions about what they had selected.
Announcment at Lailey

Before moving on it is important to catch some of you up about what Taste the Season is.  Taste the Season is one of the premier events on the Niagara wine route calendar.  It is put on by the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake every weekend in November - the 22 wineries of the organization pair a wine and food which passport holders get a chance to come by and try.  This year they posted the pairings well in advance of the actual event.  Each year that I have attended I have written up a list of the best and worst pairings.  This year I decided to do something a little different:  hand each person in my party the list of pairings and ask them to select what they believe will be their favourite five. This year my 'posse' included my wife (Erica), my mother (Gloria) and myself - we picked our "five favs" independently and I posted them a few weeks before we set out on the trail.  Here are the results of the days tasting:

One of the eventual winners of the day - great pairing
What Gloria (the mom) selected before - alphabetical order …
Cattail Creek Estate Winery: 2006 Cabernet Merlot paired with Beef Brisket topped with Caramelized Onions and Cabernet Merlot Sauce
Coyote's Run Estate Winery: 2008 Cabernet Merlot paired with Slow braised Ontario Lamb Shank with Du Puy Lentil Ragout
Lailey Vineyard: 2008 Vidal Icewine paired with Apricot Cheesecake
Peller Estate: Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvée paired with Three Sweet and Savoury Scones
Southbrook: 2007 Cabernet Merlot Shiraz paired with Stone Road Grille Cassoulet with Cabernet Bread

What Gloria chose after - in preference order ...
Stonecurch - (not on list) - 2007 Quintet paired with Beef Canape
Cattail Creek Estate Winery - (on list)
Coyote's Run Estate Winery - (on list)
Southbrook - (on list)
Ravine - (not on list) - 2008 Riesling paired with Mini Goat Cheesecake with Vanilla Poached Peaches

Erica (the wife) selected before - alphabetical order …
Cattail Creek Estate Winery: 2006 Cabernet Merlot paired with Beef Brisket topped with Caramelized Onions and Cabernet Merlot Sauce
Château des Charmes: 2008 Estate Bottled Riesling paired with Cucumber and Yam Tempura with Cream Cheese and Spicy Sauce Sushi Roll
Coyote's Run Estate Winery: 2008 Cabernet Merlot paired with Slow braised Ontario Lamb Shank with Du Puy Lentil Ragout
Marynissen Estates Winery: 2008 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay paired with Squash Soup
Niagara College Teaching Winery: 2007 Cabernet Franc paired with Caramelized Apple and Chicken Ragout garnished with Aged White Cheddar
Southbrook: 2007 Cabernet Merlot Shiraz paired with Stone Road Grille Cassoulet with Cabernet Bread

What Erica chose after - in preference order ...
Hillebrand - (not on list) - Trius Brut paired with Peameal Bacon Sandwiches with Icewine Onion Jam
Cattail Creek Estate Winery - (on list)
Stonechurch - (not on list) - 2007 Quintet paired with Beef Canape
Ravine - (not on list) - 2008 Riesling paired with Mini Goat Cheesecake with Vanilla Poached Peaches
Southbrook - (on list)

Michael (the Grape Guy) selected before - alphabetical order …
Cattail Creek Estate Winery: 2006 Cabernet Merlot paired with Beef Brisket topped with Caramelized Onions and Cabernet Merlot Sauce
Coyote's Run Estate Winery: 2008 Cabernet Merlot paired with Slow braised Ontario Lamb Shank with Du Puy Lentil Ragout
Inniskillin Wines: 2007 Vidal Icewine paired with Blue Benedictine Mousse & Vidal Poached Apple
Niagara College Teaching Winery: 2007 Cabernet Franc paired with Caramelized Apple and Chicken Ragout garnished with Aged White Cheddar
Stonechurch Vineyards: 2007 Quintet paired with Bistro Beef Canape

What Michael chose after - in preference order ...
Hillebrand - (not on list) - Trius Brut paired with Peameal Bacon Sandwiches with Icewine Onion Jam
Cattail Creek Family Estate Winery - (on list)
Stonechurch - (on list)
Coyote`s Run - (on list)
Ravine - (not on list) - 2008 Riesling paired with Mini Goat Cheesecake with Vanilla Poached Peaches

It is very interesting to note that only 6 wineries made it onto all top 5 lists.  Cattail Creek was a unanimous second place on all three lists.  Also making all three lists were Stonechurch and Ravine.
The "Bubbling Under" Winner

Finally, speaking of all three lists, I asked everyone for a `bubbling under` selection, you know a winery that almost made the top 5 and this too was unanimous ... Marynissen (2008 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay paired with Squash Soup) was the one winery that almost made it onto everybody`s list.

It was another interesting, exciting and fun adventure in Niagara-on-the-Lake wine country ... looking forward to Days of Wine and Chocolate coming this February.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Report from ... Cattail's Riesling Clonal Project tasting - November 16, 2010

Take a young winemaker with time on his hands (37), give him lots of grapes to play with (100 acres), and out comes "Collaboration" the newest line of wines from Cattail Creek.  Maybe by calling this effort "having time on his hands" might sound a little flippant but in truth a creative winemaker needs time to figure out what he's gonna do with the current vintage.  Winemaker Colin Ferguson joined the Cattail team in August of 2009, which means he shepherded the '08s into bottle but nothing really became his creation until the '09 vintage was picked, plucked, pressed and put into tank or barrel.

Cattail Creek has some 100 acres of grapes at their disposal and while not all of them make their way into bottles marked with the Cattail logo, they have the opportunity to play with different varieties, clones and ages of vines.  Collaboration is what happens when a young winery (celebrating 5 years) and a young winemaker meet up, and they give him some free reign to improvise.

"I've always wanted to make a Fume Blanc," says Colin, "so I did."

"I had no idea Colin was making a Fume," says Roselyn Cieszkowski, owner, "until he put a glass in front of me and told me to try it.  I sniffed and sipped and said 'This is not barrel fermented Chardonnay'."  This marks the first time Cattail has made a Fume (Sauvignon Blanc with oak treatment - be it aged, fermented in barrel, or both).  The story of the Wild Ferment Gewurztraminer is just as interesting.

"After inoculating the first [big] batch in a large tank I had some left over in a small tank," recounts Ferguson, "I left it to see what would happen to it.  If it didn't ferment on its own, or if something went wrong I could step in, but I wanted to experiment."  And like a mad scientist he watched and waited as his creation did spontaneously begin to ferment.  With some excellent results - a very floral and spicy G-wine on the nose and a dryness on the palate that might surprise those fans of a sweeter style Gewurzt.

The jewel in the "Collaboration" crown is the Riesling Clonal Project.  Cattail grows 20 acres of Rieslings (that mean that 20% of their field is Riesling).  They have vines whose age stretch back to 1976, making them some 37 years old; plus they have a variety of different Riesling clones in the vineyard:  Clone 21 (the Weiss clone), Clone 239 (from the Mosel) and Clone 49 (the only Riesling clone permitted in France).  According to the fact sheet handed out by Cattail (and researched from Bundessortenamt 2000) there are some 96 Riesling clones, registered in the National Variety List, in the world, these are but three.

The Riesling Clonal Project is comprised of 5 wines, all from the Riesling-friendly 2009 vintage: Clone 21 Young Vines; Clone 21 Old Vines; Clone 239; Clone 49 and a Riesling Clonal Blend.

The wines were made in the same manner: first the grapes used were all grown within a quarter mile of each other and the yeast used was a specifically designed strain created by a German company who was developing yeast strains specifically for cool climate regions ... all these Rieslings were inoculated using the same strain of yeast and each wine was bottle on July 21.  The grapes were all hand held from picking to packaging and only 32-34 cases of each wine was made.

Each wine showed its own characteristic and had its own personality and all were quite good, scoring between 3.5 (good) to 4.5+ (excellent +); my top three were the 2009 Riesling Clone 21 Old Vines; 2009 Riesling Clone 49 and the 2009 Riesling Clonal Blend - you can link to these individual reviews.

The Clonal pack will come with 4 bottles, each retailing at $25.20 (or $100.80 for the pack) though you can purchase them separately if you know what you're after.  The only wine sold by its lonesome is the Clonal Blend, also selling for $25.20

For those interested in tasting these 4 wines side-by-side-by-side-by-side you'll have to wait till Cuvee 2011 when they'll be Cattail's special treat for passport holders.

Report from ... A Few Sips with Larry Horne of Calamus - Tuesday November 9, 2010

Now that I live nearer to the wineries I figured I could just pick up and go sip wine anytime I wanted - problem is I am very busy in the fall months with tastings elsewhere (mostly in Toronto) so at this time Niagara (and the rest of Ontario`s regions) take a bit of a backseat.  Larry Horne, of Calamus, has been trying to get me out to the winery ever since I moved into the neighbourhood, but has had trouble pining me down.  So instead of waiting for me to go chez lui, Larry decided to do a little visiting of his own, chez moi.

Sitting around the dining room table Larry pulled out his newest wines for sampling - 6 in total.  I have heard it said that wine tastes better in the presence of the winemaker, but how does it taste in the presence of the sales-guy?  I guess I was about to find out.  As I tasted he gave me the `spiel` on each wine, as any good sales-guy should.  Nothing scored below a 3 (average), but two wines really stood out for their flavour and excellent value - something Calamus has always been known for:

As for wines tasting better in front of the sales-guy, I can`t attest to that, but I can tell you that Larry is one affable guy; we had a good time even when I didn't have the most positive things to say about the wines.

Report from ... Yellow Tail Reserve Launch - November 3, 2010

The man who helped put the name [yellow tail] on the lips of every single wine drinker in the free world, John Casella, came to Toronto today to launch his family's new line of reserve wines from this iconic Australian wine producer.  [yellow tail] is not iconic in the way Penfolds Grange is iconic - it is iconic in the way McDonald's is iconic ... everybody, whether you drink wine or not, has heard or come in contact with [yellow tail].
John Casella (left) - Zoltan Szabo (right)

The first thing I found interesting was this Italian looking gentleman with an Australian accent, it's a strange aural and visual sensation - especially after coming from two Italian functions, where they look Italian and speak in broken English with an Italian accent:  November 1 and November 2.  Introduced to the room by  all-star sommelier Zoltan Szabo, John Casella brought us up to speed on his family history:

1965 - Father bought the farm
1969 - decided to start making his own wine
1990 - dad turns 70 and its decision time: close or grow
1993 - invested money into the winery for growth
1994 - 2000 tons crushed
1995 - 3500 tons crushed
1996 - invested in on-site bottling line
2000 - everything changed ... up until now they have been selling all their wine, but now there is an over supply of Australian wine.  They hire a marketing company called `Just Add Wine`, they develop the packaging and you (as the name insinuates) just add the wine to the bottle.  The Casella's end up buying three designs ... the rest, as they say, is history.  They were hoping to sell between 20,000 - 30,000 cases.  They in fact sold 1 million cases in the course of 13 months.
Currently - [yellow tail] produces 11.5 million cases of wine a year of which 80% gets sold in the U.S.

John attributes their success to `delivering quality beyond its expectation` and `giving consumers a taste they want for a lower price`, which was the winery's reasoning behind using oak chips in the making of their wine.

This new Reserve line has a 200,000 case production and uses real oak barrels, a mix of French and American for about 8 months.  The barrels are between 1 and 2 years old.

Today`s tasting was a pseudo-blind affair:  1) we knew the [yellow tail] Reserve was on the table and 2) we knew the varieties we were tasting (4 Shiraz and 4 Cabernet Sauvignon).

I`ll save you from the gory details of who [yellow tail] decided to put themselves up against, but the bottom line went something like this:

In the Shiraz line-up I scored the [yellow tail] Reserve a 3-stars out of a possible 5 and ranked it 3rd, out of 4.  This wine needed work - the nose was inviting enough, but the palate was thin, like red berry flavoured water.  The same can not be said for the [yellow tail] 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  I scored this wine a 4+ stars (out of 5) and ranked it first (out of 4); this was a lovely wine with white pepper and black raspberry aromas, with a palate that doubled the pleasant sensation found on the nose.  Sweet juicy fruit, black raspberry, chocolate, blueberry and a real palate pleasing lengthy finish - this was impressive and thoroughly enjoyable.  Dramatically different from the lacklustre Shiraz.

The tasting was followed by lunch, which took place in the back room of Buca restaurant, located on King Street in downtown Toronto.  The first course was paired with the new Reserve Chardonnay from [yellow tail] and was a poor match - the wine actually went better with the bread than it did with the pasta course it was served with ... who does one blame, the chef or the winery?  Unfortunately the chef gets the thumbs down here - though the pasta was delicious the wine should have been paired with something more appropriate.  Second course:  Beef Short Rib braised in tomato sauce, was exquisite and managed to upgrade the taste of the Shiraz (just a little) but it matched beautifully with the Cab, which lifted the level of the beef.
Beef short rib in tomato sauce

A big thanks to John Casella, who showed an especially big set of stones for allowing his wines to be showcased in this manner.

Report from ... Zonin North American Premier – November 2, 2010

At Mistura restaurant, where Chef Massimo practices his trade, Casa Vinicola Zonin launched their new line of wines.

Zonin has wineries in seven regions of Italy and one in the USA, Virginia to be exact – the winery on the Thomas Jefferson property – but this is not about the US wine holding (though those would have been interesting to try too), this is all about the 7 regions they hold property in within Italian borders.

Zonin started with a property in the north, Veneto, then moved onto Friuli (they have one property there); then into Tuscany, where they currently hold 3 properties.  Then it was off to Piedmont, where they picked up another, then still trolling the north they picked a spot in Lombardi.  Finally, moving south, they acquired places in Sicily and Puglia; in total Zonin owns 10 properties (11 if you include that U.S.-based Virginia vineyard).  Today we tasted through some of the new wines being introduced by Zonin and their head eonologist Dr. Franco Giacosa was on hand to speak and answer questions.  He spoke to us about canopy management, proper grape growing and how wine is made in the vineyard so that a winemaker does “the least amount of 'fixing' in the winery.”

There were some really good wines poured from a variety of properties and regions, like the Rocca di Montemassis 2009 Le Focale from Tuscany, a wine made from 100% Sangiovese.  This is a very modern interpretation of Sangio, with sweet fruit, supple undertones and a mocha finish. (****)

As a fan of Zinfandel I enjoyed the Puglia derived Masseria Altemura 2009 Sasseo, a primitivo wine that would pass for an American Zin quite easily.  A nose of plum, vanilla and cherry leading to sweet fruit on the palate: plum, juicy cherry and vanilla notes were also present.  Good length to the nice finish – this one is fruit forward and delicious. (****+)  A steal if it hits the Ontario market – it’s projected to be about $14.95.

Another Tuscan beauty was the other wine from Rocca di Montemassi, the 2008 red blend of Merlot (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Petit Verdot (20%) and Syrah (5%), simple at first but then it developed spice and delicious black fruit notes – the backbone of the wine is its spicy nature, I also picked up a touch of balsamic here, but it was pleasant and welcoming. (****)

As for the lunch, the team at Mistura put on a nice spread:

Zuppa di Zucca e Mele
Roasted squash & apple soupd with dried apples almond and amaretti granola
Scaloppine di Vitello
Crusted in Parmigiano Reggiano with braised cabbage, chestnuts & seasonal vegetables
Mela & Zucca
Baked apple & Pumpkin crumble, cider caramel & calvados zabaglione

Report from ... Annual Italian Tasting – November 1, 2010

The day started with a seminar about Prosecco and ended with more than a few stumbling home on the subway.  Okay, so the stumbling might be an exaggeration, but after some 700+ Italian wines I’m surprised you didn’t find more new rummies on the street in the form of wine-industry types at the corner of King and Simcoe.  One hundred Italian producers pouring approximately 7 wines each is a daunting task to undertake at the best of times, and it all takes place in the circular lobby of Roy Thompson Hall; every square inch covered by winemakers, liqueur producers and/or food stations (provided deliciously by Pusitari’s).

Wines from all of the Italian regions are represented, from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south, and everywhere in between: Umbria, Marche, Abruzzo, Puglia, Campania, name a region and it had representation from someone.  Trying everything is impossible, finding great wine is inevitable, because one thing Italy does very well is wine – in fact, it is one of the only countries in the world that has vineyards that run the length of the entire country (north to south).

Today I wondered around the floor of Roy Thompson trying as many that stuck my fancy – and taking recommendations from friends in the room, looking for delicious wines without worrying too much about price, because well over half of these wines will never see our shores anyway.  One that will is the Ascheri 2009 Barbera D’Alba Fontanelle, supposedly scheduled for November 13 release (that’s what I was told – though have not seen the wine on the LCBO website).  This is a single vineyard gem for $16.95 with lovely cherry fruit and a peppered red fruit finish – one of the best (soon to be?) available wines I tasted today. (**** ½)

Another wine, currently available, that is a must purchase is the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi 2008 Tenuta di Castiglioni ($21.95), a four grape blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese –when opened for awhile it’s strikingly smooth with lovely dark frit and plum notes … freshly opened it has a harshness of tannins – so lie it down for a spell. (**** ½)

Finally, Moscato D’Asti fans should search out the Ca’Dei Mandorli 2009 dei Giari Moscato D’asti ($15.95) attractive packaging surrounds this fizzante drink loaded with peach, ginger ale and grapy aromas and flavours … Moscato is Italy’s gift to light desserts. (****)

As for the wines that may or may not be coming to a liquor store near you, here’s a run down:

Badia A Coltibuono 2004 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico - a sherry-like sweetie with apricots dipped in honey coated with spice. (****)

Batasiolo  2005 Barolo Vigneto Boscareto – incredible plum and chocolate notes that meshed together beautifully, not typical although this is one tasty Borolo. (**** ½)

Castorani 2008 Colline Pescaresi Jarno – the white version of Amarone: 70% Trebbiano, 20% Malvasia, 10% Cococciola, dried and incredibly interesting.  A full-bodied white with honeyed-peach notes and a long finish. (****)

Cecchi 2005 Montefalco Sagrantino Tenuta Alzatura – a wine Cecchi has now made eight times … the wine is officially called “One” (Uno) and this vintage is “Uno di Otto”: floral, dark fruit, black licorice, big, spicy and very ageworthy. (**** ½)

Gerardo Cesari 2007 Valpolicella Classico Ripasso Bosan – single vineyard wine double passed using Amarone pumice, this is quite lovely with its dark fruit and damson plum finish. (**** ½)

Gerardo Cesari 2003 Amarone della Valpolicella Bosan – this one can say “who’s your daddy?” to the wine above.  Power and elegance with additions of chocolate on the palate … you can tell where the baby got its good taste from. (**** ½)

Cusumano 2009 Nero d’Avola – lovely red frut nose with a spiced palate. (****)

Susumano 2007 Noa – a blend of Nero d’Avola (40%), Merlot (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%).  Dark fruit, spice, licorice and coffee with a nice finish … this is a big wine. (****)

Donnafugata 2009 Sherazade – labels all have a middle-eastern theme, made from 100% Nero d’Avola; this one’s nicely black fruited with minerals and spice and a nice black raspberry finish. (****)

La Gironda di Galandrino 2009 Moscato d’Asti “La Gironda” – pretty floral nose, peachy and with more complexity than the “dei Giari” (above); which begs the question: can a moscato have more complexity?  My theory is that if it has a different flavour than the usual grapy, ginger ale sweetness, than yes. (**** ½)

Marenco 2009 Brachetto D’Acqui Pineto – fresh raspberry and cherry, really delicious … the red version of Moscato d’Asti. (****)

Planeta 2008 Plumbago – another Nero d’Avola makes the list, but this one is from a single vineyard and made from 27-year-old vines: very fruity with lots of raspberry and cherry. (****)

Poderi Colla 2009 Dolcetta D’Alba Pian Balbo
– from 100% Dolcetto, a grape I have never been fond of since my over-exposure to it in Piedmont two years ago, but this single vineyard version is full of delicious fruit forward flavour, best I’ve ever tried. (****)

Poderi Colla 2006 Langhe Bricoo del Drago – another Dolchetto, granted with a bit of Nebbiolo (15%) thrown in for complexity, this one’s mighty tasty: big on fruit yet with really good structure, the Nebbiolo makes a big difference. (****)

PWS 2008 Valpolicella Ripasso Le Arche – lovely red fruit, good spice and nice finish … still available, as my latest trip to the LCBO proved. (****)

Spinelli 2008 Malbec ($7.95) – very smooth with black fruit and chocolate (*** ½)
Spinelli 2009 Mille Lire ($11.95) – a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that’s cheerful and enjoyable. (*** ½)

Tenuta Luce della Vita 2006 Luce – 45% Sangiovese and 55% Merlot: supple, smooth and clean; great ripe fruit with a little spice and chocolate. (****)

Tenuta S. Antonio 2006 Valpolicella La Bandina – red berries, chocolate with a peppery note on the finish. (****)

Zonin 2008 Sasso Masseria Altemura – a 100% Primitivo (Zinfandel) wine that has the delicious qualities of the Zin-ful grape: very plumy and jammy and if it hits our shores it should be about $13.95; which would be a steal of a deal. (****)

Zonin 2008 Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore
– been here before and it’ll be here again.  The LCBO has ordered another thousand cases to replenish stock on the general list: plum, chocolate, black cherry, hints of spice and good length to the finish. (**** ½)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Report from … Sonoma in the City – October 21, 2010

Sonoma came back to our city (Toronto) for another tasting. This it the other California county; you know the-place-that’s-not-Napa.  They highlighted their 13 AVAs (American Viticulture Area) in a seminar held before the main tasting ... and within sampled eight wines during the showcase:

Top 3 Seminar Wines …
- Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry (Alexander Valley) … full 5 grape Meritage blend with a great intensity of fruit. (****)
- Seghesio Family 2007 Cortina Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) … plumy and cherry with good weight, nice tannins and ageworthy. (****)
- Thomas George 2009 Viognier (Russian River) … “we want to show off our fruit, not a cooper’s work in France” said Jeremy Baker, and they sure do, great purity of fruit: pineapple, peach, pear, really juicy and real delicious. (****½)

Some Learnin’ About Sonoma …
- Sonoma has 450 wineries and 1800 growers
- Sonoma has 1,050,000 acres of which only 6% (62,907) is vineyard land
- Sonoma makes up only 6% of California’s wine production
- Sonoma breaks down like so: 9% urban, 36% pasture, 49% forest and 6% grapes
- Grape varieties grown are 22 whites and 44 reds: Chardonnay tops all varieties followed by Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah
- The growing trend is to be more AVA specific with their wines, not just on the label but with the fruit in the bottle
- Philosophy: “Leave the land better than we found it”
- AVAs include: Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Knights Valley, Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile (which are all names appearing on the labels) + 6 others
- Interesting to note that Carneros is both a Napa and Sonoma AVA; that’s because half of Carneros sits in Napa and the other half in Sonoma, it is the only AVA to sit in both counties
- Sonoma’s newest AVA is Bennett Valley, which achieved status in 2003
- Green Valley is the coolest region, yet sits in the middle of the County
- Rockile is the least planted AVA with only 150 vineyard acres
- Knights Valley has the least amount of wineries within its AVA: 2
- Sonoma Valley has the most wineries: 81
- Largest acreage AVAs, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley: 15,000

The Wines …
It’s nice to know the numbers – it’s better to know the wines (by winery):

Chateau St. Jean:
2006 Cinq Cepages ($89.95) – all five Bordeaux varietals go into this one, even if there is only 1% Petit Verdot. It’s a nice blend with good dark fruit flavour. (****)
2006 Benoist Syrah ($49.95) – chocolate and black fruit take center stage here. (****)

Clos du Bois:
2006 Marlstone Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.9) – smooth, to the point of being creamy, an alluring nose with finesse of fruit on the palate there’s a long luscious finish here. (**** ½)

Dutcher Crossing Winery:
2008 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel ($40.00) – contains 10% Petit Sirah, nice sweetness with plum, black cherry, vanilla and a touch of peppery-spice. (****)

Ehret Family Winery:
2007 Syrah (no price give) – possibly the only Knights Valley Syrah, ripe red and black fruit, spices, pepper and a long lovely finish. (**** ½)

Landmark Vineyards:
2007 Lorenzo Chardonnay ($49.95) – the smell seems typically Chardonnay, but the palate makes you want to sip, sip and sip again: creamy pear puree, caramel, and crème brulee, with layered hints of vanilla, and lovely sweet fruit; this is something you definitely want to be part of, don’t let the nose lure you away, this is a real winner. (**** ½)

MacMurray Ranch Wines:
2008 Winemaker’s Block Pinot Noir ($49.95) – lots of juicy cherry notes, there’s a bit of an alcohol flavour but it’s not enough to be distracting. (****)

Matanzas Creek:
2007 Chardonnay ($37.95) – fruit driven with hints of vanilla … delicious. (****)
2006 Merlot ($42.95) – very chocolaty with blueberry notes. (****)

Pedroncelli Wines:
2007 Bushnell Creek Zinfandel ($19.95) – awesome value with spice and fruit throughout … unmatched for the price.  Lovers of Zin should jump all over this one. (**** ½)

Pelton House:
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($46.95) – there’s an addition of 3% Carmenere in here, not a grape you see much of in California. Nice spice, blackberry, pepper – all with good weight in the mouth.

Ravenswood Winery:
2007 Belloni Zinfandel ($44.95) – no baloney here, black fruit and spice lead the charge. (****)
2007 Old Hill Zinfandel ($59.95) – this one is the polar opposite to the one above, smooth red fruit, ripe cherry, and plum – almost hedonistically decadent. (**** ½)

Rodney Strong Wine Estates:
2006 Roackaway Cabernet Sauvignon ($99.95) – absolutely smooth, rich and lush, dark damson plums and creamy vanilla notes. (**** ½)

Seghesio Family Vineyards:
One of the kings of Zinfandel in California, each wine is as good or better than the next … difference between wines are subtle and yet each wine is unique – they poured four and each ranked between 4 and 4 ½ stars.  If Zin is your sin, Seghesio is your salvation:  Old Vine ($39.95), Cortina ($45.95), Home Ranch ($44.95), Rockpile ($46.95).

Report from … Meeting Sam Neill and Tasting his Wines – October 21, 2010

Sam Neill, the actor from such movies as Hunt for Red October, The Piano and the Jurassic Park franchise (he was the one who was not Jeff Goldblum or Laura Dern.  Need more help?  He is the taller one with an accent); and who can forget his role in The Tudors (Season 1) as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey … cool. 

Anyway, Sam Neill was in town shooting a movie called “The Vow” (a romantic drama set for release next summer starring Rachael McAdams and Jessica Lange) … after only an hour and a half’s worth of sleep Sam kindly joined a small gaggle of wine media to discuss and pour his wines … then it was off to L.A. and the on to Australia.  “I’ll sleep around Christmas,” he answered with a smile to my, “I hope you get to take a nap along the way” comment.

Wait a second … did I just say Sam Neill has a winery?  Yup, and has since 1997.  It’s located in the Central Otage region of New Zealand – the place he calls home – and I have to say he makes some pretty excellent wines for a “celebrity” winery.  But Sam’s not your typical ‘celebrity’ winery. 

First the name of the winery is Two Paddocks – so it does not immediately and/or blatantly cash in on Sam’s fame for sales.  Sure he appears in promotional material, but unless you dug a little deeper you would not be aware of his involvement; you’d just assume some sort of celebrity endorsement.  And second, the wines are not carried by the LCBO – though the quality is there, it has been refused on a few occasions, for reasons only the LCBO can give.  I do hope the Board reconsiders especially with a couple of the fabulous ’09 Pinots I tasted today. 

We’ll start with the 2009 Picnic Riesling ($19.25) nice mineral, pear, lemonade/limeade flavour with good acidity for balance; light and lively, soft and easy; a very good Riesling to sit and ip. (****)

We sampled an ’08 and an ’07 Pinot Noir, but the gloves came off for the ‘09s.  These were wonderful wines.  The 2009 Picnic Pinot Noir ($24.95) was full of red fruit: raspberry, sour cherry (which turned fresh and red with time in glass) and cranberry, nice balancing acidity with a long fresh fruity finish – this would be a perfect one for the Board to jump all over (****½ +).  It takes a plus sign in its ranking because it beat out the Two Paddock 2009 Pinot Noir ($36.75) in the flavour category, “by that much”, as agent 99 would say … same character as the Picnic, but with a little more firmness in the mouth (****½).

Thanks to Malcolm Cocks of Glen Ward Wines for bringing Sam in for the occasion of tasting his wines – and thanks to Sam Neill for foregoing rest and relaxation to taste and talk about his booze – for a guy on less than 2 hours sleep he was accommodating and very engaging; and heck, I guess there are worse things to lose sleep over.

Report from … Bb33 Dinner with Elisabetta Angelini & the IWFS – October 19, 2010

Another dinner at Bb33 in the Delta Chelsea hotel in downtown Toronto – and another hosted by the International Wine and Food Society – I was under the impression they rarely came back to the same place, let alone twice in 6 months, but according to Martha Russel, President, “this was too good an opportunity for us to pass up.”

The reason: Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini was in town to promote her 3 wineries: Borgo Scopeto, Doga Delle Clavale and the most famous of the three Caparzo.  Her bio tells about a “successful career as a movie producer”, but a quick check through the internet, including IMDB (internet Movie Database), and nothing appears – seems her wine production is more famous than her movie production (though the movie “Letter To Julia” was filmed on her property) and I was also able to uncover another famous winery under her control: Altesino.

Elisabetta’s wineries specialize in wines made from Sangiovese, the grand grape of Tuscany: “Sangiovese gives good results only in Tuscany,” she says, “and it makes a very masculine wine.”

Tonight a 5-course dinner was paired with Elisabetta’s wines and, as usual, the meal was brought to you by the letter “G”, namely Chef Gino Guercio, who continues to impress.  Pictures of the meal can be found below, as for the wines, 6 were poured – here are my top three (in reverse order) …

The Wines …
Doga Delle Clavale 2009 Vermentino – light fruity wine which kick started the dinner: pineapple and floral aromas, delicate and flavourful. (****)

Borgo Scopeto 2007 Chianti Classico – the nose was spiced with licorice and black raspberry.  Smooth yet spicy in the mouth with raspberry and spiced cherry … this is the wine Elisabette was referring to when she called Sangiovese, “a masculine wine”. (****)

Caparzo 2005 Brunello di Montalcino – excellent wine with lots of depth and complexity: spiced red fruit, oak and vanilla nose led to lovely half-dried fruit and spice in the mouth. (****½)

The Dinner …

Consommé dell'Aragosta con il Raviolini del Granchio d'Alasca:
East Coast Lobster Consommé with House Made Alaskan King Crab Raviolini

l'insalata di Carpaccio di Mignon del Raccordo:
Black Angus Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio Salad, Tender Organic Baby Green and Seedling Salad / Parmigiano Reggiano Shavings, 12 Year Aged Balsamico di Modena Vinaigrette / White Piedmont Truffle Essence

Cremagliera Crostosa dell'Erba dell'Agnello dall'Australia:
Herb Crusted Australian Rack of Lamb, Crispy Portobello & Porcini Mushroom Risotto Cake / Grilled Asparagus, Brunello di Montalcino Reduction

Italian Imported Cheese Board
Mission Fig & Port Compote / Savoury Flat Breads

Sympony dei Dolci
Millefoglie di Mascarpone Cheese and Marinated Mission Figs Zabaglione di Vino di Marsala
Fresh Berries in a Sugar Brandy Basket
Miniature Belgium Dark Chocolate and Frangelico Soufflé

Report from … Wines of Chile 2010 – October 5, 2010

This year, hosted at the Royal Ontario Museum, the wines of Chile annual event is always a must attend to see (and taste) where Chile is going – because we all know where they’ve been.  Never on top of the world of wine, but always somewhere near it, Chile has been the perennial bridesmaid, to Australian and now Argentina.  Chile is known for value, excellent weather and juicy Merlots, which later became Carmenere, once they discovered it was there.  Some of my favourite wines have come from this long, narrow country and in fact my first love of red wines came at the hand of a bottle of Chilean Merlot – so they have a special place in my heart.

Chile still offers up excellent value, though their wine prices are rising, and they still offer excellent wines from any grape variety they decide to put their pressers to.  Today 35 wineries filled the hall with wines ranging from crisp whites to big tannic reds and everything in between.

Chile by the Numbers …
For a country that’s 4300km long and 177km wide, Chile has quite a diversity of regions: 14 regions spread throughout the entire length of the country from the Elqui Valley in the north to the Malleco and Bio Bio Valleys in the south; Chile is the perfect place to grow grapes.

28,031 hectares of white grapes, of which Sauvignon Blanc (34.9%) rules the roost, followed closely by Chardonnay (30.6%).  But Chile is a red grape paradise with 88,762 hectares planted – Cabernet Sauvignon is king at 43.6% with Merlot (16.6%) and its signature grape, Carmenere (9.5%) coming a distant second and third respectively.

The Wines by Variety …
There were many wines to taste – here were the standouts from the ones I tasted:

Chardonnay -
Concha Y Toro 2008 Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay ($17.95) – no doubt as to this being Chardonnay, it has vanilla, juicy peach and sweet caramelle notes that make it cheek-suckingly good. (****)

San Esteban 2008 In Situ Chardonnay Winemaker Selection ($11.65) – for the price this is fantastic: nice fruit, vanilla cream and pineapple puree. (****)

Sauvignon Blanc –
Montes 2010 Classic Series Sauvignon Blanc ($12.95) – great citrus, grapefruit and melon; refreshing and tasty for so little dough. (****)

Montgras 2009 Amaral Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95) – all I can say is this wine is very Sauvignon Blanc-ish onboth nose and taste, there’s no mistaking it … what makes it even more appealing is the lingering finish. (****)

Viognier –
Anakena 2009 Viognier Single Vineyard ($15.95) – this ones all pineapple and lime, very refreshing and tasty. (****)

Cabernet Sauvignon –
Carmen 2007 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.95) – a nose of chocolate and red licorice which added to those aromas a mixture of strawberries and black cherries in the mouth. (****)

Errazuriz 2008 Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.95) – mint-chocolate kicks this one off followed by red and black fruit on a lusciously smooth palate. (****½)

Montes 2009 Classic Series Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.95) – a nose of blackberry and cherry follows up with those flavours on the palate, a super value for a top notch wine. (****)

Merlot –
Concha Y Toro 2007 Marques de Casa Concha Merlot ($19.95) – smooth chocolate and blackberry, this is the kind of wine I think of when the words “Chile” and “Merlot” come together; almost creamy smooth across the tongue – really juicy and full of fruit. (****½)

Red Blends –
Maipo 2008 Gran Devocion Carmenere-Syrah ($18.95) – menthol, chocolate and blackberry; approachable now. (****½)

San Esteban 2008 In Situ Laguna Del Inca ($24.75) – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Syrah get together to make this tobacco, chocolate and blackberry concoction. (****)

Viu Manent 2008 Viu 1 ($70.00) – big wine for big money, rich supple and succulent with chocolate and red raspberries dominating. (****½)

Santa Alicia Millantu (under $20) – so enthralled with this wine I was that I forgot to write down the year (though I am told it is the current vintage).  Fantastic aromas and flavours; chocolate, dark berry, black cherry and lightly spiced – all for under $20 – unbelievable.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Carmenere marry beautifully in bottle and in the glass; if you find it, buy it. (****½)

Carmenere (Chile’s Signature Red Grape) –
Concha Y Toro 2007 Terrunyo Carmenere Single Vineyard ($29.95) – lovely wine with big fruit, lots of power and great chocolate notes. (****½)

Montes 2007 Purple Angel ($49.95) – a real monster with tons of fruit and lots of structure, a beauty of a beast. (****½)

Santa Carolina 2008 Reserva de Familia Carmenere ($17.95) – this one’s all fruit and all flavour and offers great value. (****½)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Report from ... Annual Bubbly Tasting of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada - October 8, 2010

Is there a better way to spend a Friday morning than drinking wines with friends?  Only one way I can think of ... drinking sparkling wine with friends.  This particular Friday morning in October I find myself at the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada annual sparkling wine tasting, sipping on some of the bubblies that will be, or currently are, on the shelves in Ontario.  There are some that say "the worst sparkling wine I tasted is better than the best still wine I've tasted" - I'm not one of those, some of these bubblies tasted like chilled bath water, but there were some excellent ones too - not all from France and not all will break the bank.  Being that my favourite number is eight, I'll recommend my top eight selections for the upcoming holiday season.  Please keep in mind, this was just the top eight of the 44 wines tasted, which is just a sampling of the many fizzy wines available on the market (to get your wine into this tasting an agent or producer had to send it in).

We'll kick this list off with my four 4-star selections (very good):
Santa Margherita Prosecco Superiore Brut Valdobbiadene ($17.95) from Italy, a real toasty nose leads to sweet flavours of white fruit on the palate - an easy drinking bubbly that should appeal to many.

Next up is the Astoria Prosecco Extra Dry ($11.25), this one is all fruit: apple and pear aromas that follow onto the palate - carried through the mouth with nice bubbles across the tongue.

Another Prosecco makes this list, namely the Villa Sandi Prosecco Spumante Extra Dry ($14.05), you'll find this one is very fruit driven, but with really good acidity on the finish - very refreshing, or as I like to think of it: tingly and tasty.

Our first French bubble makes the list: Chateau de Montgueret Saumur Brut ($18.95) made with Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc - only one of these grapes is a classic Champagne grape (the Chardonnay) ... this one is light and refreshing, especially on the finish, before that you'll find apple and peach notes with a light sprinkling of lemonade.

Next up, the 3 that received my 4.5-star ranking (excellent):
I really dug into the Mumm Napa Brut Rosé ($29.95), this is a classic blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that leaves a little colour behind in the wine ... Pretty in Pink if you will.  That pinkyness gives more red berry aromas and flavours: nice strawberry and raspberry smells, good fizzy mousse on top and those raspberry notes really pop on the finish - pretty in the glass, pretty on the palate.

Here's where we start getting into the Champagnes:  Piper Heidsieck Brut ($49.95), a lovely almond biscotti nose, a palate full of baked apple biscuits - good enough to have as dessert ... almost; but starting with this one will put any gathering on the right footing.

Champagne number two is the Louis Roederer Non-Vintage Brut ($67.95) - this one's a little more serious with a lemon, mineral stoniness, crisp acidity, a bite of green apple and some almond biscotti on the lingering finish.

My favourite bubbly this year was a wine that has never seen the shores of Lake Ontario, and yet is one of the oldest sparkling houses in Champagne (est. 1757): Henri Abele Brut Traditionnel ($54.99); a taste that almost seems oxidized but has lovely yeasty toasty notes, buttered biscuits and a lovely bit of sweetness across the tongue.

So I hope I've given you some ideas of what to celebrate with this holiday season - in a wide range of price points and styles - heck, why not experiment with a few to find your flavour.

Interested in Ontario bubbly, check out both holiday issues of Niagara  Grapevine and County Grapevine Magazines for my holiday input on homegrown fizz.  You'll be amazed at how we stack up to the international competition.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Preview of … The Niagara-on-the-Lake 2010 Taste the Season Event – October 2010

This year, as I have done for the past half dozen or so, I will be touring the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Taste the Season event (details can be found here) – this is one of the premier tasting and touring events in the region.  In the past I have brought my girlfriend / fiancée (now wife) along and in some years mom has come with – usually separately, though we have done the tour together once.  This year we’ll be touring together again through the back-roads of Niagara-on-the-Lake in search of the best wine and food pairings as well as the best wine and food individually.

This year’s list of pairings has already been posted on the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake website and I invite you to take a look and pick out your potential favourites, because that is exactly what we did this year.  I printed off the list and gave one to mom (Gloria) and one to my wife (Erica) and asked them to pick, independently, their “potential” top 5 choices they are most looking forward to … I want to see if the expectations of what is written on paper is matched by what we receive in person, or will there be a surprise that no one saw coming.  Then, after our tour of the wineries and tasting of the pairings, when I write my review, we’ll see who lived up to the hype, who did not and who surprised us with their efforts.

Below is what we’re thinking will be the top pairing of the weekend (in alphabetical order):

Gloria (the mom) …
Cattail Creek Estate Winery: 2006 Cabernet Merlot paired with Beef Brisket topped with Caramelized Onions and Cabernet Merlot Sauce
Coyote's Run Estate Winery: 2008 Cabernet Merlot paired with Slow braised Ontario Lamb Shank with Du Puy Lentil Ragout
Lailey Vineyard: 2008 Vidal Icewine paired with Apricot Cheesecake
Peller Estate: Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvée paired with Three Sweet and Savoury Scones
Southbrook: 2007 Cabernet Merlot Shiraz paired with Stone Road Grille Cassoulet with Cabernet Bread

Erica (the wife) …
Cattail Creek Estate Winery: 2006 Cabernet Merlot paired with Beef Brisket topped with Caramelized Onions and Cabernet Merlot Sauce
Château des Charmes: 2008 Estate Bottled Riesling paired with Cucumber and Yam Tempura with Cream Cheese and Spicy Sauce Sushi Roll
Coyote's Run Estate Winery: 2008 Cabernet Merlot paired with Slow braised Ontario Lamb Shank with Du Puy Lentil Ragout
Marynissen Estates Winery: 2008 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay paired with Squash Soup
Niagara College Teaching Winery: 2007 Cabernet Franc paired with Caramelized Apple and Chicken Ragout garnished with Aged White Cheddar
Southbrook: 2007 Cabernet Merlot Shiraz paired with Stone Road Grille Cassoulet with Cabernet Bread

Michael (the Grape Guy) …
Cattail Creek Estate Winery: 2006 Cabernet Merlot paired with Beef Brisket topped with Caramelized Onions and Cabernet Merlot Sauce
Coyote's Run Estate Winery: 2008 Cabernet Merlot paired with Slow braised Ontario Lamb Shank with Du Puy Lentil Ragout
Inniskillin Wines: 2007 Vidal Icewine paired with Blue Benedictine Mousse & Vidal Poached Apple
Niagara College Teaching Winery: 2007 Cabernet Franc paired with Caramelized Apple and Chicken Ragout garnished with Aged White Cheddar
Stonechurch Vineyards: 2007 Quintet paired with Bistro Beef Canape

Happy touring and tasting, and we’ll talk again in November.

Report from … Amore di Amarone – October 4, 2010

This afternoon it was an Italian wine lovers wet dream as the big names in Amarone came to town for the first ever appearance of ‘Famiglie dell’Amarone d’Arte.  The Italians are known on American shores for the 5 families (that is in thanks in no small part to the Godfather movies), but there are 12 families that make up this group from the Veneto region (where Amarone is king and where Valpolicella and Ripasso also play a part).  The goal of these families is “to establish fundamental guidelines that will ensure Amarone remains one of the world’s most iconic wines.”  Today they took that message out to the media and masses of Toronto (at the downtown King Edward hotel) and while many in attendance didn’t need the reminder it is always good to be re-introduced to old friends.

6 wines seemed to stand out from the 26 that were poured this afternoon – 3 bubbled under the 3 best – here are the wines, with a little snippet about each house that makes it (as taken from the tasting book):

Bubbling Under (but not by much) …
The Quote: “The farm that houses the Brigaldara winery has been in the Cesari family since 1928, but it was only in 1978 that Stefano Cesari began producing wine as a hobby.”
The Wine: Case Vecie Amarone della Valpolicella 2005 ($59.00) – cherry and chocolate with plenty of power from the tannins, but it’s those cherries that you remember as they quite simply pop on the mid-palate. (****)

The Quote: “The story of Masi begins in the 18th century with the purchase of the “Vaio dei Masi” vineyard near Verona by the Boscaini family.  This vineyard … gave its name to the company …”
The Wine: Campolongo di Torbe Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2004 ($99.95) – a beauty in the bottle (and your glass) black cherry, chocolate, silky yet still gritty tannins, needs time but will reward handsomely. (****½)

Tenuta Sant’Antonio
The Quote: “They released their first wines in 1995, and since then tenuta Sant’Antonio has garnered accolades the world over – including a Gold Medal for their 2006 Amarone Selezione Antonio Castagnedi at this year’s International Wine Challenge in London, England.”
The Wine: Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone della Valpolicella 2006 ($41.95) – “Dad likes food friendly wines.” Son of the owner Armando told me, and the wine is looking for a nibble to pair with – this one is smooth, balanced and very fruity, pleasant and easy drinking, deliciously pleasing on the palate. (****)

The Best Wines of the Day – Top 3 …
The Quote: “Musella has introduced biodynamic practices to their winery to reflect their passionate relationship with the land.”
The Wine: Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2006 ($52.00) – lovely and smooth with cherry, plum and mocha notes; this one caresses the tongue as it courses thru the mouth, and its quite the bruiser at 16% alcohol. (****½)

The Quote: “Tommasi has specialized in the production of Amorone for decades, and has become a deserved principal ambassador for this celebrated and characteristic Italian wine.”
The Wine: Vigneto Ca’Florian Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1998 ($89.00) – this was one of the nicest old wines at the tasting (and there was about half a dozen), still with lots of fruit and big spice; gritty wood-like tannins poked through at first but then moved into really sweet fruit. (****½)

The Quote: “Sergio Zenato and his wife Carla founded the Zenato winery in San Benedetto di Lugana, near Lake Garda, in 1960.  The successful range of white wines he produced, using the local grape variety Trebbiano diLugana, is widely credited with putting the appellation on the wine map.”
The Wine: Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006 ($47.95) – pure sweet fruit ripe and red with plums and chocolate, sweet cherries, nice silky tannins, this is delicious both on the nose and on the palate; there is also a massive 16.5% alcohol which doesn’t hurt when it comes to appearing sweet. (****½)

Report from … 5th Annual Stem Wine Group Portfolio Tasting – September 28, 2010

The Venue:  Real Sports Bar near the ACC (Air Canada Centre) in downtown Toronto … this is not only a premier sports bar, it is THE premier sports bar, the best in North America, according to ESPN.  TVs hang everywhere, including 3 in the bathroom (though there is none behind the door of the stall, thank goodness, or you’d be there all night).

We’re up on the second floor overlooking the bar below, it’s 3 in the afternoon, so there’s golf, soccer and some replays from last night’s sporting events on the televisions – plenty of talking heads are mouthing words on silent screens.  It is an amazing sight to see the entire wall move in this way and I suspect during a real sporting event this place just becomes electric … a sport-watchers dream come true.  So what is Stem doing here holding their annual portolio tasting?  Robert Tome, one of the partners behind the Stem Group, has his reasons, all of them good … and that’s all I’ll say.

The Wines, in general and a Word about Beer …
There are approximately 135 wines on hand this afternoon/evening, along with 7 grappas and 4 beers.  I don’t drink grappa, I have enough hair on my chest and I’m not looking to put any on my back; but I can tell you the beer is delicious.  It’s from a company called Birra Bruton in Italy.  You don’t usually think of Italians for beer but these truly are special, especially the Belgian style “Birra Stoner” (sweet and fruity with a touch of spice) and “Birra Lilith” an English Pale Ale Style beer that’s hinted with caramel and coffee flavours.

As for the wine, there were many good ones in the room; I’ll point your attention to those that ranked 4-stars (very good) and above, including the bubbly that topped my list for wine of the night.

Four Star Selections (with a few notes) – broken down by country …
Italy (four stars) …
Arnoldo Caprai 2007 Montefalco Rosso ($22.99) – red spiced cherries
La Fattoria di Magliano (2 wines):
2008 Capato, Sangiovese ($15.95); 2008 ‘Sinarra’ Sangiovese ($23.99)
Feudi Di San Gregorio 2009 Fiano di Avellino ($29.99)
Villa A Sesta 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva ($34.99) – after 3 years in bottle you get smooth black fruit with a little spice backing it up.
Tenuta Monteti 2006 Caburnio ($19.99) – a blend of Cab Sauv / Merlot and Alicante Bouchet
Azienda Agricola Forcher (2 wines):
2009 Pinot Grigio ($15.99) - copper coloured with great aromatics; 2009 Riesling ($15.99) this dry white is an interesting and unique variety for Italy
Zyme 2005 Kairos ($95.99) – a fifteen grape blend of 4 whites and 11 reds, a real character
Vinicole Tombaco (2 wines):
NV Prosecco ($14.99) – fresh and fruity bubbly, well priced; 2009 Ca’Del Doge Primitivo ($11.99) – very American Zinfandel-like in style
Delibori Vigneti e Cantine 2003 Amarone della Valpolicella ($69.99)
Boroli (2 wines):
2001 Barolo ($89.99) – powerful presence in the mouth; 2008 Barbera D’Alba ($17.99) – fruity and lightly spiced
Ca’del Baio 2009 Moscato d’Asti ($17.99) - what’s not to love

France (four stars) …
Chateau de la Haute Libarde 2007 Cotes de Bourg ($17.99) value priced Bordeaux with good fruit

Spain (four stars) …
Bodegas Darien 2005 Crianza ($21.99)

USA (four stars) …
Hart & McGarry 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($26.99) – chocolate and black fruit, nice complexity

Argentina (four stars) …
Andeluna Cellars 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.99) – sweet fruit, nice spice, good value

Four-and-a-half Star Selections (with a few notes) – broken down by country …
Italy (4½ stars) …
Zyme 2003 Harlequin ($400) – a fifteen varietal blend (4 white – 11 red), 15% alcohol, minimum 30 months in 200% new oak (15 in new oak, then removed put again into another 15 months in new oak), 300 bottles produced and only in the “best” years (’99 / 2000 / ’01 / ’03 / ’06 / ’07 / ’08 / ’09).  When price doesn’t matter this wine is the one you want, powerful yet elegant.
Villa A Sesta 2007 Chianti Classico ‘Sorleona’ ($39.99) – smooth, rich and succulent … this 100% single vineyard Sangiovese is the cat’s you-know-what.  40,000 bottles produced.
Valdicava 2003 Brunello di Montalcino, Riserva ‘Madonna del Piano’ ($199.00) – nice now, but time will do wonders for it; buy it and lie it.
La Fattoria di Magliano 2008 ‘Heba’ Morellino di Scansano ($22.99) – 15% Syrah / 85% Sangiovese, all flavour … mixes fruit and wood in a supple blend.
Feudi di San Gregorio 2005 Serpico Aglianico ($89.99) – average age of the vines here are 150 years, and are all pre-phylloxera; in pictures the vines look more like trees (as they do in person I am told); the wine is powerful and elegant, sweet and supple, rich and inviting, and most of all intense; only 30,000 bottles are produced from 6 hectares annually.

Spain (4½ stars) …
Bodegas Darien 2004 Seleccion ($39.99) – smooth and silky; simply put this is a lovely wine.

USA (4½ stars) …
Hart & McGarry 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($26.99) – good complexity and integration with the wood is seamless, vanilla fruit dominate elegantly.

Merry Edwards 2009 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($55.99) – pricey but still one of the most distinctive Sauvignon Blanc’s in recent memory – how does she get that pure grapefruit smell and taste into this wine?  This borders on the intrigue behind the Caramilk secret.

Argentina (4½ stars) …
Andeluna Cellars 2005 Grand Reserve ‘Pasionado’ ($49.99) – passion is right, the wine has it in the bottle and it translates to a big, complex spice and black fruit driven palate – wow!

Best Wine of the Night  - 5-Star Selection …
I went back to this wine time and time again, and each time it just got better and more inviting. I tried it from at least 3 different bottles, 5 tastes in all at different times of the evening, just to be sure – including a full farewell slug before leaving:

Henri Abele NV Brut Champagne ($54.99) – established in 1757 this is one of Champagne’s oldest producers. This is the first foray for this wine into the Ontario market and it is a beauty.  Nutty and nice with aged flavour yet elegant and ultimately sippable.

Report from … Wines of Brazil Lunch and Tasting – September 27, 2010

You love their wax (or what it does), now you can love their wines (and what they does).  Three years ago on these very pages I told you about Brazilian wine – while I attempted to write eloquently about their fermented grape product I can honestly say that for the most part the wine was barely passable and many of them were cooked – don’t get me wrong, some were very good, but the majority were not (I wrote about 8 wines out of a possible 40-50).

Fast forward some three years later and it has made a world of difference – the wines not only taste and smell like real wine they’re actually pretty good across the board; instead of being hit and miss they are more hit than miss, especially when it comes to sparkling wine and big red blends.

Today, I find myself at Caju Restaurant (922 Queen Street West) where a lunch and pairing are being presented.  Appetizers include Cassava cheese bread (mini bread rolls with baked in cheese – they kinda look like they have nipples – see picture below) and an organic mixed green salad with dried berries, roasted pumpkin seeds, and passion fruit dressing.  

Choice of entrée was chicken, halibut, or beef … folks, this is a Brazilian tasting so the only way to go was beef (grilled striploin steak, cassava chips, collard greens, farofa, pepper vinaigrette), you’d be a fool to get something else, especially when trying to match up with these big, bold reds … halibut and Tannat just doesn’t pair well – I assume.

Dessert was a dark chocolate fondant with a delicious Moscato doppelganger.

Wines of Note …
Santo Emilio 2009 Sparkling Stellato (3.5 stars)
Salton NV Sparkling Brut Reserva Ouro (4 stars)
Don Guerino 2010 Sparkling Moscatel (4 stars)
Lidio Carraro 2005 Grande Vindima Quorum – a Cab Sauv / Merlot / Cab Franc / Tannat blend (4 stars)

Read the rest of my comments and wine selections in the February 2011 edition of Tidings Magazine.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Report from … Savour Stratford 2010 – September 26, 2010

My second year attending Savour Stratford, which in turn is celebrating its third year.  This is a fabulous event for winos and foodies; beer swillers and foodies and/or coffee fanatics and foodies – in truth Savour Stratford is all about the food.  Sure there are 8 wineries, 8 breweries, 1 coffee house, 1 tea emporium and a couple of chocolatiers, but these are just the framework to build the over 30 chefs that make up the bulk of Savour Startford around … and the food is the star, from appetizers, mains, desserts and everything in-between.

Good …
Jay Freeland, The Sun Room Restaurant: Phyllo Triangles with Shallet Hill Farms Roasted Squash, Beets, Blue Potatoes and Carrots with a Tomato Basil Sauce.

Max Holbrook, The Parlour: Manchu BBQ Perth County Pork Belly in Steamed Bun and Fresh Vegetables and Herbs.

Nick Benninger, Nik & Nat’s Uptown 21: Duck Fantastico.

Better …
Scott Wilby, The Annex Room: BBQ Local Pulled Pork on Brioche Toast with Spiced Peach Chutney

Best …
Kevin Hallman, Stratford Country Club: Pork Sausage Burger with a Sweet Corn and Maple Relish Served on a Rosemary Bun.

Patrick Morden, Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub: Short Braised Bison.

Sheldon Russell, Keystone Alley Café with Hoover’s Maple Syrup: Maple Gateau.

As for the Wine …
The 8 wineries included Chateau des Charmes (the official sponsor), Cave Spring Cellars, Lailey Vineyard, Nyarai Cellars, Pelee Island, Rosehall Run, Rosewood and Tawse Winery.  And the wines of note, that I had not previously tried: the Lailey 2009 Riesling (4.5 stars), Rosewood 2009 Semillon (4.5 stars), Lailey 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (4 stars) and Tawse 2008 Cherry Road Pinot Noir (4 stars) – reviews to come in a future newsletter.

The beer of the event was the Railway City Brewing Company’s Dead Elephant IPA – what a super swig.

Other Things of Note …
Distinctly Tea was there again with their super cool filter lids – not sure why these things haven’t caught on more. 
Chocolate Barr’s Candies had an assortment of truffles, one made from Goat Cheese (cheese and chocolate – many women swooned at the table just hearing about this combination) and one made from the Paw Paw fruit … interesting. 
Finally, can’t forget to mention Rheo Thompson Candies – a Stratford institution – they forewent their usual and famous mint smoothies for plain milk and dark chocolate smoothies and a delectable Pecan-Nougat roll.