Friday, December 30, 2011

Report from ... Croatian Wine Dinner at Wildfire - November 3, 2011

Now there are some wine events you go to just for their curiosity factor … and to be honest with you this was one of those evenings.  I can count on one hand the amount of Croatian wine I have tried and would not need many of those fingers to count the memorable ones.  But tonight I find myself at Wildfire Steakhouse at the north end of Toronto with three winemakers from Croatia in attendance … 6 wines are being poured with dinner, two from each winery: Trapan, Matosevic and Saints Hills.

60% of all Croatian vineyards are planted to a grape called Malvasia, a white grape that seems to be the calling card for Croatia, either as a straight varietal or as a blender.

To start the evening we had a selection of passed hors-d’oeuvres along with two wines, a red and white – the white was a Malvasia, while the red would best be described as “just wine” … unfortunately neither was more than average.
Sit down dinner opened with salad

We moved onto the 2nd course which consisted of Pink Grapefruit and Arugula Salad with honey walnut dressing, candied walnuts and goat cheese … this proved not only to be a tasty course but a real delightful pairing with the Matosevic Grimalda White 2009 (*** ½+) a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Malvasia (25%) and Sauvignon Blanc (25%) aged 12 months in French oak.  “Grimalda” is a place located 300m above sea level where the grapes for this wine grow.  Flavours were quite white fruit driven with good mouth-feel and acidity – the wine improved with each sip (which is always a good sign).

Third course was wild mushroom and ricotta ravioli served with another Malvasia based wine, this time the grape made up a majority of the blend (61%) with only Chardonnay as its partner … this one proved to be a little over-ripe and while the first few sips were interesting you found yourself getting tired of the wine quickly.
Beef tenderloin served with Syrah - see pic below

Fourth course was charred beef tenderloin, which gave us a chance to sample some of the heavier reds from the country, one of the wines was an absolutely horrid mess, but the Trapan Syrah Shuluq 2009 (*** ½+) was a real surprise.  15 months in French oak gave this Syrah hints of cinnamon and spice, with raspberry and white pepper and a good acid balance, but there was an abundance of oak here, though it helped with the long elegant finish … this was by far the best wine of the evening.  I heard rumour that the price of this wine was somewhere north of fifty-dollars, which, aside from some of the nasty flavours, was the real drawback of many of the wines we tasted tonight: the price and of course their inaccessibility on wine store shelves.  If the prices come down that will solve one of the problems and maybe will get more people to at least take a chance on these wines …
Best wine of the night

Report from ... Le Donne del Vino / Women in Wine (Italian) - October 3, 2011

This was an event featuring Italian women in the wine business ... from the hoopla surrounding it, you'd think it was about winemakers and owners, but nope, it seemed that if you had a woman in the company in any capacity you could be part of this group; sure you had your fair share of owners and winemakers but also on the bill were CEOs, Managers, Export Directors, Sales Directors and Vice Presidents.  “Le Donne del Vino” is an organization that represents more than 750 Italian women involved in the wine industry … the most influential within their company and within the world of Italian wine ...  66+ wines from some 21 producers were presented, below a list of wines that scored 4-stars (very good) or above with some related notes about the wines …

Allegrini …
2008 La Grola ($35.00) a single vineyard Corvina with 20% Syrah added … a red fruit and mineral driven wine – tasty. (****+)
2007 Palazzo Della Torre ($25.00) a blend of Corvina and Rondinella with 5% Sangiovese … gentle spice mixed with nice red fruit. (****)

Bosco Nestore 2006 110 Riserva Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ($29.00)  some really intense flavours of black licorice, spice and leather with a pleasant chalkiness. (****)

Donna Chiara …
2010 Greco di Tufo ($17.00) a real summer style pleaser with citrus fruit, mineral and grapefruit pith are dominant with a lovely long yellow grapefruit finish. (****+)
2008 Irpina Aglianico ($19.00) pure essence of red fruit with a delicious palate and medium-short finish. (****)
2007 Taurasi ($35.00) made from 100% single vineyard Aglianico … very concentrated and full bodied with the elegance of cherry and a slight touch of spice. (****+)

Grotta del Sole …
2009 Aglianico ($16.00) red and black fruit with some nice violet notes. (****)
2010 Gragnano della Penisola Sorrentina ($16.00) a secret blend of reds with a touch of fizzant … big and bold red fruit like cherry and strawberry with a nice dry finish. (****+)

La Gironda …
2010 Brachetto D’Acqui ($18.00) the red brother of Moscato … lots of raspberry, strawberry, floral and bubble gum notes. (****)
2008 Chiesavecchia ($28.00) a blend of the native, Barbera and Nebbiolo, and the international, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot … excellent structure, nice tannins, lovely dark fruit. (****)

Marchesi de Frescobaldi …
2006 Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino ($49.95) a wine always available through Vintages (Ontario) … robust and full flavoured: sour cherry, cranberry and powerful tannins. (****+)
2008 Tenuta di Castiglioni ($22.00) the only native Italian grape here is the 10% Sangiovese in the blend … elegant: fruit mixed with spice and hearty tannins. (****+)
2009 Terre More ($19.95) all international varieties … sweet fruit forward with cherry, raspberry then adds a touch of white pepper, chocolate and sweet black licorice – yummy. (****+)

Marchesi di Barolo 2006 Crus Storici Sarmassa Barolo ($59.00) chewy wine with spicy tannins and dark fruit. (****)

Marenco 2008 Red Sunrise Albarossa ($25.00) Albarossa is a recent grape planting, a cross between Nebiollo and Barbera … the wine itself is blend of those two worlds spicy red fruit with robust tannins and good acidity. (****+)

Massimago 2007 1883 Amarone della Valpolicella ($62.00) the family has owned the land since 1883 … 5 months of drying, 2 ½ years in barrel and 1 year in bottle has produced a big (16.5%) yet smooth drinking Amarone loaded with blackberry, plum and spice. (****+)

Orlandi Contucci Panno 2006 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Riserva ($38.00) nice structure, dark berries with a slight peppery note on the finish and good tannins. (****)

Planeta 2009 Noto Passito ($40.00) a sweetie from south Sicily made from Moscato Bianco … really aromatic, fresh with well balanced acidity and a slight bite to the finish. (**** ½)

Vigne & Vini 2008 Papale Primitivo di Manduria ($18.45) plum, red cherry and vanilla with good acidity to balance all that lovely sweet finish. (****)

Zenato 2006 Recioto della Valpolicella Classico ($42.00) the dessert member of the Valpolicella / Ripasso / Amarone family … big red cherry start to finish. (****)

Report from ... Wines of South Africa Workshop - June 15, 2011

This was an all-day affair hosted on the 2nd floor of Morton’s Steakhouse (on Avenue Road).  Four seminars all dealing with South African wine and their many ilk. 

Seminar One – Chenin Blanc (10:30am) … We were here to taste some 39 wines starting with the (once and future) king of South African whites, Chenin Blanc, described as the Cinderella grape.  Years ago the South Africans called it “Steen”, which means brick, because the bunches come off the vine in a seemingly heavy brick form … but recently the proper name for the grape is being used to market the wines outside of South Africa.  Originally this noble variety was planted as a Brandy grape, but many winemakers have taken it under their wing and decided to make more serious wines from it.  South Africa has the largest production area of Chenin, double its nearest competition for the grape’s affection, the Loire Valley in France.  The reason for its popularity is simple: 9 out of 10 years the majority of regions of South Africa can ripen all their grapes.  It represents 50% of all white production, 20% of all wine production, and 55% of all Chenin vines in South Africa are 15+ years old.  We tasted 11 Chenins, with vintage dates ranging from 2006-2010 here is my top three:

FMC 2009 Chenin Blanc – this wine just had it all, the nose was full of buttery-toffee with n undercurrent of tropical fruit and vanilla.  The palate had a sweet sensation with vanilla caramel and tropical fruits; lively and fresh with vanilla-butter on the finish.  Lots of yum-factor here.  The wine was barrel fermented in 100% new oak, left on lees for the whole time and the Chenin vines used are well over 40 years old. (**** ½)

Mulderbosch 2010 Chenin Blanc / Steen-op-Hout – honeydew rind goes from start to finish here with lively freshness; there’s a slight bitterness but it adds to the charm of this wine with a finish that has lime and grapefruit pith that lingers a long time. (*** ½+)

Bellingham 2010 Citrus Grove – lives up to its name with citrus and pear notes on the nose and a rather fruity palate delivering citrus and melon rind. (*** ½)

Seminar Two – Always Something New (11:30am) … The topic refers to sustainability and fair trade wines coming out of South Africa and focused on three wineries: Paul Cluver, Reyneke and Thandi, for a total of nine wines tasted.  The Reyneke wines offered little to right home about, and Thandi’s 2010 Shiraz (70%) – Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), which was full of red berry and licorice flavours was the only reason to sing their praises (*** ½+); but each Cluver seemed better than the next, and somewhat surprisingly, all were white.  2010 Sauvignon Blanc was a lovely example of Savvy B with citrus and mineral on the nose, lime and guava on the palate and leaves behind a grapefruit pith finish (*** ½+).  The 2009 Chardonnay was classically Chardonnay in style: vanilla toastiness with good mouth-feel and a touch of beeswax/lanolin across the tongue (****).  Then came the low alcohol (9.75%) 2010 Close Encounter Riesling with its apple, pear and steely mineral notes along with a hint of sweetness; creamy in the mouth without being yogurty (****).

Seminar Three – Good Better Blends (2:00pm) … seminars three and four had a similar bent, mainly red wines and blends, but we’ll get to seminar four in a minute.  Out of the seven wines poured during this hour only two were whites and one of those whites made my hit parade.

Waterford Estate 2007 The Jem – this seven grape blend that includes Barbera, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Syrah and three other main Bordeaux varietal which spent 26 months in oak and was deliciously dark fruited and juicy, yet had enough firm tannins to remind you it could stand some ageing.  Also found some raspberry and chocolate notes within … the wine had a whole whack of flavour (**** ½).

Nederburg 2008 Ingenuity Red – strange bowling pin shaped bottle hints not at what’s inside.  This is an Italian grape blend of Sangiovese (45%), Barbera (45%) and Nebiollo (10%) with juicy red fruit flavours, starting with cherry leading to chocolate and red licorice; sweet fruited and drinkably tasty (****+).

Lomond 2009 Snowbush – this wine beat out my fourth place wine (Plaisir de Merle 2007 Grand Plaisir) by half a mark.  A Sauvignon Blanc heavy blend (54%) with three other grapes mixed in (Nouvelle, Semillon/Viognier), good citrus tones with melon rind and tropical flavours … the finish is a pleasant mix of vanilla and honeydew (****).

Seminar Four – Flagship Reds (3:30pm) … a full dozen wines were poured for this round and I singled out a top three selection, and a bubbling under 2, for a top 5.

Warwick 2008 Three Cape Ladies – sweet red berries and spice with vanilla-raspberry tannins that massage more than rip across the tongue, than there are pleasing chocolate notes that roll along the mid-palate to the finish (****+)

MR de Compostella 2007 – this one has some of those typical tarry South African notes, but there’s also dark fruit, spice, cocoa and some red fruit action here, that helps carry things thru to its pleasing conclusion (****+)

De Toren 2004 Fusion V – this Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wine is smooth and juicy with dark fruit, spiced-vanilla, mocha and some charred wood and fruit sensations on the finish; this needs some time and was poured alongside the 2009 vintage of the same wine.  If the ’09 is going where the ’04 is my suggestion is to stock up (****)

Bubbling under bottles …
Vilafonte 2007 Series C – chocolate coated dark berries with spiced-mocha on the finish (****)
De Toren 2009 Z – this is the other side of V, dominated by Merlot, here you’ll find a more simple wine than the more than its complex laden counterpart (Fusion Z), here we have the subtlety of blueberry and chocolate with decent tannins holding it together (*** ½)

In a Class All its Own …
During the Chenin tasting of seminar 1 we were poured a Kanu Kia Ora 2006 Noble Late Harvest, another version of Chenin Blanc, this time on the sweet side.  Honeyed-apricot and pears, dried peach and mango with a vanilla-buttery finish … delightful and playful dessert wine that seemed out of place amongst all those dry versions, but it deserved to be singled out as something decidedly different and wonderful all at the same time (*** ½+)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Report from ... The Cool Climate Chardonnay World Tour - July 23, 2011

You might have heard that Ontario hosted the world to a Cool Climate Chardonnay weekend in July: dinners, music, events all surrounded around the most popular white wine grape on the planet.  But one of the regions that made it extremely popular was not in attendance, and I'm not talking Burgundy; the reason that California was not in attendance was that much of the state is not considered "cool climate" - though there are some parts that could qualify.

Today, on one of the hottest days and evenings of the summer, Tawse winery hosted the world of Chardonnay in a massive tented area that stretched in a curve around the vineyard behind the winery.  Tables were set up and, wouldn't you know it, in the grand tradition of Tawse doing thing BIG, Murray McLaughlin performed on stage ... the big question: was he paid in Chardonnay? (Only Murray, or is that Moray, Tawse, knows).

54 wineries were in attendance, including 26 from Ontario the others from France, Oregon, New Zealand, Austria, Italy, Chile (?), South Africa (?) New York and British Columbia.  What follows is a list of the top international Chardonnays I tasted (in alphabetical order by winery) ... you can find Ontario Chardonnay reviews on my website (  If there was one thing I learned for certain on this day:  France still has the touch when it comes to Chardonnay ...

Ataraxia Wines 2009 Chardonnay (South Africa) - smooth and creamy with good balancing acidity (****+)

Chateau de Meursault 2008 Meursault 1er Cru (Burgundy) - ****

Domaine de la Vougeraie Vougeot Clos du Prieure White Monopole (Burgundy) - ****

Domaine des Deux Roches 2009 Saint-Veran Domaine des Deux Roches Vieilles Vignes (Burgundy) - delicious, creamy and smooth, balances vanilla with caramel apple. (**** 1/2)

Domaine Laroch 2007 Chablis Grand Cru, Les Blanchots (Burgundy) - ****

Josef Chromy Wines 2006 Zdar Chardonnay (Tasmania) - **** 1/2

Maison Alex Gambal 2008 Puligny-Montrachet (Burgundy) - ****

Maison Roche de Bellene 2009 AC Montagny 1er Cru (Burgundy) - ****
Maison Roche de Bellene 2009 Meursault 1er Cru Charmes Dessus (Burgundy) - ****+

Mission Hill Winery 2009 Family Estate Perpetua (British Columbia) - ****+
Mission Hill Winery 2009 Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay (British Columbia) - sweet fruited with vanilla, pear and melon notes. (****)

The Millton Vineyard 2009 Opou Chardonnay (New Zealand) - ****

Vie di Romans 2009 Chardonnay (Italy) - ****

Two of the more interesting Chardonnays from Ontario were from two very different places.  The 2008 Cuvee Dix-Neuvieme Chardonnay from the low-profile Pearl Morissette was wonderful, but with no retail space I can't tell you where you can go to get this wine, a restaurant near you might be one of the lucky ones to have snagged some of this limited edition wine.  The other Ontarian making wine is a name you should all be familiar with Thomas Bacheldar, winner of the Ontario wine Awards winemaker of the year.  Thomas made his name, amongst other places, as the man behind the wines of Le Clos Jordanne ... now we find he has struck out on his own to make his favourite wines (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) in his three favourite places in the world:  Burgundy, Oregon and Ontario.  Here he showed off his Ontario version (Bacheldar Wines 2009 Niagara Chardonnay) that should find its way to Vintages shelves in the new year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Report from ... Niagara-on-the-Lake Taste the Season 2011 - November 5-6, 2011

The Ice House introduced us to Dornfelder Icewine - just one of the Delcacies at this year's Taste the Season

It's been a week since my compadres and I toured the Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries for this year's Taste the Season extravaganza of food and wine.  I have spoken with each one to see who liked what and why, and it would seem there is quite a diversity about our favourites - which is a good thing.  For those of you who still aren't aware of what Taste the Season in Niagara-on-the Lake is all about I'll encapsulate it for you:  Each weekend in November the 26 wineries of this group (yes, now 26) pair a wine and food to celebrate the upcoming holiday season ... it's like their gift to you - or your palate to be more specific.  The real star of the show is the food, we already know these guys can make great wines, some take the opportunity to bring out a new vintage or a back dated bottles.  Since it is the food that makes this so interesting I'll just quickly give you a run down of my favourite wines of the day before diving into the foods and pairings on offer.
Reif's 2009 Reserve Chardonnay was quite a mouthful

Top 3 Wines (click through for full review) ...
Pillitteri 2007 Cabernet Franc
Reif 2009 Reserve Chardonnay
The Ice House 2009 Signature Series Dornfelder/Cabernet Sauvingon Icewine

The Food ...

There were some really good comments from my party of three this year that consisted of my wife, Erica, her friend Sarah (from New York - we now import our tasters ... and from what I've heard we may be getting more for next time) and myself.  We agreed that there were more good pairings than bad and that the meat dishes (which there were quite a few) were substantial and filling ... there was no need (or want) to stop for lunch.  And while we could not come to a consensus on an ultimate favourite we seemed to almost universally agree on our least favourites (that's not to talk you out of trying them, you have to make your own decision) - feel free to comment ...

Below a list of the favourites, and why, least favourites, and why, and some special shout outs to those who were memorable.

Favourites ...

With three of us on tour we ended up with quite the diverse list of favourites, in fact between the three top three lists there were eight wineries, with only Colaneri getting two second place votes.

Top wineries include: Chateau des Charmes (Erica) for their roasted mushroom salad crostini paired with the robust 2007 Estate Pinot Noir ... "layers of flavour.  The aioli and crostini just melded so well together with the salad and the wine capped it all off nicely." 

Inniskillin nails it with icewine
Pillitteri (Sarah) for the Vegetarian Chili paired with the '07 Cabernet Franc ... "it was just an excellent pairing, I enjoyed every mouthful ... I want the recipe."

And I am happy to announce that Inniskillin has finally raised their game back to previous levels as they took a risk that really paid off with their pairing of 2007 Vidal Icewine and Icewine sausage with caramelized onion mustard - an innovative way to use icewine, with of all things, meat.  Bravo.

"Spezzatino" at Colenari
The girls agreed that the "Spezzatino" served at Colaneri was not only delicious ("a bowl full of yummy made with love"), but also the winery had the perfect setting in their open atrium-like room with full floor to ceiling bay windows ("they nailed the warm environment").  I, on the other hand, decided that Ravine's Lamb Confit with caramelized mushroom and shropshire blue took second place.  It was served on a fresh bun, made in-house, and while there may have been too much bread for the amount of meat, if you opted to go with an open-faced sandwich you would enjoy every bite - plus you'd have a sauced soaked chaser (the other half).

"A refreshing twist on pizza"
The awarding of the Bronze medal saw three more wineries on the podium, but all had something in common: freshness.  Sarah opted for the Strewn offering of Winter Green Salad with Icewine vinaigrette: "fresh, lively and different"; we chalked it up to her being a health-nut and a long distance runner, but it seems we were all bitten by the health bug in third place.  Erica loved Reif's Mutsu apple, bacon, cold pack cheddar and walnut sage pesto pizza, calling it "a refreshing twist on pizza"; while I loved what the Ice House did.  Using a pear slice as the base they piled on pancetta, goat cheese and Riesling Icewine reduction ... the innovation was the pear base (instead of the usual cracker or bread) that really livened up the bite of food; but what really popped was the vegetarian option: same base, same icewine reduction, the middle was fresh strawberries which sang on the palate with that Dornfelder red Icewine to match ... talk about fresh and wow.
Salad as pairing?  Why not ... and it worked

The Not So's ...

There was more agreement here than with the favs ... I guess poor execution is just poor execution no matter what you wrap it in.

Everyone agreed that Konzelman's cranberry, pear gorgonzola and walnut strudel roll was not as advertised and not very good.  Strudel roll indicates a cake base, but this was in a soggy, limp mini-phyllo cup.  And this year the placement of the tasting was in the foyer instead of the usual back room ... we felt rushed like they wanted us to get-in and get-out.

There was also agreement that Southbrook's attempted Prosciutto and pear crostada with smoked comfort cream was a flop.  They went to warm it up keeping us waiting and lingering about with our wine, enthusiastic about what we would be receiving (something warm), but when they finally served it the cheese remained unmelted and all they had managed to do was turn what was once crisp into a chewy and stale bite of blandness ... "if I could have spit it out I would have," said Sarah, "I just couldn't figure it out where. I just wanted it out of my mouth so badly."

Three other wineries under-delivered on their promise of goodness in the mouth:  Hillebrand's Truffle Mushroom Broth was "too salty".  Stonechurch's Smoked Salmon Mousse, mousse implies some lightness but this was more like a mouthful of fishy cream cheese (without the enjoyment and without the bagel).  And Marynissen's Prosciutto slathered with fig spread served on ... name your cracker base here ... was anything but slathered and the vegetarian option was an under cooked, doughy phyllo wrapped something.

Special Mentions ... the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Coq au Vin at Lailey: "Help Mommy they're coming to get me"
Starting with the ugly, Lailey had a tasty little Coq au Vin offering, but when the lid of the chaffing dish was lifted it looked like something out of a Halloween horror show.

Very disappointing was Stratus' badly executed pulled lamb shoulder; it had great flavour, or would have, had it been warm and freshly served and not pre-prepared and left sitting out to get all dried out ... the crock pot was sitting right there, make 'em fresh, don't get lazy.  Treadwell's went to a lot of trouble to make it tasty don't fail them on the very last step - serving it.

Cattail Creek pulled off their homemade gingerbread sandwich cookies with lemon crème.  You know they're fresh and handmade because of the girl sitting out front assembling the sandwiches with a Tupperware container full of cookies and a bowl of fresh lemon cream beside her (ask for extra cream).

Other special mentions go out to some of our favourites previously mentioned:  Inniskillin, while not making Sarah's list of favourite did get a shout out for "outside the box thinking.  I don't like icewine because of the sweetness, but somehow this pairing did not taste sweet in any way - it was just plain tasty."  And finally, The Ice House got an extra nod from Erica because "both options were delicious".

Being a meat eater and fiercely proud of it (following the theory of: there's room for all God's creatures ... right next to the mashed potatoes), I was impress to see wineries offering up a vegetarian option for those who would require or wanted it.

Final words ...
Another successful Taste the Season event that provided many more ups than it did downs ... and that's a great thing to see.  Look forward to next year's tour to see who rose to the top and who crashes and burns at the bottom.  As always, good, bad or ugly an outstanding effort by everyone involved.  Happy tour and tasting everybody.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Report form ... 6th Annual Stem Wine Group Tasting - September 20, 2011

I know the name "Stem" is suppose to invoke grapes hanging on the vine, but after a few drinks you begin to wonder what else the principles of this agency were thinking about ... but that's neither here nor ... the important part of this tasting is the 100+ wines, beers and spirits that are being poured.  Surely too many to be consumed in one sitting, but Stem offers a wonderful array from California, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France, Argentina and especially Italy.  I would guess that over half of the Stem portfolio has an Italian slant, which is why it should come as no surprise that when Stem decided to create their own wine it would be one of Italian origin.  That was the big news at this year's event: "a joint venture with Boroli (Piedmont) and 47 Anno Domini Vineyards Vinicola Tombaco (Veneto) to create Matto".  Plus six new wineries (2 Italian, 2 French. a New Zealand and a US) have been added to Stems extensive offerings, just giving them more breadth to offer clients, and one of these new wineries made my list of favourites.

New Stuff ...
I tried the Matto 2007 Barolo and was impressed with the cranberry, strawberry and spice emanating from the glass on both the aromas and flavours; quite elegant and a decidedly good first effort. (*** 1/2+)

The Daniel Chotard winery from the Loire Valley has entered the Stem Family and the 2010 Sancerre is lovely, crisp with mineral notes and nice clean citrus on the finish. (*** 1/2+)

The U.S. winery that joined in this year was Husic Vineyards - three wines were brought into the portfolio, none better than the 2005 Husic Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa - a dark fruited, black cherry dominated cocoa infused Cab that plays nicely with the tannins on the tongue. (****+)

Most of all I really feel for the New Zealand winery that was added: Marisco Vineyards out of Marlborough ... the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was quite New Zealand-esque (*** 1/2), while the 2010 King's Bastard Chardonnay was fruit forward with oak backing that didn't overwhelm all that lovely fruit (****) and the piece-de-résistance was the 2010 King's Wrath Pinot Noir, which came a close second as my favourite wine of the day (held by Rockbare out of Australia).  This 400 case production Pinot spent 12 months in 40% new oak.  Lovely aromas and flavours that straddle the line between California's fruit driven style and Burgundy's earthiness: great fruit to spice ratio with strawberry and raspberry leading the charge (**** 1/2).  The booklet had all wines listed at $19.95, but this may have been priced in error and might hit our shelves at double that amount - but still very much worth it.  Rumour was that if you ordered at the event you'd get the misprinted price.  Check out the Marisco website to get the story behind these wines ... quite eerie yet very intriguing.

The Best of the Rest ... (by country)
Italy -
Boroli 2004 Barolo Villero (*** 1/2+) - $89.99
Ca'Del Baio 2009 Langhe Nebbiolo Bric del Baio (****) - 21.99
Cantina Produttori Colterenzio 2010 Pinot Bianco (*** 1/2+) - 19.99
Azienda Agricola Forchir 2010 Pinot Grigio 'Lamis' (*** 1/2) - 15.99
Zyme 2004 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (****) - $135.99
Vinicola Tombacco 2009 Ca'del Doge Primitivo (****) - $11.99 - great value
Delibori Vigneti e Cantine 2000 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 'Fracastoro' (****+) - $100.00
Feudi di San Gregorio 2007 Serpico Aglianico (****+) - $84.99 - 185 year old vines

France -
Henri Abele NV Brut Champagne (****+) - $54.99 - company established in 1757

Australia -
Rockbare 2010 Mojo Shiraz (**** 1/2+) - $19.99 - favourite wine of the event
Rockbare 2009 Rockbare Shiraz (****) - $22.99

Michael Sullberg 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (****+) - $16.99
Michael Sullberg 2009 Merlot (****) - $16.99 - great value Merlot, juicy and fruity
Hart & McGarry 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay (****) - $24.99
Jax Vineyards 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (****) - $54.99
Merry Edwards 2009 Pinot Noir RRV, Georganne Methode a l'Ancienne (**** 1/2) - $89.99
Merry Edwards 2010 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc (****+) - $51.99
Merry Edwards 2008 'Klopp Ranch' RRV Pinot Noir (****+) - $89.99

Argentina -
Andeluna Cellars 2005 Grand Reserve Pasionado (****+) - $44.99
Andeluna Cellars 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (****) - $15.49 - great value

Report from ... Montes Dinner at Splendido - September 26, 2011

It struck me on the way home, sitting on a bench at Union Station (downtown Toronto), that Aurelio Montes is making wines in the three most advantageous places in the world of wine: California, Argentina and Chile, all he needs to make the quad-fecta is a winery operation in Australia and he's working all 4 hip hot climates.  What I'd like to see is how he'd fare in one of the world's cool climate regions: Bordeaux, New Zealand, Oregon, Ontario, just to see if he could spin his usual gold there.  But I don't think these regions are on his radar for the future, sure he admits Europe seems a great place to conquer, but I suspect that depends where.  All these thoughts run through my hazy noggin as I am returning from the Splendido Montes tasting on this Monday evening, where we tasted 8 Montes wines in a structured tasting (4 Alpha M's and 4 Folly) as well as another 8 with dinner plus 2 extras for the reception (sparkling and Chardonnay) - all told 18 wines were sampled.

Aurelio ...
Mr. Montes proved to be a really eloquent and enthusiastic speaker.  After apologizing for his "rudimentary" English (having been born and raised in Chile) he went on to speak (in English) for a good half-hour about wines, his history, etc. with nary a linguistic mistake - now granted he doesn't have a proper British accent but with his Chilean-patter he did exceptionally well.

We learned that Montes wines are sold in 110 countries and that their wines are the only Chilean wines on 20 Bordeaux restaurants wine lists.  That Montes was started as a "retirement project" that has become more full time than most full time jobs he has had.

Started in 1987, Montes was the brainchild of Aurelio Montes and Douglas Murray, who wanted to set a new standard "of excellence for Chilean wine".  From there the Montes name has expanded into Argentina (2001) under the brand Kaiken and now as a Californian Angel (2006) with wines being made with both Napa and Paso Robles fruit; "I was just looking for a new challenge," Aurelio admitted in his talk.

Memorable Quotes ...
"In the beginning things were planted everywhere and anywhere, watermelons were beside Cabernet Sauvignon and carrots were beside Pinot Noir, in the same piece of land."

"People ask me about the music I play in the barrel rooms, they say: "what does music do for the wines?"  I have no idea, but I love it."  Said with a sly smile.

Kaiken means wild goose in local language of Argentina, "I'm just like the wild goose," Aurelio explains, "flying over the Andes, except I am not trying to propagate or feed, I'm just trying to make good wine." 

And on this night we tried a boat load, along with some tasty food whipped up by Victor Barry, executive chef at Splendido.

Structured Tasting ...
Four vintages of Alpha M, named for the partners of Montes: Montes and Murray, Aurelio also joked it stood for money - referring to what the pair was hoping to make.  Wines started at $89.00 and rose to $129.00 - so maybe not as jokey as originally believed.  We tried the 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2007.  "You'll notice you're having all odd vintages," Aurelio pointed out, "that's because the odd vintages just seem to be better than the even ones."

Alpha M is the Montes version of a Bordeaux-style blend with Cabernet Sauvignon being the dominant grape (left bank style) to the tune of 80%, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which Aurelio calls his "wild partner" because it's the wild card of the blend - some years taking up to 5% while in others being only 2-3.

There was something interesting about each year's wine but the 2005 Alpha M ($99.00) just had everything going for it.  Nicely balanced with great fruit, chocolate, black cherry and soft, silky tannins.  This was a lush, plush sexy and smooth wine. (**** 1/2)

Montes Alpha M 1997 (***+)
Montes Alpha M 2003 (*** 1/2+)
Montes Alpha M 2007 (*** 1/2+)

The Folly Syrah is a different story: 100% Syrah from cuttings taken from the Rhone Valley in France.  Folly is a silly wine with serious undercurrents, but this silliness has to do with how it came into being.  We tried Folly from 4 vintages: 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006.

While the Folly 2005 was layered with aromas: mint, blackberry and chocolate; and flavours: mint, cherry, white pepper, sweet fruit with a touch of smoked meat (**** 1/2) and was my highest scoring Syrah - there was a little something to the Folly 2006, which showed a degree of finesse and elegance not found in the '05.  So really it was a tough call dependent on what kind of Syrah you are looking for (****+).  Aurelio called the '05 masculine and the '06 more feminine.  Which stands to reason, since he had to work harder on the '06 than the '05 (his comment not mine).

Montes Folly 2001 (****)
Montes Folly 2003 (****)

Reception ...
Kaiken Brut - ****
The inaugural Canadian tasting of the Kaiken Brut (Argentina, $19.95) a 70/30 Pinot Noir to Chardonnay sparkler that has lovely toastiness, baked apple with a touch of pear, especially on the palate ... there's a slightly sweet note to the palate and a long luxurious finish that makes this quite a steal for $19.95 (****+).  When they ran out of bubbles they poured the Montes 2009 Alpha Chardonnay ($19.95 - Vintages Now), which had vanilla, almond and a hint of coconut (****).

Dinner ...
Four courses, 8 wines ... below are the best of each pairing

Chile ...
Montes Purple Angel 2007 ($49.95) - blackberry and cherry with an elegance and structure that's goes far beyond its 50 dollar price tag - a palate of blueberry, cassis and mocha; juicy front leads to a peppery finish. (**** 1/2)
Other wine:  Montes Alpha 2009 Carmenere ($19.95 - ****)

Argentine ...
Kaiken 2009 Ultra Malbec ($19.95) - same star score for each but price wins out here.  Juicy red and black fruit with pepper, spice and really good structure for 5 years worth of ageing. (****)
Other wine: Kaiken 2007 Mai Malbec ($89.95 - ****)

California - Napa ...
Napa Angel 2007 Aurelio's Selection ($89.00) - a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and picked from the best grapes / best parcels of the 15-18 year vines where they buy their grapes from.  Red licorice, cherry, vanilla with juicy red fruit, chocolate-strawberries and a dusty finish. (*** 1/2+)
Other wine: Napa Angel 2007 ($49.00 - *** 1/2)

California - Paso Robles ...
Star Angel 2008 Aurelio Selection ($59.00) - a mainly Syrah based blend with mere hints of Grenache and Mourvedre added for additional structure.  This wine was full of both red and black fruit. (****)
Other wine: Star Angel 2008 ($29.00 - *** 1/2)

Thanks to Stephen Marentette for inviting me to the event.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Report from ... The Pinot Affair - October 15-16, 2011

You'll have to excuse me for missing this event.  I hadn't been home for the past 6 weeks and the house just needed some attention ... inside and out .. and heck, I just needed some R & R on a weekend (feet up, glass of wine in the hand, a movie or two).  Thankfully the intrepid Fred Couch, who has passed a few of his musing about events along to me in the past, was nice enough to share his experience of the Pinot Affair held in Niagara October 15-16, 2011.

“The Pinot Affair”
By F.G. Couch

An inaugural event for the Niagara area this year called The Pinot Affair.  For one weekend in October, lovers of the Pinot Noir grape could visit eight wineries for a unique tasting experience.  Four wineries were located in the Beamsville Bench area (Hidden Bench, Malivoire, Rosewood and Tawse) and the other four in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Coyote’s Run, Le Clos Jordanne (at Jackson-Triggs Winery), Lailey Vineyards and Inniskillin).

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate on the weekend of the event and many of the wineries had to change from having the event in the vineyards to an indoor venue.  Everyone did an excellent job considering this last minute change and all of the wineries offered a unique experience.  Since Pinot Noir is such a food-friendly wine, all but one winery served their wines with food.

Our day started with a sit-down seminar at 10:00 am at Malivoire with winemaker, Shiraz Mottiar.  Shiraz poured barrel samples of the 2010 vintage and tried to demonstrate the difference between two vineyards (Estate & Mottiar) and two methods of fermenting the grapes – in older oak barrels and stainless steel.  We then had a chance to try our own hand at blending using the four different wines.  This was followed by sampling the finished wine from the 2009 vintage.

We then went on to Tawse Winery where we were able to try the 2010 Pinot directly from the barrel.  This was followed by a tasting of two of the 2009 vintage wines accompanied by delicious canapés provided by August Restaurant, Beamsville.

There was a bit of a mix-up with the reservation process at Rosewood Estate Winery so we had to postpone our visit until the next day.  This meant that we had to visit five wineries on Sunday – a really tough job but someone has to do it! [ed. note:  5 wineries?  A tough job?  Try doing 26 over the course of a weekend ... geesh, amateurs].  Our day finished with a great food and wine tasting at Hidden Bench.  This ranked as our favourite event of the day.  So good in fact, that when I went back the next day to take a photo for this article, gracious hosts, Retail Manager, Meg McGrath and owner, Harald Thiel, invited us to participate in the food and wine pairing again.  The food and wine was so good how could we say no?

The Hidden Bench offering (described below)

This delightful presentation at Hidden Bench included two Pinots – the 2009 estate-grown and the 2008 Locust Lane Vineyard.  The third glass contained möst, a partially fermented wine, traditionally served from pitchers with charcuterie, bratwurst and sausage plates.  So to uphold this tradition, Hidden Bench presented a very delicious food plate with sausage, an assortment of cheese and a spoon of Harald’s own beef bourguignon served with crusty bread.  This experience rated 5 out of 5 stars!

The next day we were able to return to Rosewood to participate in their event which included a demonstration of the “pump-over” process.  This process is used for large batches of wine instead of “punching down the cap” which brings the grape skins in contact with the juice to extract colour and tannins from the skins.  We then proceeded to the barrel cellar for a sit-down tasting of the 2007 Pinot which is now sold out at the winery, the 2009 Pinot Noir and the 2009 Reserve with natural fermentation.  After the tasting we were served charcuterie and cheeses from local suppliers.

After our second visit to Hidden Bench, we went on to our next reserved event for a tasting of Le Clos Jordanne wines at Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery.  At a sit-down tasting we were told about the four distinct vineyards – Talon Ridge, La Petite Colline, Claystone Terrace and Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard.  The 2009 vintage from each vineyard was poured.  A “favourite” wine could not be selected by the group because they all were so different and all very good.  The wines actually changed in the glass after sitting for a time and they were much different with the accompanying food.

Jackson-Triggs doles out Le Clos Jordanne wines - "another 5 star experience"

The food presentation at Jackson-Triggs rated right up there with Hidden Bench.  This included a mushroom quiche, duck pâté, salmon tartare and two cheeses served with crusty bread.  We were then served a tasting of the 2008 Talon Ridge to compare with the 2009.  As if this wasn’t enough, we were then invited to the tasting room where we could try the 2007 La Petite and Talon Ridge Pinots.  This was another 5-star experience!

Feeling quite content, we moved on to Lailey Vineyard where winemaker, Derek Barnett, poured us the following Pinots from the excellent 2009 vintage – Niagara Peninsula (now, unfortunately, sold out), Canadian Oak, Brickyard (my personal favourite), Old Vines and Lot 48.  Knowing that our group appreciated really fine wines, Derek raided the library and treated us to a sample of the 2007 Old Vines Pinot.  The website said we would be given an opportunity to “punch down the cap” but because of the weather, I assume that plans had changed.  Besides, with all the wines consumed, I’m sure some of us might have fallen in the vat!  During the tasting we could help ourselves to the charcuterie and cheese selections offered.

Moving on to Inniskillin Winery just down the Niagara Parkway from Lailey, we were directed to the barrel cellar.  I have to admit this was the most disappointing event of the Pinot Affair.  I was surprised because their sister winery, Jackson-Triggs put on such a great tasting.  There was not a lot of room in the barrel cellar.  Four of us had to stand because there were only four seats available.  Only two wines were served – the 2009 and 2003 Pinots from the Montague Vineyard.  It was interesting to taste the difference six years of ageing made on the wine from the same vineyard.  The food was a pork rillette prepared by Estate Chef David Penny.  The presentation just did not compare with Jackson-Triggs or Hidden Bench.  I would give this 3 out of 5 stars.

Seeing is believing, the dirt at Coyote's Run

Our last stop of the weekend was Coyote’s Run Estate Winery in St. David’s.  This was supposed to be an outside event but the winery was able to set up a very informative experience inside one of their buildings.  In fact, it was very seasonal with straw on the floor and harvest displays.  We were led through the winemaking process by first trying the just-picked grapes and then the juice from the pressed grapes before fermentation.  Then we were told about the influence that “terroir” has on the wines including the soil from which the “Red Paw” and “Black Paw” is made.  We then could taste the finished Pinots with a selection of delicious canapés.  We then went into the tasting room where we could try the 2009 “Rare Vintage” Pinot.

What the Coyote served

With the success of this year’s event, I’m hoping this becomes an annual “Affair” and that a few more wineries that are producing excellent Pinots in Niagara come on board.  I would rate this inaugural event a 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Congratulations to the organizers and participating wineries. Well done!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Report from ... The Riesling Experience 2011 - June 9, 2011

Are you experienced?  Jimi Hendrix is famous for asking that simple question on a record album – but he was talking about music, here we’re talking wine – Riesling to be exact.  With all the events this year surrounding one grape or another, be it Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, it seems that Riesling's gotten lost in the shuffle.  Is it because Ontario wineries are trying to foist other grapes into the limelight?  Or is Riesling safe in its position in Ontario?  It would seem that it's the wineries that don't make Riesling are the ones that want to showcase other varieties, but consider this:  Riesling is a variety that is 500 years old and the #1 variety in Niagara.  Commercial planting started in Niagara around 1974.  Riesling makes up 18.8% of all grapes planted in Ontario and 17.3% of all vinifera … and that leads the charge of grapes planted.  And for those interested, the mostly widely planted Riesling clone: 21B, at 70%.

Today Niagara welcomed winemakers and owners from Michigan, Ohio and New York along with Pierre Trimbach from Alsace to speak to the assembled clan of Riesling lovers, and there were a lot.

Pierre Trimbach …
As keynote speaker Pierre had much to say on the topic and we all had much to learn.  Pierre was described as the “Eric Clapton” of Riesling, which brings me back to my musical reference at the beginning of this report, I guess they couldn’t tie everything up in a neat package and call him the Jimi Hendrix of Riesling cause Jimi’s dead (and Pierre is very much alive); but it would have been more apropos at a “Riesling Experience”.  Pierre talked about the make up of his vineyard (11 different grapes / 13 different soil types); he informed us that Alsace (the most northerly region in France) produces 10% of the world’s Riesling and at Trimbach (established in 1626) the grape makes up 48% of their annual production.

Notable Quotes – Pierre Trimbach:
“Petrol is a the noble evolution in a Riesling after 10+ years; in a young wine it’s something else.”  Pierre went on to say a young Riesling with petrol notes is a faulty wine with high reduction.

When describing the ideal conditions needed to make good Riesling Pierre told us: “First condition: balance.  Second condition: balance.  Third condition: balance … and the rest is just blah blah blah.”
The Trimbach wines being poured

Michigan …
Representative: Lee Lutes – Black Star Farms
- Michigan is the 2nd most diversified state for agriculture behind California
- If you stand in the middle of any vineyard in the state you’re only 5-10 miles from the lake.
- First Riesling planted was in the 70’s by Chateau Grand Traverse
- Primary red grapes are Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc

Ohio …
Representative: Nick Ferrantes – Ferrante Wine Farm
- Arnie Esterer planted the first Riesling vines in the Eastern Lake Erie region at Markko Vineyards in 1969
- There are 150 acres grown in Ohio, mostly near Lake Erie (Grand River Valley)
- Quote: “Once you have a Riesling in your mouth you know it, and it stays with you.”

Nick also plugged a Riesling lovers website:

New York …
Representative: Peter Bell – Fox Run Vineyards
- In New York there are two wine industries: fine wine and the other
- Riesling is a consistently good grape for the region, in 21 years they’ve had only two bad vintages of Riesling: 1992 and 2007
- Quote: “Ontario took the secondary grapes [native/lubrusca varieties] out, blindfolded them and shot them; we didn’t do that.”  He made it sound like they should have.

The talks ended with a presentation from the International Riesling Foundation ( – so this is what Nick was talking about.

Lunch was a Riesling lovers paradise created by Chef Erik Peacock of Wellington Court Restaurant in St. Catharines: trout, chicken sausage, beef carpaccio all paired to go with the Rieslings of your choice from any of the 4 lake regions represented: Niagara, Ohio, Michigan, New York; plus a special table with a limited selection of Trimbach wines.

The Wines …
Of the 32 wines available for tasting, 14 were from somewhere other than Ontario.  Ontario reviews can be seen on my website ( as for the wines from out of province, here were my top choices:

Black Star Farms 2010 Arcturos Riesling (Michigan, ~$15.50) - ****+
Bowers Harbor Vineyards 2009 Riesling, BHV Estate (Michigan, ~$15.00) - *** ½
Chateau Grand Traverse 2009 Lot 49 Riesling (Michigan, ~$21.00) - *** ½+
Black Star Farms 2009 Arcturos Riesling (Michigan, ~$15.50) - ****
Klingshirn Winery 2010 White Riesling (Ohio, ~$10.40) - *** ½
Old Firehouse Winery 2010 Lake Erie Riesling (Ohio, ~$11.99) - *** ½
Sheldrake Point Winery 2009 Dry Riesling (New York, ~15.00) - ***+

Report from ... Three Greek Estates Over 1 Lunch - May 11, 2011

In May, the Greeks came to town with their winemakers in tow and a wanton willingness to teach what makes Greek wine so special.

Today, at the Thompson hotel in Toronto, in the confines of their beautiful basement, a group of writers met to taste an assortment of wines from three Greek houses: Domaine Gerovassiliou, Biblia Chora and Domaine Katsaros.

Gerovassiliou …
Established in 1981 by Evangelos Gerovassiliou, located approximately 25km southwest of Thessaloniki (time to get out a map of Greece).  Today the winery has 48 hectares of planted vines with a mix of international and indigenous varieties.

Wines of Gerovassiliou …
Three were tried, a Petite Syrah/Viogner blend, a 50/50 blend of Assyrtiko and Malagousia (white), and a straight 100% Viognier.  The 2008 Viognier was delightfully floral with nice tropicallity on the nose, almost Gewurztraminer-like, with some soapy-spicy nuances.  The palate proved to be very nice indeed with tropical, citrus and good acidity for balance. (*** ½+)

Biblia Chora …
A project of two oenologists Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Vangelis Gerovassiliou, with a property that covers 15 hectares and grows an interesting blend of international and domestic grapes.

Wines of Biblia Chora …
2009 Ovilos Blanc, a 50/50 blend of Assyrtiko and Semillon that has received plenty of accolades and awards.  The nose is full of tropical fruit with grapefruit/citrus backing.  Palate is a mix of grapefruit sour with kiwi sweet, producing a long lasting and delicious finish … refreshing, clean and tasty. (*** ½+)
The other wine poured was the 2009 Areti, made with 100% Assyrtiko (another white).  Big 14% alcohol is hidden in the folds of pineapple and citrus on the nose with a sweet fruited palate, where you’ll find tropical and citrus along with a touch of vanilla for added depth of flavour.  Good acidity keeps this wine is balance. (*** ½+)

Katsaros …
A small family owned winery started in 1985 in the Mt. Olympus region near the village of Krania, here they grow just three grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

Wines of Katsaros …
We only tasted the one: 2009 Chardonnay, which was very tight and needs time to come into its own.

Lunch …
Pictures to follow, but check out that dessert, it was almost too pretty to eat … I said almost (and it was delicious), and it was paired with a bottle of 2004 Late Harvest Malagousia, which was exquisite.

Miso and Aji Mirin Marinated Black Cod with Wilted Baby Bok Choy and Enoki and Pearl Barley Risotto

Too Cool Dessert ... Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Parfait

Report from ... Australia’s First Families of Wine – May 5, 2011

I wrongly kept referring to this event as the Five Families of wine, I guess the Godfather is fully ingrained in my brain; but that wasn’t the name of the event at all.  First, this was an Aussie event, not an Italy wine tasting and really what could be feared from the 5 Families of Australia?  Too many shrimp on the Bar-b?  Were they going to drown us with Foster’s?  Or make us watch all of Paul Hogan’s movies, (plus his Subaru commercials)?  I'd say we're pretty safe on all counts. 

Turns out it was far from 5 families in attendance, in actual fact it was 11 (twelve are part of this organization but absent was the Brown Brothers winery, because they have no distribution in Ontario).  According to the "families" mission statement, they got together to “represent 16 Australian Regions across 4 states and between them have more than 1200 years of winemaking experience.”  These families have 5000+ hectares of vineyard land between them, and that’s a lot of growing space, they also claim to be the “Guardians of some of Australia’s finest vineyards, most famous wine names and some irreplaceable history.”

The sit-down portion of the tasting was set up in a speed-dating style: each winery got a chance to pour two of their iconic wines to a small assembled mass of ~10 people per go.  Every 10 minutes or so a bell would sound and we were told to move tables; not my favourite way to try wine, but definitely an innovative method, which, in truth, I hope we never do again.  Anyway, let’s look at the best of these two wines per producer – hopefully you’ll recognize their names.

Campbell’s …
Poured: Muscat & Shiraz
Top Scoring: Rutherglen Muscat (NV) … this is a sweetie made in a solera system (like they make Sherry) with an average of 5-year-old wines.  Lovely flavours and smells, mainly toffee and orange peel, a real delicacy for dessert. (****+)

D’Arenberg …
Poured: Mourvedre & Shiraz/Roussanne
Top Scoring: 2007 The Twenty-Eight Road Mourvedre … these vines were planted in 1983 and are now being produced to make a meaty, dark fruited wine. (*** ½+)

De Bortoli …
Poured: Botrytis Semillon & Blanc de Blancs
Top Scoring: Rococo Blanc de Blancs (NV) … a fresh clean entry with rich vanilla cream across the palate. (*** ½+)

Henschke …
Poured: Euphonium blend & Pinot Noir
Top Scoring: 2008 Keyneton Estate Euphonium … this is a 60% Shiraz based wine with hints of Cabernet and Merlot blended in (the amount differs every year).  The Keyneton vineyard was planted in 1960. A tasty wine with plum and black cherry along with pepper and spice on the finish. (****+)

Howard Park …
Poured: Shiraz & Chardonnay
Top Scoring: 2008 Scotsdale Shiraz … this is the youngest winery in this group, having been established in 1986, but they seem to be making quite a name for themselves, especially having been invited to join this group of old-timers.  Their Shiraz was a tasty blend of dark berries with spicy pepper. (*** ½)

Jim Barry …
Poured: Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz
Top Scoring: 2008 The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon … you’ve seen this bottle before with the picture of the golfer on the front, this 42 year old winery makes a mean Cab with dark fruit and spice dripped in chocolate – yum. (****)

McWilliam’s …
Poured: Sauvignon Blanc & Shiraz
Top Scoring: 2010 Mount Pleasant Estate Florence Sauvignon Blanc … This winery has shown consistency of winemaking over its 134 year history, that's because they've had only 4 different winemakers over a 90 year period.  This wine is very New Zealand-like in style, but adds an element of warm climate Savvy B with melon and tropical notes weaved in amongst the grass. (****+)

Tahbilk …
Poured: Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz
Top Scoring: 2005 Eric Stevens Purbrick Cabernet Sauvignon … a tough call between these two wines, but this one edged out its competition by a very slim margin.  The dominant vines in this Cab were planted in 1949, while the label was launched three years later to take advantage of the great fruit being grown.  And what great flavours do these old vines produce these days?  Chocolate, red licorice and raspberry dominate with a vanilla-mint finish. (****+)

Tyrrell’s …
Poured: Shiraz & Semillon
Top Scoring: 2010 Lost Block Semillon … this Sem is very fruity with refreshing citrus, floral and melon flavours. (*** ½)

Wakefield …
Poured: Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon
Top Scoring: 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon … this company started off as hoteliers and moved into wine.  All those years of dealing with the public has really paid off, cause their Cab delivers just what the people want at a very reasonable price ($16.95).  Mint and plum lead the charge of this juicy and somewhat jammy wine – but in a good way. (****+) 

Yalumba …
Poured: Viognier & Grenache
Top Scoring: 2005 Hand Picked Single Site Habermann Vineyard Grenache … an interesting older wine that has developed peppered raspberry notes with some strawberry thrown in for good measure. (****)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Report from … An Impromptu Tasting of Carmel Road Wines at the MJF - September 17, 2011

It’s time to head out to the Monterey Jazz Festival – the event that brought us to California in the first place (or that’s what brought everybody else to California) … on the bus ride over from the hotel, Jaymz Bee, our illustrious leader and host for the Jazz Safari (thru radio station Jazz FM in Toronto) told me of a wine tasting in the Artist’s Tent, where he has a “in” with the “bouncer / head of security” … so with Joshua Redman and Herbie Hancock on the aural menu this evening, I find myself at an oral tasting of Carmel Road wines at the Monterey Jazz Festival. 

Carmel Road is owned by Kendall Jackson, this winery arm of KJ is a sponsor of the festival.  All the grapes from these wines are grown in Monterey.  Pouring the wine tonight is associate brand manager Jillian Lines and she runs me though the three wines being poured this evening, and all through the festival – please note these wines were tasted out of plastic glasses better suited as water vessels than wine glasses, think a slightly larger Dixie cup:

Carmel Road 2009 Pinot Gris ($16.00) - a fairly simple white sipper with aromas of peach and pear, the palate gives up a little more to get excited about: crisp pear and apple but with a slightly bitter finish. (***+)

Carmel Road 2009 Chardonnay ($18.00) – 80% of this wine see 7 months of barrel treatment as well as being fermented in oak.  Thus 20% is done in stainless steel tokeep an element of freshness.  As mentioned the glass was not of the best quality so the sense of smell revealed little to nothing.  The palate was peach and pineapple along with some delicate vanilla notes, there’s also some green apple that shows up with vanilla on the long, tasty finish. (*** ½+)

Carmel Road 2009 Pinot Noir ($20.00) – the best of the three wines was this Pinot Noir, smooth and easy drinking full of juicy black cherry and strawberry fruit on the palate along with white pepper and some vanillin notes, good acidity keeps it from being jammy. (****)

Addendum:  I was emailed by the folks at KJ and they wanted to set the record straight on a very important piece of information about owner of Carmel Road:
"wanted to make sure that you knew more about our ownership as it's easy to make the assumption that Carmel Road is owned by Kendall-Jackson. Both Carmel Road and Kendall-Jackson are separate wine brands owned by the Jackson family. All of the wineries owned by the Jackson family are marketed under the broader concept, Jackson Family Wines, but each remains an independently run winery. Many folks don't realize that Kendall-Jackson and its sister wineries are still family owned, which as you know is a rarity in the wine industry today."

Report from … A Taste of Monterey - September 17, 2011

Stop the presses, what have we here … I am in a shop completely devoted to the grapes (and wines) of Monterey County.  I’m at a little mall on Cannery Row in Monterey, California (700 Cannery Row, Suite KK) called A Taste of Monterey, and I am staring at bottles and bottles of Monterey County wines, from different producers, all in one store – being from Ontario I can barely believe my eyes.  My guide through the wines and the store is a gentleman by the name of Gray and he explains the concept of the store that I am in:

It’s a retail outlet devoted to wines made using Monterey grapes, the winery that made the wines does not have to be located in Monterey, but if they have an offering that uses 100% Monterey grapes they’re in.  The outlet store represents between 80 and 90 different wineries and offers tasting to visitors of some 18 different wines a week (picked by a committee within the store’s hierarchy) – these wines change from week to week, which means within a month and a half they have tasted through all the wines.  Interesting to note, 3 Monterey winery owners, who were not named to me, are partners in this venture, it is also interesting to note that their wineries were not mentioned to me either.  It turns out that they are very careful not to showcase the wines of the owners often to avoid any favoritism, because the store is all about the love of Monterey wines … what an incredible concept this is.

About Monterey … is a cool climate region comprising some 40,000 acres spread out over 9 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Carmel Valley, Arroyo Seco, San Bernabe, Chalone, San Lucas, San Antonio Valley, Hames Valley, Monterey and Santa Lucia Highlands.

The Tasting … I went through the tasting menu with Gray, selected a few wines myself, but in general left the wines I would be tasting in the hands of the man that knew best.  Gray, who poured seven different wines for me wanted to give me good idea of what is being grown and made in Monterey and the styles of wines they produce.  The tasting menu was heavy on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as it seems to be a staple with every Monterey winery (as I learned on my tour the day before).  Highlights of the tasting was Gray’s favourite Chardonnay: Hahn 2009 SLH Estate Chardonnay ($25.00) I was positive that the SLH stood for Select Late Harvest, but Gray corrected me, it stands for Santa Lucia Highlands.  The nose was delightful, full of fruit like peach and pear, wrapped in buttery-vanilla aromas … the palate is so inviting it kept you coming back for more; on the palate it was fresh and crisp with nicely balanced acidity: pear mixed with hints of green apple and yet with a buttery-creaminess in the mouth; it was hard to believe you can keep that nice acidity and still get that great creaminess – welcome to cool climate California Chardonnay … (****+).  Another beauty was the Parsonage Winery 2009 Syrah ($36.00), this winery is known around these parts for their Syrah and I can see (and taste) why.  The nose is red raspberry, white pepper and hints of chocolate; while the palate doles out spice, white pepper, raspberry, black cherry with a real sexy smoothness to the finish (**** ½)  

Other Highlights from the Taste of Monterey Tasting:
Talbott 2009 Kali Hart Pinot Noir ($21.00) - *** ½+
Joyce 2008 Merlot ($20.00) - *** ½+
Tondre 2008 Pinot Noir ($43.00) - ****

Next up: tasting Carmel Road at the Jazz Festival.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Report from … Tasting in Carmel, California (part 2) - September 16, 2011

Bottles of Bernardus wine

Our next stop along the way was to Bernardus, a winery that began because of the owners love for red wines of the Bordeaux region.  The family fortune comes from the owner’s father who became the exclusive importer for German cars (VW, Audi and Porsche) after World War II.  The vineyard area consists of about 300 acres spread over six estates, of which 58 are planted.  Bernardus is not available in Ontario, so you’ll have to live vicariously through these notes.  Stanley, our wine jockey and lexicon about all things Bernardus (and, it seems, Monterey County) took us through a tasting of a dozen or so wines with a real enthusiasm for each and every one, and he was not afraid to point out his favourites along the way and tell us why.  Best White: 2009 Sierra Mar Chardonnay ($40.00) a wine made from grapes in only their third leaf, aged 10 months in a 50/50 blend of new and used French oak.  For a wine made with such young grapes this wine shows some real finesse and delicacy, not overpowered by the wood, there is a real suppleness on the palate and lovely fruit; the piece-de-resistance is the Wurther’s candy finish that just keeps going and going and going (**** ½).  Best Red:  hands down it was the single block, single vineyard 2004 Swan Block Merlot ($125.00), this is a real unique wine for this winery as they do not expect to ever be making such a wine again, but the fruit was just so good this year that the winemaker insisted.  Aged 20 months in a 50/50 blend of oaks (new and used) and then rested 2 years in bottle before release.  Very smooth with blackberry, blueberry, cassis and milk chocolate, still has some nice tannins on the finish (**** ½).  Only 350 cases produced.
Wines Scored – (in Order of Tasting):
Bernardus 2010 Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc ($16.00) - *** ½
Bernardus 2010 Griva Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($20.00) - *** ½
Bernardus 2009 Monterey County Chardonnay ($22.00) - *** ½
Bernardus 2008 Rosella’s Vineyard Chardonnay ($40.00) - *** ½+
Bernardus 2008 Ingrid’s Vineyard Chardonnay ($40.00) - ****+
Bernardus 2009 Sierra Mar Chardonnay ($40.00) - **** ½
Bernardus 2007 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($75.00) - *** ½+
Bernardus 2007 Marinus - Cab Sauv/Merlot/Petit Verdot/Cab Franc ($28.00) - ****+
Bernardus 2004 Swan Block Merlot ($125.00) - **** ½
Front of Morgan's tasting room
Inside the Morgan Tasting room

From there we left Carmel Valley Village and made the drive to Morgan’s tasting room that was located in an open-air mall just outside of Carmel (The Crossroads Shopping Village).  Established in 1982 Morgan is another of the Monterey wineries that specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but also has quite a love-fest going with Rhone-style reds too.  The mall tasting room does not have all the wines produced by Morgan but they have a great cross-section of what they are producing. Deborah, the manager at this location, took us on a tasting tour from light to “heavy” starting with the Sauvignon Blanc and ending with the estate Syrah.  Best wine: 2009 Cotes du Crow’s ($18.00) a 50/50 Rhone-like blend of Syrah and Grenache; lovely raspberry fruit dominated this one from start to finish, soft and easy to drink this one also had silky tannins that made it a pleasant sipper for any time of day (****+).
Wines Scored – (in Order of Tasting):
Morgan 2010 Metallico Chardonnay ($20.00) - *** ½
Morgan 2009 Highland Chardonnay ($26.00) - *** ½
Morgan 2009 Double L Chardonnay ($36.00) - ****
Morgan 2009 Twelve Clones Pinot Noir ($32.00) - *** ½+
Morgan 2009 Cotes du Crow’s ($18.00) - ****+
Morgan 2008 Syrah ($20.00) - ****
Morgan 2008 Double L Syrah ($40.00) - ****

Now it was time to head back to Carmel and see if those tasting rooms were finally open … we started at Galante, and for the second time found the door locked (this time for a bank run), so we hightailed it two blocks over and a block up to Wrath, also located in a mall-type setting, right beside a place called the Cheese Shop on the lower level.  Wrath’s original name was San Saba Vineyards, but the son took it over and was looking for a re-branding of the winery and came up with the rather interesting and memorable name of Wrath, I liked the look of the label but I suspect they get that a lot.  They are mainly a Pinot and Chardonnay house with a smattering of Syrah.  We approached Amy with an hour and a half left in her day and perused the wine list … quite long and very interesting, but we lacked the time to try it all, especially since we had one more tasting room to get to that closed at the same time.  I asked Amy to picked the best of the three kinds of wine they made, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were delightful.  Chardonnay:  2008 San Saba Chardonnay ($49.00) aged in 70% new French, this is the estate vineyard which still keeps the original name; lovely mouthfeel with nice spice on the back palate – tropical fruit, vanilla bean, hazelnut, caramel and lots of sweet buttery notes (****+).  Pinot Noir:  2009 McIntyre Vineyard Pinot Noir ($49.00), a whopping 14.7% alcohol here but it does not show on the nose or the palate.  The nose is blueberry, cherry and cocoa laced with spice and dark fruit on the palate, robust tannin structure and a great long finish seals the deal after every sip (****+).
Wines Scored – (in Order of Tasting):
Wrath 2008 San Saba Chardonnay ($49.00) - ****+
Wrath 2009 McIntyre Vineyard Pinot Noir ($49.00) - ****+
Wrath 2008 Doctor’s Vineyard Syrah – ($39.00) - ****
Wrath 2008 Noble Wrath – late harvest Sauvignon Blanc – ($35.00 / 375ml) - *** ½+

The door to Galante wines
We left Wrath and wondered into the cheese shop for a few minutes to take in the ambiance and try some cheese … imagine if you will a full cheese shop up front with cheeses from around the world, and a well stocked wine shop in the back … the store was equally divided, linking wine and cheese together in the consumer mind.  From there we made the 2 block-1block trek back to Galante for the third time, and this time the door was open.  Here we came in contact with the jovial Ian who already had ‘em lined up at the tasting bar.  He ran us through the Galante history:  J Frank Devendorf, the great great grandfather of the current owners, was the founder of Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1903, their 700 acres was a cattle ranch (and still is to this day) but also grows grapes on 33 of those acres (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir).  We tasted through 6 wines, 2 Pinots, 2 Cabs, a Sauvignon Blanc and the Petite Sirah. Best Wine:  2010 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($25.00), which sees a little wood action (10% of the wine into new French oak for two months).  This was probably the best Sauvignon Blanc I tried the whole trip.  The nose had just a slight whiff of vanilla amongst the grassy lemonade aromas and the palate kept some nice bite from the retained acidity along with melon, lemon, vanilla and grapefruit (****).  Interesting Wine:  I must also mention the 2008 “Cowpoke” Pinot Noir ($12.00), the grapes for this wine are grown some 1800 feet above sea level and 2008 was the year of the Basin fires, the smoke cloud passed over the vineyard during veraison (where the grapes start to change colour), the grapes and subsequent wine took on that really smoky character to a point that is really all you can taste and smell in this wine, great for bbq.  This unique wine defies a score.

That should have concluded my winery tasting in California, but little did I know my days of tasting in California were far from over.

Next up: A Taste of Monterey, wine store and tasting bar.