Monday, April 26, 2010

Report from ... Vincor Exposé Tasting – April 26, 2010

Amazing how a reputation precedes you.  I’m not sure how many people asked me, jokingly I hope, “how did you get in the door?” – I think I lost count at about half a dozen.  My battle with Vincor is well documented and seems to run long and deep (like the new gash on my leg I got from a wood box of wine), but I left that battle at the door today, as I was there to see what was being offered by Canada’s largest foreign owned winemaker.

The tasting was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in the Baillie Court (3rd Floor), where I am finding a lot of tastings are being held these days … Vincor had separated the wines into a variety of art themes: Masters, Classics, Pop Art and Realism.  The Pop Art section was where you could find the coolers and other assorted summer fizzy drinks – I stuck with the tried and true table wines.

Masters:  “Our winemakers revel in the utmost splendor of their craft to create these award winning estate wines …”

I’ll start off by telling you that the Canadian wines, be they from B.C. or Ontario, really stood out amongst all these other international brands, and I mean that in a good way.  I’m not just saying that with some kind of jingoistic pride about my country, Canada really did shine alongside the Hogues, Mondavis, Hardys, Kim Crawfords and other well-known and scarcely known wines of the world.  Here are my Masters section selections; wine fans should recognize all of my recommendations:

Jackson-Triggs Niagara 2007 Delaine Vineyard Syrah ($32.95) – what an elegant Syrah this is; violets, white pepper, smoky, long finish, soft and smooth across the palate, yet with a grippy finish with all those tannins – iron fist in a velvet glove comes to mind here.  Aged 17 moths in 50% new French and American oak … one of my top three wines of the tasting. (****½)

Ravenswood 2007 Vintner’s Blend Petit Syrah
($17.95) – white pepper, red fruit with some plums and violet notes. (****)

Ravenswood 2007 Lodi Zinfandel ($19.95) – plumy, vanilla and very juicy … this is a Zin lovers Zin. (****½)

Robert Mondavi Winery 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35.95) – blackberry and chocolate, black cherry and vanilla, soft and juicy with silky supple tannins … another one of my top three selections. (****½)

Toasted Head 2008 Chardonnay ($17.95) – toasty, vanilla and butterscotch ruled the roost here with just enough fruit to keep it interesting – this wine was served ice cold, so I suspect the fruit wasn’t as fruit forward as it could have been. (****)

Classics:  “… the depth and breadth of this collection showcases wines that are an inspiration for every table and every occasion.”

Argentina … Marcus James 2009 Malbec ($9.45) – blackberry, black fruit, cocoa and cassis – very juicy and easy drinking. (****)

Australia … Hardys Stamp of Australia 2009 Riesling-Gewurztraminer ($8.95) – great value summer white; a fruity peachy, peary number that is very playful on the tongue. (****)

Canada … Jackson-Triggs Sauvignon Blanc comparison:  2008 Proprietors’ Reserve (Niagara) vs. 2007 Proprietors’ Reserve (Okanagan) – the B.C. wine was all tropical fruit while the Ontario version is crisp and citrusy … it’s your choice here, buy both and taste the difference for yourself.

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan 2007 Proprietors’ Reserve Merlot ($14.95) – chocolate/mocha greets the tongue with plum and nutmeg as backing. (****)

Italy … Mezzomondo 2008 Negroamaro ($8.95) – the black and bitter grape lives up to its name in this wine, it’s a black fruited tannic number that should be great for the BBQ this summer. (****)

Realism: “These wines are exclusive and unique …”

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan 2007 Sun Rock Shiraz ($34.95) – this is a real beauty of a ballsy Shiraz: spicy, plumy with chocolate and vanilla, black fruit, cassis, robust and full in the mouth – there’s lots going on here, which is why it too made my top three wines. (****½)

NK’MP 2007 Qwem Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95) – big black fruit and spice on both the nose and palate, good spice and slightly herbal on the finish. (****)

See Ya Later Ranch 2007 Ping ($24.95) – a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend that has lots of blackberry, cassis, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla nuances; ultimately this one is very sippable and enjoyable. (****)

Sumac Ridge 2005 Pinnacle ($49.95) – this is a pretty exciting wine made from four grapes, mainly Merlot (56%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc make up another 39% of the blend and then there’s a dollop (5%) of Syrah.  Very complex and ageworthy with spicy, herbal black fruit, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices, wrapped up with good tannins on the finish. (****½)

Kim Crawford 2009 Marlborough Pinot Gris ($19.95) – herbal and fruity with refreshing pear and white peach – quite nice and very sippable. (****)

Hogue 2008 Genesis Riesling ($16.95) – nice peach and pear notes with a slight hint of limeade. (***½)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Report from ... A Wine Soaked Saturday – April 24, 2010

T’was an unexpected wine soaked Saturday.  First, a friend came over for a tasting of 16 wines from Argentina, Spain and Bolivia – yes I did say Bolivia … there’s some impressive wine coming from this South American country, especially from a winery called La Concepcion.  We sat down afterward for a bottle of Michel Torino’s 2006 Don David Malbec, which turned out to be marginally corked, no vibrancy to the fruit, odd mouth feel, off smelling – this wine, when I originally tasted it, was just so full of life, I can’t say the same for this bottle.  Time to find something else.

Searching a drink now portion of my cellar I located a bottle of Lucky Country 2006 Shiraz, this proved to be a delicious bottle of wine (check out my full review on the What I’m Drinking Tonight blog).

Day turned to evening and my buddy went home.  Minutes later I got a call from another friend, “sorry for the last minute invite,” he said, “we’re hosting a wine tasting, wonder if you’d like to come over?”  Thankfully it’s a short walk, so I agree.  The tasting is being led by Mark Booth (product consultant) and Shiraz Mottiar (winemaker) of Malivoire Wine Company from Niagara, they’re pouring a total of 6 wines for the assembled guests.  The first is their Chardonnay Musque “fizz”, a Moscato d’Asti like number that’s sweet and melony, unfortunately the ‘fizz’ gets lost in the large Burgundy-style glass.  A vertical tasting of their top tier Moira Chardonnay was then poured, the current release (2007) and a library selection (2005) – both hot year Chardonnays.  The ’05 has gone quite nutty on the palate with apple and cinnamon kicking about … the nose proves to be much more fragrant and expressive than the palate.  The 2007 Moira Chardonnay has a subtlety to the nose, which you really have to work to get, it finally reveals vanilla, apple and caramel, but all in very subtle amounts.  The palate, on the other hand, pops with butter, rich vanilla and peach pit; there’s also a medium-length grapefruit rind finish (full review can be found on my website).

Next up is a sneak peak at the 2008 Courtney Gamay, this is an incredible wine for you Gamay fans – of which I hope there are many, if not please find your way to either Malivoire or 13th Street Winery, both these wineries are showing what can be done with this much maligned grape of Beaujolais here in Ontario.  These two wineries have laid to waste the stigma attached to this grape of being sweet candied confectionary wines and turned them into serious offerings … check out the 2007 offering from either winery (Malivoire / 13th Street), and their respective 2008 wines are proving to be more of the same with Malivoire’s 2008 Gamay already garnering five stars from me and the ’08 Courtney and 13th Street ’08 about to receive another couple of 5-star ratings (upcoming newsletter in May – one sneak peak deserve another).  If I wasn’t so firmly entrenched in the Cabernet Franc camp, of it being Ontario’s red grape, I might be swayed to switch sides for Gamay.

Also poured was the delicious 2007 Pinot Noir, and the decadent Gewurztraminer Icewine.  The night ended with us watching the end of the Senator’s season and saying goodbye to my hosts.  Once home I hit the hay pretty quick; even a wine writer gets tired of wine, or is that tired from wine – it’s definitely the latter because tomorrow’s another day and there’s always another bottle to open.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Report from … Bio Vino at The Green Living Show – April 23, 2010

It’s Eco-week here in Toronto, first there was the Bio-wine show at Earth Restaurant earlier this week and now it’s Bio-Vino at the Direct Energy Centre at the Exhibition grounds. 

Within the Green Living Show (April 23-25) there’s a “fenced off” area where you’ll find 31 tables all manned (or womanned) by Eco-friendly producers.  They each have their little claim to fame – first to do this, second in their country to do that, but each has hopped onto the Organic, Bio-dynamic or sustainable bandwagon and our firmly planted there (no pun intended).  One thing I have noticed about organic wines is that they come with a price tag that’s higher than your usual bottle of vino; but that’s the price you pay for being good to the planet and your plants. 

If you’re going here’s my list of must try Bio-Wines:

Table 1 – Paxton Vineyards (Australia)
They have two of this wine on the table, but from different vintages: the 2007 AA Shiraz/Grenache ($19.95) is the wine to choose, smooth and supple with black fruit and chocolate along with hints of pepper and spice. (****)

Table 3 – DogRidge Winery (Australia)
I thought this the best Aussie wine at the show, and came within a mere breadth of being my favourite wine of the show.  The 2006 Shirtfront Shiraz ($38.99) – aged 22 months in a mix of America and French barrels, one third of which are new … the wine is made from vines planted in the 1940’s, so the wine has good concentration and is delicious with chocolate and black raspberry and an awesome mouth feel. (****½)

Table 5 – Temple Bruer Vineyards (Australia)
The 2004 Cabernet Petit Verdot ($25.95) is elegant and peppery with a nice spice and some vanilla and cinnamon flavours – made from a blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Petit Verdot. (****)

Table 6 – The Millton Vineyard (New Zealand)
2008 Clos de Ste Anne Pinot ($42.95) has a very lovely nose with good acidity, some black cherry and a nice finish. (****)

Table 8 – The Sadie Family (South Africa)
I don’t often say this, so listen up: this South African wine (a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Mourvedre) was the best red wine at the show, an absolute must try: 2007 Columella ($99.95) – it was also the most expensive.  This one is, put quite simply, lovely – velvety and smooth on the palate, it was shear elegance, and at 14.5% alcohol it’s also a whopper of a wine – but it’s just ‘wow’ in the mouth. (****½)

Table 11 – Tres Sabores (USA – California)
As a fan of Zinfandel this 2007 Estate Zinfandel ($39.95) is a no-brainer.  Smooth vanilla and plum upon palate entry, which then leads to a rather nicely spiced finish. (****)

Table 12 – Southbrook Vineyards (Canada – Ontario)
Check out the very summery 2009 Fresh White ($16.95).

Table 13 – Frog Pond Farm (Canada – Ontario)
Speaking of summery, be sure to have a little sip of this 2008 Cabernet Franc Rosé ($14.00).

Table 15 – Le Clos Jordanne (Canada – Ontario)
My favourite wine from Le Clos’ current offerings was on display:  2007 La Petite Vineyard Pinot Noir ($39.80).

Table 16 – Stratus Vineyards (Canada – Ontario)
And another fine Ontario red can be found here under Stratus’ second label, namely the 2007 WildAss Red ($19.95).

Table 17 – Cono Sur Winery (Chile)
By far the best deal on a bottle of bio-wine was this general list wine from Cono Sur – the 2009 Viognier ($9.95) … great value on a wine loaded with fruit like peach, pear and apple.  Buy it for summer and consume it quick and chilled, this is not one for ageing, it’s definitely for drink now enjoyment. (****½ - extra half mark for value)

Table 21 – St. Anthony & Heyl Zu Herrnsheim (Germany)
Tied for best white: 2008 St. Anthony 483 Dry Riesling ($16.95), this mineral driven wine has peach, lime and a touch of sweetness on the front palate and a dryness mid-palate all the way to the finish.  If you’re curious as to what the ‘483’ refers to, it’s the plot of land the grapes are grown on. (****)

Table 23 – Domaine Barmes Buecher (France – Alsace)
This was the other nice white: 2007 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg ($27.95) – a delicious spicy finishing Gewurzt that had floral aromas and a rosy-lychee-peachy palate. (****)

Table 26 – Azienda Agricola Sangervasio (Italy – Tuscany)
This Sangiovese (95%) / Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) blend is quite lovely:  2008 Rosso ($21.95) – plenty of red and black fruit, black licorice and toasted vanilla – there were also good grippy tannins on the finish. (****)

Finally, the most unfortunate name of any of the wines present was to be found at Table 25: Domaine Ostertag 2007 Riesling V’de … I’m not sure what a sexually transmitted Riesling is but this is obviously it – share it at your own risk.


Report from … Discover the Flavours of Argentina – April 20, 2010

The sub-title of this tasting was: From Salta to Patagonia, just two of the nine (or so) wine regions of Argentina you could have tried wines from at this tasting.  There were 19 producers (most looking for agents/representation here in Ontario) that are making wine in, what is possibly the trendiest wine country at the moment.  Argentine wine seems to be everywhere and after a quick glance at the provided catalogue you would see it is, for the most part, very well priced.  I did a rough calculation and found that 78% of the wines poured at this event were under $20.

The catalogue was quite informative about what Argentina has done to improve its wines, the region and other pieces of trivia:  things like in 2007 Argentina became the sixth largest wine producing country in the world and the fourth largest consumer per capita, or how about this one, in “1554 Juan Cedron, a Jesuit priest, plants first vines.”

About the Regions …
I think that some new Argentinean regions are going to be entering your wine lexicon sooner rather than later, we’ve all heard of Mendoza by now, but what about Salta, La Rioja, San Juan (the 2nd largest wine region in Argentina), Neuquen (the fastest growing region, adding 1500 hectares over the last 5 years alone) and Rio Negro (the oldest wine producing region).  But for now Mendoza still accounts for 70% of Argentina’s total production.

The Wines of Note …
I’ll admit to not getting through the whole room (actually there were 2 rooms) but amongst what I did get to try here’s what impressed:

Baudron 2008 Tempranillo ($10.99 – Mendoza) – real rich raspberry nose and a nice red fruit driven palate – lots of cherry and soft tannins. (****)

Carelli 2009 34o Torrentes ($9.99 – Rivadavia-Mendoza) – fresh and fruity with lovely peach and pear notes. (***½)

Carelli 2006 Malbec ($78.99 – La Consulta-Mendoza) – this was a wine rich with blackberry-chocolate and cocoa, anise, cinnamon, vanilla and big tannins and a mocha finish.  Very expensive but also very expressive. (****)

Casa Montes 2007 Don Baltazar Petit Verdot ($13.99 – San Juan) – dark chocolate, spice and white pepper, this wine spent 9 months in new French oak and has a long spicy finish. (****)

El Porvenir de los Andes 2006 Laborum Tannat ($48.99 – Cafayate-Salta) – this one’s soft and fruit driven, juicy and delicious with hints of spice and milk chocolate in the mouth. (****½)

San Huberto 2009 Estate Bonarda ($9.99 – La Rioja) – I am slowing becoming a fan of this Bonarda grape and this wine helped push me closer to the “Love it” camp; nice ripe raspberry-strawberry notes on the nose, while the palate has a spicy-peppery and ultimately appealing finish. (****)

Secreto Patagonico 2007 Chardonnay ($17.99 – Patagonia) – the nose here didn’t thrill, but the palate proved to be first rate: fresh and crisp with lots of fruit and a fresh sweet pineapple finish – the start was slow but this one ends with a bang. (****)

Secreto Patagonico 2008 Malbec ($19.99 – Patagonia) – this wine saw no oak whatsoever and yet it has good tannins on the finish; red fruit led the way with licorice and raspberry notes; nice clean finish. (****)

Sietefincas 2008 Syrah ($15.99 – Junin-Mendoza) – blueberry, blackberry and chocolate greet the nose, while the palate is juicy and the finish is spicy. (****)

Vasija Secreta 2007 VAS Malbec ($31.99 – Cafayate-Salta) – good fruit with mocha/chocolate on the nose and palate, there’s also some blackberry and nice tannin grip.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Report from ... Green Evolution Eco-Friendly Wine Tasting – April 20, 2010

My only complaint about the Green Evolution Eco-Friendly Wine Tasting is its apparent lack of organization and its lack of printed material about the wines.  Now, I suppose to be Eco-Friendly you would forego the use of paper that folks will eventually throw away (or hopefully recycle) once they get them home and throw on their coffee table for the rest of the month – but there were some catalogues available, but very few, so the choice should be print none (so that everybody has to write on their hands and wash the ink off later) or print more so everyone has the chance to recycle the books at the end of the month (or have them decompose naturally on the coffee table) … but the bottom line here is that I did not have at my disposal all the details of the wines I would normally like to have when writing these reports – and I promise not to print this one off for editing purposes. Write green, Think green.

Alright, so aside from that little glitch in the action I found this tasting to be very interesting.  It was held at Earth restaurant (1055 Yonge Street); approximately 21 wines were being poured all from producers who are certified organic, practicing bio-dynamics and/or other sustainable methods of growing grapes and making wine.  From these 21 wines, which were all available to order through Vintages (but not in store), I have pared it down to 7 that truly shone.  One note about the lone Ontario winery in attendance, Southbrook, reviews of their wines can be found on my website, namely:  2008 Triomphe Merlot and the 2007 Poetica Chardonnay which were all part of their turn to the eco-wine; also look for a review of their 2009 Rosé coming soon … sign up for the newsletter to keep up-to-date.  Now enough with the blatant self-promotion, on to the wines …

New Zealand …
Yealands 2009 Riesling ($19.00) – a nice minerality and fruitiness on the nose; palate was crisp, fruity and refreshing with notes of apple, pear and lime, all with that seam of minerality cutting across the tongue. (****)

France, Alsace …
Domaine Weinbach 2007 Reserve Personnelle Gewurztraminer ($43.00) – absolutely spectacular Gewurtz; beautiful intense nose with great mouth feel – apricot, peach, lychee and spice were most dominant, but there were also subtleties that made this wine really come alive both aroma-wise and palate-wise. If you only try one Gewurztraminer in your life this is not a bad place to start and end. (****½)

Chile …
Vina Arboleda – on value alone these two wines are ones you should be putting into your cellar because they will reward a few years there.  The wines are line priced around the $18 mark (top price is $18.95); they were showing three, but these two got my attention:  The Arboleda 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) was chocolate, black raspberry with mocha-tannins on the finish (****) … The Arboleda 2008 Syrah ($18.95) was bigger, bolder and better with mint and blackberry on the nose which followed onto the palate, culminating in a lovely finish of white pepper and delicate tannins.  Good smooth finish to tannin-grit ratio here, keeping things juicy and dry all at the same time. (****½)

United States …
While some swooned over the Benziger Sauvignon Blanc I wrapped my palate around this new single vineyard Pinot Noir: Signaterra 2007 Pinot Noir ($69.00) – Bella Luna Vineyard, Russian River Valley.  Signaterra is a new line in the Benziger portfolio.  The Pinot was very Cali, lovely and smooth with lots of good cherry and raspberry fruit – soft and supple, a real pleasure to drink. (****½)

Finally, there were the Paul Dolan wines; the organic 2007 Zinfandel ($19.00) was juicy with nice tannin structure on the finish.  The palate proved to be loaded with red raspberry and vanilla along with a touch of spice rounding out the finish (****).  There was also the Dolan 2006 Deep Red ($56.00) a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah and Grenache, all from a biodynamic vineyard.  The 15.5% alcohol should make this a bruiser of a wine, but it was barely perceptible, instead it had finesse and elegance that really popped in the glass.  Peppery-spicy notes, beautiful dark fruit: blackberries, cassis and hints of cocoa, both on the nose and the palate, in the mid-palate you’ll also find lovely red fruit before the finish kicks in with more pepper and spice (****½).  The blend is different every year, but I am told the wine is always just as good.

Wines of the Tasting …
My top two wines were (white) Domaine Weinbach 2007 Reserve Personnelle Gewurztraminer and (red) Paul Dolan 2006 Deep Red.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Report from ... The California Wine Fair – April 19, 2010

You gotta love the TTC when it works;, when it doesn’t it make you wanna scream – and lately there’s been a lot of screaming here in the big smoke about our transit system.  The bus into my neighbourhood never showed, so I had to walk out to my nearest main street to catch a bus and then over to the subway.  Thankfully I was only 6 minutes late for lunch, but I did miss the sparkling wine reception.

Guest Speaker …
This afternoon’s keynote was given by Karl D. Wente, the fifth generation winemaker for Wente Vineyards – the oldest family owned winery in California (127 years).  The tall 33 year old brought with him the message of good soil, taking care of the soil and how it in turn will allow you to make great wine. 

“I’m marginally sick of the green message,” he told us, but he knows the importance of it.  There was some levity in his talk when he listed off, in rapid succession, the grapes he grows, before moving on to his more serious topic, which of course centered around the effects good soil has.  Healthy soil makes healthy grapes he intoned over and over again, giving examples of the various organic nutrients they are putting back into the soil.  Healthy soil makes healthy grapes and healthy grapes taste better – follow the logic here, and it does make a lot of sense.

Choice Quotes:
“Everything starts with taking care of the soil.”
“Putting good things in the soil puts good things into the vines which puts good things into the grapes which put good things into the wine.”
“What I really am is a flavour farmer and a tannin farmer.”

Of Interest …
Karl believes in the relationship between wine and music, which is why he likes to pair 6 wines with six songs every year, what he likes to call an olfactory and oratory pairing – those pairings can be found at

Lunch …
This is always an interesting affair; some like it and some don’t, but I feel chef David Garcelon (of the Royal York) does an excellent job considering he’s cooking for 200+ people.

Liquids at Lunch …
The wines at my table were all Wente wines and include a couple of their Nth Degree wines: 2007 Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon – the Cab tasted as a Cab should, but the Syrah was the star of these two, showing a spicy-peppery elegance wrapped in red fruit.  There was also a Wente 2007 Reliz Creek Pinot Noir that had lovely earth notes that melded nicely with the fruit flavours.  The two wines from Wente’s second label Tamas, were my two favourites, these proved to be real winners and the best values.  The Tamas Estates 2008 Pinto Grigio was fresh and fruity with slightly sweet notes along with grapefruit and apple – this is perfect for summer patio sipping, all for a mere $14.95 (****).  But the real star was the Tamas Estates 2008 Double Decker Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbara – a simple yet tasty red full of raspberry smells and flavours with hint of spice … great value in this friendly sipper, only 14.95 (****½) … the 2007 version of this wine was being poured on the trade floor and was just as juicy, smooth and delicious – proving that what I had tried at lunch was no fluke.  I’m told this wine is headed to an LCBO store near you “at some point” – the sooner the better would be nice, I’d love to sip on this one on the patio on summer evenings, this summer.

The Wines …
With over 500 wines on the floor there’s no way to try them all, so while I was trying to figure out where to start I bumped into former Wine Writers’ Circle President Sheila Swerling-Puritt, we made a pact to comb the floor searching for good examples of one of our mutual loves: Zinfandel.

Zins of Notes …
XYZin 50 Year Old Zin – vines for this wine are a minimum of 50 years old (they range from 50 to 99 years), chocolate, spicy raspberry and deep dark delicious fruit.  The XYZin series also has a 10 Year Old (vines 10-49 years old) and a 100 Year Old version – I suspect you can figure that one out on your own.  The 50-Year was quite enjoyable and one of my highlights – the 100 Year old was not in attendance, too bad. (****½)

Bogle Vineyards 2008 Old Vines Zinfandel – a rich plumy, vanilla, smooth and sexy Zin … this one continues to impress year after year and still under twenty-bucks. (****½)

Delicato 2007 Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel – sweet cherry and nice plum. (****)

Mettler Family Vineyard 2007 Zinfandel – nice mineral notes with black fruit, plum, vanilla and cinnamon. (****)

Peachy Canyou 2007 Snow Zinfandel – very lush, black cherry, vanilla and big sweet fruit. (****)  Another Peachy Canyon Zin is their 2007 Especial Zinfandel – this is a vineyard within a vineyard, it’s one heck of a juicy and delightful Zinfandel, I can see why this fruit is segregated. (****½)
Peach also makes a delicious Port-style Zinfandel which was quite impressive.

Pedroncelli Winery 2007 Mother Clone Zinfandel – this is a good value Zin, coming in at $16.50; it has what Zin fans enjoy in their robust red, lots of plum, spice and vanilla. (****)

Pezzi King Vineyards 2007 Zinfandel – a label change here, I almost didn’t recognize it.  Pezzi is a consistent performer in Zinfandels, but I really wish they had brought their Old Vines which has been a real winner each time I have tasted it and always in my top 3 of Zins to taste.  The regular is spicy and plumy and still good. (****)

Seghesio Family Vineyards – I vacillate between two of this family’s wines.  The 2008 Home Ranch Zinfandel (at 15.5%) has very nice fruit and chocolate notes (****); the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel, with its average of 80-year-old vines is point-one higher in alcohol and point-five stars better – this one is balanced and delicious with no sign of that 15.6% alcohol on the nose or palate. (****½)  Last year I know I liked the Home Ranch better but I think the Old Vines gets the nod this time round.

Other Wines of Note …
A Cellar Full of Noise 2005 Tempranillo – a slight perfume note sucks you in on the nose; the palate is delicate and delicious. (****½)

Bell Wine Cellars 2006 Big Guy Red – this is a wine made with 60% Syrah and then Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc all put in an appearance.  Juicy red fruit, white pepper backing it up and a nice medium length finish. (****)

Blue Moon Wines 2007 Heavy Weight Red – primarily Cab with Petite Sirah and Zinfandel – this one’s juicy and playful. (****)

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2004 Le Cigare Volant – the story behind this wine is almost as interesting as the wine itself.  This is a Cote du Rhone blend from California’s maverick wine house Bonny Doon (Randall Grahm) – spicy, black fruit, peppery and good tannins – this one could see the inside of your cellar for quite a few years.  (****½)

Mettler Family Vineyard 2007 Petite Sirah – as good as their Zin was this wine was even better: chocolate, spice and wonderful black fruit notes.  The wine was lovely and would be a pleasure to serve around the BBQ this summer. (****½)  These guys were looking for an agent to represent them in Ontario I hope they found one. 

Wente Vineyards 2007 Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon – I’m told this general list red could be on its way out, too bad, this one’s got the blackberry and spice that should make it a good seller in the California Cab category – some people just haven’t found it, and if you don’t find it soon it will be gone – so might I suggest grabbing a few bottles before that time comes. (***½)

With all this wine, even if I didn’t swallow much, I am glad I took the bus home … and that’s one reason you can be thankful for the TTC in Toronto.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Report from … Dinner with Rosewood Wines at Treadwell – April 17, 2010

What a busy day: family ‘do’ in the morning, buddy’s 40th birthday in the afternoon (happy b-day Geoff, how’s your head?) and dinner in Port Dalhousie at night.  The family ‘do’ was typically familial, the buddy was well on this way to getting liquored when I left, and dinner, well that was truly the best part of the day.

I drove to Port Dalhousie from Toronto, with a couple of stops along the way to my final destination of Treadwell – farm to table cuisine, where the father and son duo of Stephen (chef) and James (sommelier) run a restaurant that has been garnering quite its fair share of acclaim in the area.  Many were surprised I had never been before, although I have met both James and Stephen quite informally on other occasions.

Tonight I was there for a dinner paired around Rosewood Estate (Niagara’s only winery and meadery) wines.  In attendance was a small group of dedicated wine and foodies eager to sip and sample the wines and taste Stephen’s kitchen wizardry.  Four people didn’t bother to show up, not even a phone call of warning (the rudeness of this is … well I am not here to pass judgment on people, just the wine and food).  To those who missed it I can tell you that you missed an excellent dinner and lively conversation about things such as the LCBO, Ontario’s best grapes, favourite winemakers and wineries, the state of the wine world and finally, whether mushrooms with Pinot Noir is cheating or inspired cooking.

We started with a Torchon of Foie Gras on Toasted Brioche with Date Puree and Wild Honeycomb paired with the 2008 Gewurztraminer – a floral/soapy (in a Thrills gum kinda way … and that I like) number with a hint of sweetness and loads of spice on the palate.  The Foie Gras has been poached in the Gewurztraminer and drizzled with Rosewood’s own honey and comb.  Very nice.

Best pairing of the night by far was the Cod dish with the 2008 Semillon:  Prociutto Wrapped Cod with “Kozlik’s” Mustard Remoulade and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette … you know my thoughts on the 4.5 star wine – but it was elevated to five stars when paired with the food.  The slight sweetness of the wine married well with the salty, and the acidity washed the mouth clean for the next bite.

The debate began on course number 3 (Spring Mushrooms “on Toast”)– with the wine flowing and jaws lubricated the round table discussion could begin.  The question was put as to whether or not serving mushrooms with Pinot Noir is cheating.  James called it a simple dish, and stated that we shouldn’t mess with a classic combination.  The wine in question is the soon to be released 2008 Pinot Noir (the follow up to the highly successful and award winning 2007), which had been decanted approximately 24 hours.  I did a comparison between a decanted and undecanted bottle.  While the straight-from-bottle version was tight, closed and acidic, the decanted version exploded with fruit on both the nose and palate, yet retained beautiful acidity and tannins on the finish, though I found it to be a little short … I would have wanted the flavours to continue a little longer.

We had a sneak peak of the 2008 Merlot “Reserve” – it was another wine they decanted approximately 24 hours.  The wine is made from all estate fruit and is naturally fermented (no cultured yeasts added), aged 13-and-a-half months in new oak.  It truly was delicious – and had I not been driving back to Toronto I would have definitely taken James up on his offered seconds.  The nose was raspberry, blueberry and vanilla with slight chocolate notes; palate proved to be spicy with red and black fruit and a strong-coffee note on the finish with silky yet very present tannins and a persistent medium-long finish.  This wine was paired with Roasted “Cumbrae Farms” Beef Striploin (aged 36 days) with Celery Root Raviolo and Heirloom Carrots.

Being that I have a sweet tooth I really enjoyed the Honey Panna Cotta with Black Pepper Tuille and Rhubarb Consumme – truthfully it was not too sweet and finished the dinner off quite nicely.  It was paired with the 2006 Grande Reserve Ambrosia – a sweet dessert honey wine (mead).

All-in-all it was a fabulous dinner, both the chef, the sommelier and the winery should be commended for jobs well done.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Report from ... Shooting the Poop over a few Glasses with Lloyd and Nick – April 14, 2010

I find myself in the office of Lloyd Thistle, THE man at Fortessa Canada – the company that brings in Schott Zwiesel stemware.  Also in attendance is Nicolas Pearce from Tannin Fine Wines.  We are trying a variety of wines using a variety of glassware, including the proper glass for each wine and Schott Zwiesel’s “tasting glass” they call ‘Sensus’.  Tannin represents Organized Crime winery in Niagara – and Nicolas took full advantage of my presence to pour a few Criminally good wines, all from the 2008 vintage and all whites … a good choice consider Andrezj Lipinski (the winemaker at the Crime scene) is a master at the pale wines.  Props go out for his 2008 Viognier and the 2008 Riesling, especially the Riesling – an absolute beauty, if the price were just a bit lower it would fly off the shelves, though it’s so tasty I have no doubt it will sellout – this is a beauty you should be savouring this summer (at least one bottle). 
[full reviews of both wines can be found on my website - just click thru to read them]

Nicolas then started playing the “Guess What I Got” game.  The first was a delicious 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile by Vina Casa Marin ($21.00), at first I thought it New Zealand with all the grassy, citrus and herbaceous notes, the nose also showed some sweet fruit smells.  Very nice acidity and refreshing with a long grassy finish … textbook New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the great copycat folks in Chile … the world’s great wine mimickers.(****½)

Next up, an Aussie Chardonnay (2007) from Step Rd. ($25.00) – this one’s oaky and buttery with creamy-smooth vanilla-hazelnut flavours … a trouble-wine if I’ve ever tasted one, it goes down so easily you could lose track of where you are in the bottle and next thing you know it’s gone and it’s only 20 minutes later; an afternoon buzz in a bottle. (***½)

Before I get to the red wine of the day I’ll leapfrog ahead to the last wine poured:  Eric Bonnet 2007 Reserve Saint Dominique ($25.00) from the Rhone.  A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre that needs time to fully integrate.  In the Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic Bordeaux glass it opened nicely, showing off black raspberry and hints of cocoa; but the narrower Forte glass brought the spice, the tannins and the fruit all together.  It truly is amazing what the right glassware can do. (****)

Finally, we got to try this kitchen wine from A to Z WineWorks, 2006 Chemin de Terre ($25.00) from Oregon; what a beauty.  It’s a blend of every red grape imaginable to be grown in that state, dominated by Merlot at 44% followed by an equal amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (at 17.5% each), then there are hits of Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Grenache and about 2% Pinot Noir; a real dog’s breakfast of grapes – but they sure make into something spectacular.  The nose is fairly basic, black cherry dominates, letting little else through; but it’s on the palate where the complexity of this wine shines through.  The following may sound like a laundry list of flavours, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg here – I would have liked to have spent more time with this wine to get the full effect:  smoky and spicy with lots of dark fruit, a touch of earthy, along with a mocha/cocoa finish (think Fry’s pure cocoa powder) – good fruit, good tannins, good finish equals more than just good wine – this wine is definitely better than the sum of its parts.  It’s a really sippable wine with intoxicating and complex flavours.  Of course always the information seeker I learned it spent 18 months in barrel with an additional 15 months of bottle age.  I said it before, I’ll say it again, what a beauty.  And in the right glass (Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic Bordeaux), it exploded with smells and flavours. (****½)

Report from … Hobbs & Co. Annual Portfolio Tasting – April 13, 2010

This was kind of a big day for me – I spent most of it sweating the outcome of a mortgage application which finally got approved half-way through this tasting … did such euphoria affect my judgment?  I don’t think so – I still know good wine when I taste it, and I always have an eye for value in the bottle.  I made notes on the wines I thought warranted it and left the rest (that’s usual for me), therefore it was just another day at the office (so to speak) – I just have more gray hair, a mortgage and a new home – hallelujah.

The tasting was broken down by country and I found eight wines to rave about:

Pre-Good News …
United States … Blue Moon Wines 2007 Heavyweight Red ($23.15) a blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon (76%) with dollops of Syrah (14%) and Zinfandel (10%).  The nose is plumy, vanilla and sweet cherry, which follows onto the palate along with rich red fruit, a touch of white pepper and hints of chocolate. (****)

Australia … What else do you expect to lead the charge from down under but a Shiraz, this one’s from Swings & Roundabouts (2007 - $22.75) – white pepper and red fruit on the nose with a full-on raspberry assault on the palate. (****)

South Africa … A Cabernet, Shiraz, Merlot blend from Hartenberg Estates simply called Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2005 ($20.55) – the nose was really inviting with its chocolate and blackberry aromas – the palate had a touch of what I call South Africa-taste (an earthy-tarry note), but instead of overpowering the wine with this flavour it gave the wine a bit of character quite welcome in the glass – smooth, brambly and black fruit. (****)

France … Pinot Blanc is one of those grapes that can make really wonderful wines or really insipid bland wines; this Domaine Francois Lichtle 2009 Pinot Blanc ($20.65) is one of the former.  Fresh and fruity with pear, floral, and tropical notes with just a touch of sweetness – fantastic flavours that just explode in the mouth and wash over the palate -I could have sat and sipped on this one all afternoon.  (****½)

France … I’m a fan of Gamay Noir and well made Beaujolais wines, this Domaine Emmanuel Fellot 2009 Vieilles Vignes ($20) is definitely one.  The nose screams of lush cherries with some sweet cranberries and raspberries backing it up – the palate also screams of cherry fruit that fills and pleases the palate; this one is delicate, delicious and even chillable for added enjoyment. (****)

Post-Good News …
Italy … A couple of wines from Salcheto hit the mark.  Their Vino Rosso di Montepulciano 2007 ($22.95) was fresh, fruity and silky smooth (****) … While the more complex Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2005 ($36.95) had everything going for it.  A good mouth feel, nice spice and wood character and good ageing potential.  Speaking of ageing the wine goes through quite the treatment to get to your glass: 2 years in large oak barrels for fermenting and ageing; 30% is moved to 1-2 year old small barrel for 5 months (the rest remains in the big barrels), then reassembled the whole shooting match is aged in bottle for another year.  The result is one very good wine. (****½)

Italy … Finally there was the Alpha Zeta ‘A’ Amarone 2006 ($53.99) this wine had nice fruit and spice notes, plum, cocoa and is very smooth on the palate. (****)

Report from ... A Group of 7 from Churchill Cellars – April 12, 2010

It’s the 8th Annual Churchill Cellars Portfolio Tasting, this year it was being held at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on Front Street (in Toronto); eight tables on two floors.  I guess that’s the way they make sure you don’t drink too much – if you fall down the stairs you have to surrender your keys and take a cab home (not the wine the car).

Started out with a nice Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava to freshen and wake up the palate … it was a little too cold to get the full effect of the fruit, though it was definitely crisp and fizzy.  It did the job it set out to do – my palate was ready for whatever came next.

The Group of 7 …
My first real wow moment came at Table 3 (South Africa and California) with the Robertson Winery Sauvignon Blanc ($10.75), slight melon, citrus aromas that proved to follow in the mouth with refreshing fruit and crispness … melon dominated the palate pleasantly and there was a good long finish – great value for a summer sipper. (****)
The other Robertson wine was a Shiraz ($11.75), it was full of red raspberries and cherries on the nose, with a slightly earthy/gamy palate wrapped in red fruit. (***½)

Table 4 (Chile, Port, Bordeaux and Sangria) had on it a nice Viu Manent Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($15.75) with nice cherry and black raspberry fruit from start to finish. (***½)

I tried a few on Table 5 (France 2) and found myself really enjoying the purple screw capped Beaujolais from Pisse-Dru ($12.25), a full on cherry nose with a touch of eathiness on the palate, but more black cherry than anything – fruit forward and yummy, this one is a good summer chiller (both you and the wine) at a price that won’t break the bank. (****)

Table 7 (Spain and Portugal) was an interesting blend of 4 wines … I tried three of them.  Skipping the neon pink rosé from Chivite Gran Feude, I opted instead for the 2004 Reserva Navarra ($15.75) from the same producer.  Black fruit and earthy with cassis fruit and a touch of wood; a smooth mid-palate with a tannic finish. (****)  There was also the Colinas de Sao Lourenco Tinto Bairrada 2006 ($13.75) – black fruit, subtle spice and a hit of vanilla, tasty and all at a good price. (****)

The star of the afternoon was to be found on Table 8 (France and Germany) in the form of Pol Roger NV Brut Champagne ($58.35) – this was a horse of a totally different colour from what I was expecting from this wine (and I have tried it in the past); I am told that it could be due to the new winemaker. The nose seemed typical enough, bready-biscotti like nuances, but the palate offered up a wealth of interesting complexities: creamy vanilla, nutty, butterscotch nuances, slightly smoky and toasty notes – really very delicious.  On my way home with the taste still lingering in my mouth my mind fixated on the caramel hazelnut like flavour left behind … this is a very good bubbly and a marked improvement from previous years. (****½)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Report from ... Bordeaux “Walk Around Tasting” – March 31, 2010

What a difference a day makes – yesterday I was overwhelmed by a room full of Portuguese wines and not enough time or liver to taste through them all.  Today, a mere 24 hours later, I am in a room for a Bordeaux tasting, with only 21 wines to try – this should be a breeze.

They called it a “Walk Around Tasting” but with 21 wines on the table there was very little walking to be done; but after yesterday that suited me just fine.  The wines of Bordeaux were broken down by region and price point, all were available at the LCBO (most general list with 4 Vintages products).  Here were the gems:

Bordeaux …

Chateau Bonnet 2006 Red ($14.95 - #99044) – the nose and palate were pleasant: red fruit, pencil shavings and peppery. (****)

Mouton Cadet 2008 White ($13.45 - #2527) – mainly grapefruit nose; the palate was a little more complex: fruity with peach, grapefruit and a touch of pear on the finish.

Christian Moueix 2005 Merlot ($15.95 - #961227) – blackberry and black cherry intermingle on the nose while on the palate there’s a nice balance of acidity and tannins. (****)

Bordeaux Superior …

Chateau Pey La Tour Reserve 2007 ($19.95 - #925859) – nice fruit, nice tannins, good acidity; this wine is tasty and food friendly. (****)

Medoc …

Chateau Argenteyre ($24.75 - #117655) – blackberry and cassis with nice spice, good tannins and stand out acidity. (****)

Puisseguin Saint-Emilion …

Chateau des Laurets 2007 ($19.30 - #371401) – this was the best wine of the tasting, lots of good red fruit, hints of vanilla, nutmeg and a bit of wood to balance it all together … very smooth and tasty. (****½)

Report from … Wines of Portugal at the AGO – March 30, 2010

I knew I had had enough, at this year’s Portuguese wines tasting, when the guy behind a certain table told me the wine I believed was marginally corked was “just very woody” – I would like to think I know the difference between new wood smells and cork; and when I say I’ve had enough I mean it in the I’ve-had-it-up-to-here parental way, not as in too much to drink – although that could be a possibility by the end of the day – sad part is I am only at my third table.  But I would have to say that was my only complaint at this year’s annual Portuguese tasting held at the Art Gallery of Ontario (in the Baillie Court) – that and there was a heck of a lot of wine to try and taste; I’m not sure which tasting is more difficult to get through (based on the shear number of wine to taste): Italy, California or Portugal – they certainly aren’t lacking choice.

Today I tried to stay away from the Ports and focused on the interesting, indigenous and those table wines blended with international grapes.  I present my findings below, in no particular order.  All these wines rated 4-stars (very good) and above; and by no means did I try every wine in the room, so I suspect there were other good wines that didn’t even make my palatal radar.

Bacalhoa 2007 Tinto da Anfora – this is a $13 general list gem (at the LCBO), it delivers excellent value.  There was nice fruit, good spice and lovely acidity, not what I expected from a $13 bottle (meaning I would have paid a little more for it). ****

The same winery has a step up wine, this one aged 18 months in French oak (as opposed to the 12 months of the wine above): 2006 Tinto da Anfora Grande Escolha; this is a private order wine which comes in for around $18-20 and manages to add pepperiness, a bigger black fruit component and hints of wood. ****

Dona Maria 2005 Amantis, a blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon – an oddity in this room filled with wines that had at least one indigenous grape variety in each bottle.  As expected the wine is very new world in style, delivering spice, red fruit and chocolate. ****

Adega Cartuxa 2006 Cartuxa Reserva, now here’s one that’s more like what you’d expect, blending four grapes that most Anglo-Saxon folks have never heard of: Trincadeira, Aragonez, Alfrocheiro and Alicante Bouschet to deliver a white pepper, chocolate and raspberry palate and nose with a peppery finish. ****

Herdade dos Grous 2008 “23 Barricas”, meaning 23 barrels.  This is mainly a Syrah based wine with a little Touriga Nacional thrown in to keep the local flair in the bottle.  Elegant with spicy, smoky and bacony notes while remaining black fruited on the palate. ****

Quinta das Apegadas 2007 Velhas Grande Reserva; here’s a wine that takes the majority of its blend from Port grapes: Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.  It spends 18 months in new French oak and has big flavour and big smells.  This was my number 2 ranked wine of the show. ****½

I did not try too much in the white wine department, but I was recommend the whites from Terra D’Alter, and what a find they were.  All four of these wines were made in stainless steel to retain their fruit and freshness – and it is that which impressed me the most.  2009 Arinto – fresh and fruity; 2009 Alvarinho – loads of pineapple; 2009 Verdelho – lively, fresh and fruity; 2009 Fado white – most complex of the four, peach/pear on the palate with the addition of pineapple, absolutely lovely.  The first three rated 4-stars, while the Fado was a 4½-star delight.

Also from the Terra D’Alter winery was a wonderful red, blending new and old world styles.  Petit Verdot, Syrah and Afrocheiro made up the blend on this one; each variety spent 18 months in new American oak (that’s an oak you hear very little about in this room) – chocolate, black cherry, vanilla, lovely and smooth, very delicious – this one was my favourite red of the afternoon. (****½)

Agri-Roncao 2007 DR Colheita, a blend of four major Port grapes is a dry red delivering the wood, fruit, vanilla and spice – another wine using American oak, sparingly, along with it’s French. ****

Dao Sul 2007 Monte da Cal Reserva will be hitting Vintages (at the LCBO) come July at about $16.95.  This is a wonderful wine that should really impress those with a jones for something interesting.  Blending Aragones, Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet (indigenous) with Syrah (international) and aged 12 months in French oak gives it a nice fruity flavour, black fruit, hints of vanilla and a spicy nutmeg note.  Very nice.  ****

Two wines from Quinta do Quetzal were very good, excellent in fact, garnering the best 1,2 score for any one winery – meaning I tried 2 wines and both received the same 4½ stars.  The 2008 Quetzal Reserva White had pineapple, peach, fresh pear and hints of vanilla; only 6 months in oak, this wine finished beautifully in the mouth – I finished the glass without spitting.  The 2007 Quetzal Reserva Red spent 6 months in barrel and 12 months developing in bottle, and what a delicious development.  Smooth black raspberry, vanilla, plum, spice all come together ending with a powerful peppery finish. (both wines ****½)

Soberanas, this is the guy that told me his wine was not corked – I would have walked away right there and then but the two wines he poured me previous to that were very good.  The 2006 XS, a blend of five indigenous grapes aged 12 months in French oak had lots of vanilla and cherry fruit wrapped in wood; the 2004 Sobranas (which uses the exact same grapes as the above wine) had a touch of dried fruit on the nose but came alove on the palate.  18 months French oak made the finish very wood tannin driven. (both wines ****)

Finally, one producer who always impresses me is Quinta do Infantado, the Ruby never fails to garner 5-stars from me in my Vintages reports and the price makes it a real bargain.  There’s a Tawny Port about to hit the market (April 17, 2010) that’s worth checking out, and will be selling for the steal of a price of $16.95.  You’ll have to line up behind me to get your bottles, only 200 cases will be entering the system.  Look for great acidity amongst the nutty, orange peel and cherry notes (*****).  There is also the 2007 Infantado Red which is still kicking around the system for the reasonable price of $23.95, juicy, plumy and delicious (****½) – you should be picking up a few and lying a couple down for later drinking.