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.