Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Report from ... Montgras Properties Lunch – March 21, 2011

Santiago "Magazine" Margozzini
Montgras is a name you may have heard, and if not, maybe you’ve seen one of their other properties names adorning a bottle of wine.  Montgras was established in 1992 and since then has added 3 other distinct properties/labels throughout Chile.  Montgras started in the Colchagua Valley then picked up vineyards in Leyda, Maipo and decided to go up in-them-thar-hills in their own backyard with the addition of their Ninquen property (1600ft above sea level) in the Colchague Valley.

Today, we had lunch at Far Niente restaurant and tasted thru 6 different wines (at least one from each property) with head winemaker Santiago Margozzini (or as some of us prefer to call him “Magazine”).  From the Amaral property (in Leyda), home to crisp whites to Ninquen, Montgras and Intriga (in the Maipo) there was not a stinker in the bunch; but of course there are wines that are just more “wow” than others … here are my top three wines.

3) Montgras 2010 Reserva Carmenere ($12.05) – made from 8 to 14 year old vines.  This wine is a real credit to Montgras’ commitment to Carmenere, they were actually the first Chilean winery to release a pure Carmenere wine.  This particular vintage (2010) it is a blend of 87% Carmenere and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose is blackberry, raspberry, chocolate with smoky vanilla notes, while the flavours bring to mind chocolate, black cherry, black berry and hints of spice, plus a lovely long lingering finish. (****+)

2) Intriga 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.95) – made from grapevines that range from 10-50 years of age, with an average age of about 25 years.  Although Santiago (winemaker) kept speaking the mantra of Cabernet Sauvignon being the flagship wine of Montgras I was always intrigued by something else in the line-up, until I got to this one.  This old vines Cab is a single vineyard that Montgras rescued from disarray because the fruit produced here was “extraordinary”, and it is true it has lots of depth of character; it’s one of those wines you lie down and forget about for a few years and then reap the rewards of a forgetful mind.  Nose of mineral, blackberry and spiced cherry, which follows deliciously on the palate with chocolate, black fruit, pepper, spice with a sturdy tannin backbone … it’s only drawback is a medium length finish, but if you give it some time in the cellar you should find that, not only does the wine develop, but the finish will lengthen.  This is the only wine made at this property.  I gave it a 4 star rating at the Vintages Chille/Argentina tasting, but having revisited it and tried it with food I’m bumping that up to 4-plus with a potential to go higher in a few years. (****+)

1) Antu Ninquen 2009 Syrah ($17.95) – made from 9-year-old vines grown in the highlands some 1600 feet above where the regular Montgras vines grow.  A whopping 14.7% alcohol gives this wine heft without overbearing its fruit.  White pepper, raspberry and hints of violets on the nose; on the palate you’ll find pepper, red fruit, blackberry, blackcurrant, spice and some gentle wood flavouring that compliments the wine. This one was truly the best of the lot we tried today. The 2008 came through Vintages a few months ago with little fanfare (though I liked it enough to recommend it quite highly) – this one I would recommend even higher … inviting and intriguing, but most definitely delicious. (**** ½)

As for lunch … here’s what was on the menu:
Caesar with black pepper croutons and house cured bacon
Striploin Steak and Frites with truffled mayonnaise
or ... Grilled Salmon with Israeli cous cous, harissa, cherry tomato
Triple Chocolate Layer Cake with Chantilly Cream

Friday, March 11, 2011

Report from ... Argentina and Chile Taste and Buy - March 10. 2011

After all this wine it's Miller Time ... seriously, a beer is what I wanted after sampling all these wines from these two South American powerhouses, Chile and Argentina: rich, fruity, robust, high alcohol ... no wonder these wines are all the rage, they're so dang good and chuggable.  At some point in the middle of the tasting I just wanted to get a full glass, sit in a corner and start speaking Latin American in whatever dialect I was suppose to converse in.

Okay, let's get serious for a second, there were some really good wines being poured, and I took this opportunity to taste the wines not in Vintages or on the General List - I figured I could taste those any day.  No, tonight I was going for those limited edition, pay-50%-down-tonight-get-'em-in-six-months wines;  basically, the ones I may never get to try again, unless I'm invited back next year.

The room was broken down into half Chile (on the left) and Argentina (on the right) - with a divider down the middle called "Wine Discoveries" - here you could learn about certain regions, different grape types, or non-traditional grape varieties (like Torrentes, big there but not here) - I was sad to see no Bonarda station, which is due for its day in the sun - great value wines that have tons of fruit ... oh well maybe next year.

Chile ... (Top Chilean Wines)

Cono Sur keeps impressing and their 2009 Ocio Pinot Noir ($59.95) did just that.  For a hot country Pinot this was amazingly interesting both nose and palate-wise: lovely raspberry note with plenty of spice ... what really stood out was the great spiced finish. (****+)

Montes, another always impressive producer, poured their 2007 Alpha M ($79.00) with lovely mocha, coffee and spice on the nose followed by chocolate, black currant and a long spicy finish.  This one needs some time to open up more fully, but she`s a beauty already. (****+)

I have a bottle of the 2005 Clos Apalta (by Casa Lapostolle) somewhere in my cellar, I was advised not to even think about it till 2015, which means for now the Casa Lapostolle 2008 Clos Apalta ($114.95) will have to do: spice, chocolate, fig and big black fruit - smooth and delicious. (****)

The Rest of the Best from Chile ...
Concha Y Toro 2008 Terrunyo Vineyard Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95) - lovely mint and black cherry with a wood spice finish. (****)
Errazuriz 2008 Single Vineyard Syrah ($19.95) - incredibly smooth with its raspberry, cherry, blackberry and hint of spice. (****)
MontGras 2008 Intriga Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95) - big bouquet of fruit and spice waft up the nose while leaving the same on the palate especially those cinnamon and blackberry bits. (****)

Argentina ... (Top Argentine Wines)

While many of the Chilean producers previously mentioned are household names, the Argentinean ones were quite foreign, but should soon be on everyone lips.  Like who is Dominio del Plata?  Well they made the best wine of the night (Susana Balbo - winemaker and owner) with the 2007 Benmarco Expresivo ($34.95), a blend of Malbec, Bonarda, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat.  Expresivo is a good name for it, while the nose seemed bi-dimensional: blackberry and spice - the palate expressed all the goods, creamy smoothness with milk chocolate, cherries and some kick from the tannins and spice ... I finished the night with a glass of this and didn`t spit a drop. (**** 1/2+)

Then there`s the Bodega Colome (who?) with their 2007 Estate Reserve Malbec ($84.95), this puppy had chocolate mocha from beginning to end ... I have a sweet tooth so that kinda flavour and smell really appeals to me, but it had more than just that to appeal to other tastes too. (**** 1/2)

Now Kaiken, while not a household name, has been in the market for some time, their Malbec is a Vintages Essential for good reason ($14.95 and worth it).  Their 2007 Mai ($89.95), also 100% Malbec, is a step way up, complexity up the ying-yang with minty notes, a mix of red and black fruit, vanilla, and chocolate ... the palate seems a little tight at the moment, you really have to work at getting the pepper, chocolate and black cherry - but it`s worth the effort - given time this one`ll come around nicely. (**** 1/2)

The Rest of the Best from Argentina ...

Graffigna 2008 Santiago ($34.95) - blends Malbec with Cabernet Sauvigon and Shiraz and delivers a flair of flavour on the tongue: raspberry steeped in cassis with vanilla extract. (****)
Catena Zapata 2008 Alta Chardonnay ($39.95) - known more for Malbecs and Cabs this winery delivered the goods with this powerful yet elegant Chardonnay: fruit, butter, vanilla cream - smooth and delicious (****)

Discoveries from Both Sides of the Andes ...
Zuccardi brought a 2004 Q Malbec (Argentina) from his personal cellar, just to prove Malbec can age well ... this was woody with black currant notes and a spiced wood finish ... no marks given but for academic purposes this was a very educational and interesting wine to taste.

Gewurztraminer fans should check out the Tilia Torrentes ($12.95 - Argentina) found on the General List; it`s floral dominant and good value.

Concha Y Toro 2008 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95 - Chile) is worth picking up for its delicious mint, blackberry and black cherry on both nose and palate.  Stock up for summer as it`s 2 bucks off ($17.95) till the end of the month (March)

And finally, the just released Vina Leyda 2009 Las Brisa Vineyard Pinot Noir ($16.95 - Chile) is a forgotten gem from the March 5 release - high toned fruit with wonderful raspberry notes, smells just scream out of the glass and continue onto the palate ... worth discovering at that price.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Report from … Cuvee Experts’ Tasting – Saturday March 5, 2011

It’s always from to sit in a room with like-minded individuals to taste wines and learn a few things in the process.  The Saturday after the Cuvee Gala is the Experts’ Tasting where a writer (like myself) gets to rub shoulders with winemakers, winery owners, restaurateurs, sommeliers and other industry insiders.  This year’s tasting focused on Chardonnay, a wine I am becoming more and more intimately familiar with, especially since the beginning of the year, having taken part in the judging for the Seriously Cool Chardonnay and the two tasting that followed.

This morning’s keynote speaker, at 10:10am on a Saturday morning, was Peter Gamble, who was feeling the effects of a self-admitted bender of “two bottles of Ontario Chardonnay” the night before to “focus his thoughts” on the subject, proceeded to deliver the best Charlie Sheen impression I’ve seen since the “winning” actor delivered his latest interview – as he hunched over his notes at the podium, he seemed at times to ramble and be incoherent.  I'm pretty sure he was discussing Chardonnays from around the world starting in Ontario and moving to Chardonnay powerhouses like the U.S., Australia and of course Burgundy, then back to Ontario.  He, of course, was pro-Ontario, but his thoughts never seemed to gel and become cohesive.  Those must have been two really good bottles of Chardonnay.

We then went on to tasting Chardonnays in 4 flights: The Many Faces of …, Aged …, Class of 2009 and Class of 2008.  As with any flight of wines I had my favourites in each category:

Many Faces of Chardonnay - 8 wines tasted (a variety of oaked, unoaked, sparkling and other forms of Chardonnay) …
1)    Cave Spring 2004 Blanc de Blanc
2)    Henry of Pelham 2008 Reserve Chardonnay
3)    Stoney Ridge 2008 Charlotte Chardonnay Unoaked

Aged Chardonnay - 7 wines tasted (from 1998 – 2005) …
1)    Flat Rock 2005 Chardonnay
2)    Henry of Pelham 2004 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Class of 2009 - 5 wines tasted (the newest vintages from Ontario) …
1)    Pondview 2009 Bella Terra Chardonnay
2)    Niagara College Teaching Winery 2009 Dean’s List Chardonnay

Class of 2008 - 7 wines tasted (read above to get the idea) …
1)    Tawse 2008 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay
2)    Le Clos Jordanne 2008 Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Chardonnay

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Report from ... Cuvee 2011: the Winners and Losers - March 4, 2011

It was the night for the Ontario wine industry to shine, Cuvee 2011 - the only wine judging competition where the winemakers judge each other for top prize.  Think of it as the Oscars of the Ontario wine industry.  Below you will find the winners in all 22 categories, and in some categories there were also a 2nd and 3rd place finisher, to see those you can visit www.cuvee.ca in the next few days and get the skinny on  those wines too.  But there were also a couple of notable losers at this year's event.

Loser #1 - the Ontario wine consumers who purchased tickets to Cuvee ... the ticket price was $200 for this year's event and yet the consumers who sipped there way through Ontario's best wines had to do so out of a sub-par glass.  It was the same glass that was used at the icewine gala, it wasn't good for that event and it certainly was not appropriate for this one either.  Please tell me that for the $200 price tag organizers could not have got in touch with Riedel, Spiegelau or Schott Zwiesel to inquire about a commemorative glass for attendees to take home, and more importantly, a glass they could actually get some enjoyment from.  It makes me wonder if the folks who organize these events have ever drunk a glass of wine. When I chose an ISO glass over the horrible glassware being offered (see picture of glass in my report from the icewine gala) you know it has to be bad.  This is an easily rectifiable problem, I sure hope they fix it for next year's event.
Loser #2 - the government official who has to give out awards ... this year it was Kim Craitor, MPP for Niagara Falls who showed up to a tepid response from the crowd.  He proceeded to make few corny jokes and tried to get the industry on his side with a few platitudes about how great the Ontario wine industry is.  But when he tells a room of industry people how important the wine industry and Ontario wines are to the government and extols the virtues of bringing tourism dollars to Ontario ... then tells them that the government is behind them 100% ... it's like watching a rock band where the lead singer tells you how wonderful it is to be in that particular city - sure it's great to hear "it's great to be back in Boston" but does he really mean it?  I was left wondering if the wine industry is so important to Kim Craitor and this government why don't they lax some of the laws that handcuff our wineries and give them better access to market their product?  I am sure Kim kept wondering if the mic was on while he told us how much he loved and supported Ontario wines. The mic was on Kim, your words just didn't ring true.

But enough politics and wine glass bashing ... let's get to the winners.

Cuvee 2011 Winners:
some wines are linked back to full reviews

Red Wine:  Thirty Bench Winemakers 2007 Small Lot Cabernet Franc
Limited Edition Red:  Megalomaniac 2007 Sous Terre Cabernet Merlot Reserve
White Wine:  Riverview Cellars 2009 Gewurztraminer
Limited Edition White:  Creekside Estate Winery 2009 Reserve Viognier
General List Red:  EastDell Estates 2009 Black Cab
General List White:  Jackson Triggs 2009 Black Series Sauvignon Blanc
Sparkling Wine:  13th Street Winery NV Premier Cuvee
Sweet Wine:  Inniskillin 2008 Riesling Icewine
Limited Edition Sweet Wine:  Strewn 2008 Riesling Icewine
Meritage:  Henry of Pelham 2007 Reserve Cabernet Merlot
Cabernet Sauvignon:  Strewn 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir
Cabernet Franc:  Thirty Bench Winemakers 2007 Small Lot Cabernet Franc
Merlot:  Hillebrand 2007 Showcase Merlot 'Carlton Vineyard'
Syrah/Shiraz:  Jackson Triggs 2007 Delaine Vineyard Syrah
Red Assemblage:  Nyarai Cellars 2007 Veritas
Riesling:  Twenty Twenty-Seven Cellars 2009 Fox Croft Riesling
Sauvignon Blanc: Creekside Estate Winery 2009 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
Chardonnay:  Niagara College 2009 Dean's List Chardonnay
White Assemblage:  Stonechurch Vineyards 2009 Quintet White
Gewurztraminer: Riverview Cellars 2009 Gewurztraminer
Viognier: Creekside Estate Winery 2009 Reserve Viognier
Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio: Five Rows Craft Wine 2009 Pinot Gris

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Report from ... California Media Preview - March 1, 2011

Well ... after tasting through the 66 wines at the Media Preview tasting for the upcoming annual California Wine Show (April 4, 2011 at the Royal York) - I think I can safely say that the Golden State has given up on trying to impress us with Cabernet and Chardonnay and instead is focusing on little known, little used grape varieties and wacky / Meritage blends.  Why do I say that?  Because 1 of 8 Chardonnays was impressive enough to give a score to and only 9 of 27 Cabernets were.  While Pinot Noir and Zinfandel garnered a 50% scoring ratio, the "others" and "blends" categories picked up 100% of the slack, not only impressing, but making you want a second and third glass just to make sure.  The California industry is mastering the art of the blend, using whatever is on the pantry shelf, and I for one am enjoying it.

Chardonnay ...

Patz & Hall Wine Co. 2008 Chardonnay (Private Order) - sweet fruit with a touch of caramel, butter and pear, nice blend of fruit with the barrel notes. (*** 1/2)

Pinot Noir (top 3) ...
Lucas & Lewellan 2008 Pinot Noir - Goodchild High 9 Vineyard (Private Order) - sweet cherry, raspberry and vanilla on the nose; ripe cherry and vanilla on the palate. (****+)
Santa Barbara Winery 2009 Pinot Noir (Consignment) - quiet nose with nice fruit flavour and good acidity. (****+)
La Crema 2009 Pinot Noir - Russian River (Consignment) - sweet fruit flavour, very red and very yummy. (****)

Zinfandel (top 3) ...
Cline Cellars 2008 Big Break Zinfandel (Private Order) - this one's got the goods, big fruit, plum, cherry, chocolate ... lots of plum though, plus 15.5% alcohol. (****+)
Pedroncelli Winery 2008 Zinfandel, Mother Clone (N/A) - fruit is there but leaves grit and tannins behind; think dark plums and black cherries with vanilla bean grit, another biggie at 15.7% alcohol. (****)
Seghesio Winery 2009 Home Ranch Zinfandel (Vintages) - heavy on the raspberry and chocolate; big fruit with raspberry and pepper on the palate. (****)

Cabernet Sauvignon (top 4) ...
Freemark Abbey 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Consignment) - stood heads and tails above the competition, with a bonus, it's already 8 years old.  Juicy with concentrated cherry, strawberry, mocha and toast, still with good tannin backbone. (**** 1/2+)
Trinchero 2008 Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (Vintages - July 2011) - jammy red fruit, cherry, raspberry, more cherry and some cocoa. (**** 1/2)
Lucas & Lewellan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Private Order) - nice mix of red and black fruit with chocolate/mocha backing. (****)
Oakville Ranch 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (N/A) - sweet black fruit, chocolate and plum, big 15% alcohol; tasted more Zin-like than Cabernet. (****+)

Blends (top 4) ...
Paul Dolan 2008 Deep Red (Consignment) - a cool blend of bio-dynamically grown Petite Sirah / Primitivo / Syrah and Grenache; chocolate, cherry, plum, black fruit with nice tannins on the finish, gritty but good; and nice length too. (**** 1/2+)
Miner Family 2006 The Oracle (Consignment) - chocolate and dark fruit, nice heft that allows it to age well, wait 2-3 years before popping the cork; blend uses all 5 Bordeaux varieties. (**** 1/2)
Dry Creek Vineyard 2006 Mariner (N/A) - another 5 Bordeaux varietal blend, raspberry and cherry with a mocha fruit. (****+)
Hess Collection 2007 19 Block Cuvee (Vintages - April 12, 2011) - a different kind of blend using Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Syrah / Merlot and Petit Verdot there's a complexity here that makes it very appealing; mocha, coffee, blackberry and a decent, yet not too astringent amount of tannins. (****)
Special Mention: Snap Dragon 2007 Red Blend (LCBO - $13.95) - sweet sipper for around the BBQ this summer, pick up a few and enjoy. (*** 1/2)

Others ...
Foppiano Vineyards 2008 Petite Sirah (Vintages - Fall 2011) - rich raspberry with a touch of white pepper; big tannins with a jammy finish.  Lush and fun at 15.2% alcohol. (****+)
Duckhorn 2008 Merlot (Vintages - April 2, 2011) - not sure when Merlot became such an also-ran but this is textbook Cali-Merlot: smooth and supply with lovely cherry and blueberry notes; a totally sippable and indulgent. Merlot. (****+)
Quady 2009 Elysium Black Muscat (N/A) - great dessert all on its own sweet, supple and seductive; total panty remover at 15% alcohol. (****)