Saturday, April 30, 2011

Report from ... California Wine Fair 2011 – April 4, 2011

Lots of glad-handing and back-slapping on this day … the LCBO thanked California wines for making them so much money … California wines thanked the LCBO for making them a lot of money … and it was quite a different lunch time keynote than I expected.  In past years it has been a winemaker or winery owner with vision or insight (or both) speaking about the past, the present and/or the future of the California wine industry.  Instead, today’s lunch featured Lindsey Gallagher (Director of International Marketing) who told us what is to come in the marketing of California wines as the Californians strive for world domination (when it comes to wine anyway); instead of just being satisfied with their number one status in the LCBO’s Vintages section (first time ever that France has not been top of the pops).  I found this year’s lunch and speech disappointing, but the wines I tried more than made up for the mediocre lunch and sis-boom-bah rah-rah-rah-Cali-Forn-Ia talk.

With well over 450 wines in the room there was no way to try everything, but I tried something from each table (or so I though) and here are my findings, listed alphabetically by winery (with selected notes) …

Key to the stars:
3.5 (Good) – 4 (Very Good) – 4.5 (Excellent) – 5 (Outstanding)
bold denotes favourite

Artesa Winery 2009 Carneros Chardonnay – vanilla and peach take hold here, the fruit and the wood are very much in unison. (****)
Artesa Winery 2007 Elements Cabernet Sauvignon – delicious Cab with lots of red and black fruit. (****+)
Bell Wine Cellars 2007 Big Guy Red – a blend of 57% Syrah, 25% Merlot and 4 other grapes … very fruit forward. (*** ½+)
Bennett Lane Winery 2006 Maximus – chocolaty note with soft black fruit and a hint of spice. (****)
Bogle Vineyards 2007 Phantom – lots of spicy tannins, like this wine every year, it's fun blend of Petit Syrah, Zinfandel and Mourvedre. (****+)
Bonny Doon Vineyard 2009 Contra, Carignane Blend – rich in fruit like blackberry with nice spice and good acidity to balance out the playful fruit. (****)
Darioush Winery 2007 Merlot – juicy red fruit, lovely. (****+)
Delicato Family Vineyards 2009 Gnarly Head Zinfandel – vanilla and cherry cola notes. (****+)
Delicato Family Vineyards 2008 181 Merlot – juicy black fruit with nice spice. (*** ½)
Dry Creek Vineyard 2008 Heritage Zinfandel – plum, black cherry, cassis, a little bit of an herbal note and some nice spice. (****)
E&J Gallo Winery 2009 Apothic Red – this is such a playful bottle of wine for any occasion, the blend is Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot, lots of raspberry/strawberry on the nose; palate is chocolate and red fruit, juicy and jammy … delicious and uncomplicated, don’t get hung up here that it keeps a little sweetness amongst the fruit, this is just a fun wine, period the end. (****+)
Eberle Winery 2008 Syrah – black fruit and smoke, a little leathery on the finish. (*** ½+)
Ehret Family Winery 2006 Bella’s Blend – 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, the rest equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc; chocolate, smoke and black cherry. (****)
Folio Fine Wine Partners 2009 Spellbound Chardonnay – vanilla, pear, peach and apple; this is a fruit bomb in Chardonnay form. (****)
Hess Collection Winery 2009 Artezin Zinfandel – back to form from the first year I tasted it: black cherry and vanilla take center stage. (****)
Justin 2008 Syrah – sold out at the winery and no wonder, this wine is really very good, so good I wrote very good twice. (****+)
Kenneth Volk Vineyards 2008 Enz Vineyard Zinfandel – made from 113 year old vines; lots of plum and vanilla. (****+)
Lockwood Vineyards 2008 Block 7 Pinot Noir – nice alluring red fruit nose, strawberry fruit flavours, real nice. (****)
Lucas & Lewellan Vineyards 2008 Goodchild High 9 Pinot Noir – stunningly good red fruit flavour here with lots of juicy cherry. (****+)
Lucas & Lewellan 2007 Syrah – blackberry, white pepper and a little smoked meat. (****)
Paul Dolan 2008 Deep Red – lots of interesting grapes: Petit Sirah, Primitivo, Syrah, Grenache; matches with the interesting flavours dark fruit, cherry, vanilla, cinnamon and spice. (****+)
Peachy Canyon 2008 Westside Zinfandel – spice and red fruit lead the charge. (****+)
Peachy Canyon 2008 Incredible Red Zinfandel – smooth and plumy. (****)
Peachy Canyon 2009 Chronic Cellars Zinfandel "Purple Paradise" – this is a fun label with a lot of tasty wines under its belt and what about that name - Chronic in one hand, good times in the other. (****)
Pedroncelli Winery 2008 Mother Clone Zinfandel – red plum, spice and vanilla. (****+)
Pedroncelli Winery 2007 Alto Vineyards Sangiovese – red fruit and mocha notes. (****)
Peju 2006 Merlot – juicy middle with a spicy finish. (****)
Perry Creek Vineyards 2008 Zinman Zinfandel – plum and vanilla, though not heavily fruity like many Zins. (****+)
Peter Franus 2007 Brandlin Zinfandel – made from 80 year old vines, raspberry, plum and vanilla with a cherry-vanilla finish that has enough spice to keep it interesting. (**** ½)
Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery 2008 Zinfandel – raspberry, chocolate, plum and black fruits galore. (****+)
Stags’ Leap Winery 2007 Ne Cede Malis – a blend of Petit Sirah, Syrah, Genache and Viognier; nice floral notes with some smoked meat and black fruit. (****+)
Chimney Rock 2007 Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – only 250 cases made of this lush single vineyard Cab. (****+)
Vine Cliff Winery 2007 Rock Block Cabernet Sauvignon – dark fruit, vanilla, plum and delicately spiced. (*** ½+)


Friday, April 22, 2011

Report from ... The Green Living Show, Bio Vino Expo - April 15, 2011

The Green Living Show was not all about wine, it's about living life without leaving a big carbon footprint behind, it's about sustainability, bio-dynamics, organics, living lightly on the land, living off the land, giving back to the land ... oh heck, for me it was about the wine ... there weren't as many on display for tasting as there were last year and that's probably best because last year got a little over-whelming; this time out there was a nice manageable number of wines - and some really good ones, many garnering 3 1/2 stars or higher ... here were my top international Bio Wine selections:

Cono Sur 2009 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.95 - Chile) - ****+
Domaine des Cognettes, Granite de Clisson 2004 Melon de Bourgogne, Nantes ($20.95 - France) - ****+
Monty Waldin 2009 Monty's Tuscan Red ($18.95 - Italy) - ****
Bodegas Cecchin 2009 Malbec ($12.95 - Argentina) - ****
Collefrisio 2009 Montelpulciano D'Abruzzo ($17.95 - Italy) - *** 1/2+
Domaine Breton Bourgueil "Trinch" 2009 Cabernet Franc ($19.85 - France) - *** 1/2
Temple Bruer Wines 2010 Preservative Free Cabernet-Merlot ($23.95 - Australia) - *** 1/2
Richard Plains 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($17.95 - New Zealand) - *** 1/2
Cono Sur 2010 Riesling ($9.95 - Chile) - *** 1/2
Cono Sur 2010 Reserva Carmenere Rosé ($11.95 - Chile) - *** 1/2

Also looking forward to the 2010 Cono Sur Viognier, a perennial favourite at $9.95 ... it's summer in a glass.

Beer at the Bio ...

There were also a small contingent of local breweries in attendance (6) and I sampled a bit of suds just to keeps things level:

- Better Bitters Brewing Company makes Nickel Brook and my favourites here were:
Green Apple Pilsner (need I say more) & the Maple Porter (creamy coffee with a hint of maple)

- Mill Street makes quite a few beers, especially the ones that are their brew-pub exclusives, best of the batch here:
Franconian Bock (slightly sweet) & Lemon Tea Beer (lemony tea no doubt, odd but nice)

- Muskoka Cottage Brewery had three to sample and two proved to be very tasty:
Weiss (nice citrus and vanilla notes) & Dark Ale (coffee nuances)

Report from ... WWCC Virtual Winery Tasting - April 15, 2011

One of the most interesting Wine Writers' of Canada Circle tasting in some time saw us trying wine from 10 different virtual wineries (wineries without property or retail space to call their own) and talking with 9 principals from these new labels:
Peter Graham, Kevin Panagapka, Ilya Senchuk, Steve Byfield, Nicole Speranzini, Jeff Hundertmark, Charles Baker
Thomas Bachelder - Bachelder Wines
Charles Baker - Charles Baker Wines
Steve Byfield - Nyarai Cellars
Peter Graham - Five Suns
Jeff Hundertmark - 100 Marks
Kevin Panagapka - 20-27 Cellars
Nicole Speranzini - Mike Weir Winery
Ilya Senchuk - Leaning Post Winery
Andrew von Teichman - Generations Wine Company
not personally in attendance, but his wine was there - Paul Ross

Each winemaker or winery principal introduced themselves and their project, many based on single varietals (or at least they started out that way).  And all with one goal, to one day open their own bricks and mortar winery ... or almost all.

A Few Lines About Virtually Anything ...
Nicole, Jeff, Thomas, Andrew, Charles
Charles Baker - started in 2005, one of the first of the next generation of virtuals in Ontario; 100% single vineyard Riesling focused; makes only one wine a year.

Andrew von Teichman - partnered with Alan Jackson to make Union wines, LCBO based brand; makes blends from 100% Ontario grapes; whites and red currently on the general list.

Thomas Bachelder - former winemaker of le Clos Jordanne now on his own, playing negocient in 3 regions: Niagara, Oregon, Burgundy ... all Chardonnay based; coming out September 2011; maximum production 3000 cases (100 from each region).

Jeff Hundertmark - winemaker at Marynissen; single vineyard Pinot Noir based label; will add white in 2011; projected release in 2012.

Nicole Speranzini - winery began in 2005 and was established to help the Mike Weir Foundation; wines made at Chateau des Charmes; 20,000 cases from 5 varietals; new home is imminent which will take them out of the virtual realm.
Peter, Kevin, Ilya, Steve, Nicole
Steve Byfield - established in 2008; cellar master at Calamus; Sauvignon Blanc focus, also makes blended white and red as the vintage dictates; close to 1000 cases total production.

Ilya Senchuk - worked at Lenko since 2002, now with Foreign Affair, Pinot Noir based label, buys fruit from Lowry Estate, adding Riesling and Merlot to the line; purchased 11 acre property to grow his own grapes ... planting begins in 2012; wines coming out late summer or early fall 2011.

Kevin Panagapka - established in 2007; focuses on single vineyard wines; started out with Riesling (from Featherstone Vineyard) and Pinot Noir from his own plot of land; names comes from his grower number (2027); looking at making a sparkling in the future; main intent is to find the difference terroir makes if all other variables remain constant.

Peter Graham - assistant at Lailey Vineyard; virtual based out of Cattail Creek; owned by Gina Edwards; currently an '09 Pinot Noir and 2010 Sauvignon Blanc; sources fruit from different vineyards; Peter joined the team at the beginning of 2011 taking over from Marc Bradshaw.

Choice Quotes ...
Facing the Firing Squad: Kevin P., Ilya S., Steve B.
"If you're making 1000 cases or less it's better to be virtual, the only problem is you don't own your wine."  Kevin P.

About the stigma of being a Virtual Winery:
"When you drink a bottle from New Zealand, Australia, California or where ever do you think whether it's a virtual winery or not?  No, it's a bottle of wine and it's what's in that bottle that counts.  Stop limiting yourselves."  Thomas B.

On the ownership of vineyards and ties to the land:
"We walk those vineyards [where they have contracted fruit from] before and after our day jobs so we are tied to those vineyards."  Peter G.
"Worst thing about being a virtual winery is you don't own your own vineyards; best thing about being a virtual winery is you don't own your own vineyards." Thomas B.
"It's a combination of the vineyard, the owner (the person) and the relationship we build with the land and the people."  Charles B.

Why Virtuals and vital to the industry and established wineries:
"Virtuals provide another revenue stream for their home winery, one that they did not have before."  Nicole S.

A Few Lines About a Few Wines ... wines to watch for
(Because many of these wines are barrel samples all marks are preliminary scores, final scores will be based on the finished product)

Leaning Post 2009 Riesling - "Tank Sample" (~$25.00)
Spent 15 months on lees, has a nose of melon and lemon rind; creamy mouthfeel with lemon drop, a hint of vanilla and sweet peach; nice acidity with a lingering finish.  (****)

Five Suns 2009 Pinot Noir - "Tank Sample" (no price given)
Nose of raspberry and red licorice; palate has sour cherry, anise and nice tannins, there is a slight sweetness to the wine. (*** 1/2)

100 Marks 2010 Pinot Noir - "Barrel Sample" (~$35.00 - 40.00)
Currently only 5 months in barrel, deeper colour than expected from a Pinot, big sweet fruit, dark and rich flavours: dark raspberry notes; this is truly one to watch as it is drinking beautifully right now. (****+)

A tasting of the two virtual vintages (2008 & 2009) ...
"It's nice to have a few vintages to compare, that's the benefit to doing this for a few years. " Kevin P.

The following is a vertical tasting between the two Queenston Road Vineyard Pinot Noirs as done by Kevin Panagapka of 2027 Cellars

2008 - sour cherry, raspberry, cranberry and a hint of nutmeg
2009 - dark sour cherry fruit but is still a bit closed because of its youth.

2008 - sour red cherry, good spice with cinnamon notes, decent tannins with some sweet red berries on the mid-palate ... light and easy drinking. (Sold Out)
2009 - dark sour cherry follows from the nose; the fruit, spice and tannins meld nicely together on the finish with good flavours and good length.  '09 was a Pinot year and it really shows in this bottle.

Report from ... PMA Canada Chairman's Gala - April 12, 2011

The day started with a Malbec seminar, sponsored by Bodegas Norton, one of Argentina's top five exporters of wine, making 12 million bottles a year.  Founded by James Norton in 1895 the winery has been in continuous operation for 116 years.  In 1989 the winery was purchased by Gernot Langes Swarovski (yes the crystal company guy) and that changed the direction and fortunes of this winery immensely in the years that have followed.  We tasted through the Malbec based wines, 5 in total, plus a special cellar Malbec from 1974 (still had good flavour if a bit over the hill).  The best wine poured was the Norton 2008 Reserve Malbec which spends 12 months in oak and 10 more months in bottle before release.  The nose was smoky, mainly dark fruited with red licorice, and red raspberry; palate showed smoky notes, chocolate, dark berries that veered red with lots of aeration - there was just so much going on in there that it was hard to get a handle on everything, but one thing was certain, it was delicious and perfect for drink-now or holding-on-to (****+) ... big alcohol (14.7%) made it seem sweet with lovely fruit.

The next seminar was a Pinot tasting by Anne Moller-Racke of Donum Estate ... she made two very interesting statements about Pinot over the years and what she has learned:  1) "Pinot needs to be done in small lots", because mass produced Pinots lack the character that small lot, single vineyard Pinots have.  2) The popularity of Pinot has exploded in California, "years ago I was paying $400 per ton, today it's $6000 per ton."  As for the wines poured, there were 7 in total, all Pinots, all small production from single vineyard or smaller plots / lots.  Two really good examples that stood out were the Donum 2008 Thomas Carneros Pinot Noir, from a specific block of the Ferguson Vineyard: a nose of floral and red berries followed by a palate of violets, cran-cherry and a slightly stony finish (****+).  The other wine was the Donum 2008 West Slope Carneros Pinot Noir, a stunning mix of fruit, spice and finish, the wine rides the tongue delicately yet deliciously all the way to the finish. (**** 1/2).

As for the Gala tasting itself, over 65 wines were poured and the ones I will tell you about here ranged from very good to excellent. The rating scale is in stars and they equal as follows: 3 1/2 (good), 4 (very good), 4 1/2 (excellent) and 5 (outstanding).  The wines are presented here in booklet tasting order (as they appear in the informational booklet handed out) ...

Pongracz Sparkling ($18.95 - South Africa) - clean and fresh with a hint of that South African terroir which gives this wine a pleasant toasty flavour instead of that funky tarry-earthy note. (*** 1/2+)

Osborne Pedro Ximinez 1827 Sherry ($17.20 - Spain) - my sweet tooth kicked in here with its lovely toffee and raisin pie notes; sweet, thick and sinful. (****+)

Offley Colheita 1997 Port ($35.00 - Portugal) - cherries and spice load up the nose, long candied-mandarin-orange finish ... yum (****+)

Georg Breuer 2008 Terra Montosa ($29.95 - Germany) - stony and sweet all at the same time: green apple, lime and peach fruit mingle nicely together. (*** 1/2+)

Nugan Estate 2009 Manuka Grove Durif ($29.95 - Australia) - sweet plum palate with a raspberry fruit finish (*** 1/2+)

Korta 2009 Gran Reserva Petit Verdot ($26.95 - Chile) - good fruit with a hint of spice and a nice finish. (****)

Sokol Blosser Estate 2008 Pinot Noir
($65.00 - Oregon, USA) - nose of vanilla bean, coffee and spice; the palate is the real winner here combining earthy notes with the vanilla, coffee and some spiced-cranberry. (****)

Tianna Negre Ses Nines Tinto 2010 ($24.95 - Spain) - lovely red fruit, sweet cherry, red licorice, plum and red berries; sweet red fruit finish. (****+)

Norton 2005 Predriel Single Vineayard ($69.95 - Argentina) - blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvigon and Merlot with black cherry, chocolate, black plum, cocoa/mocha notes and a nice, slightly herbed finish. (****+)

Villa Maria 2007 Single Vineyard Seddon Pinot Noir ($59.95 - New Zealand) - cran-cherry with delicious spice, real finesse of red fruit on the finish with a touch of cinnamon spice. (****+)

Montrouge Gogondas "La Petit Colline" 2009 ($34.95 - France) - spiced raspberry with nice red fruit, mineral and slight hit of tobacco. (*** 1/2+)

Moncaro 2010 Le Vele Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico ($13.95 - Italy) - a stunningly delicious white wine loaded with lovely tropical fruit along with pear and lime; best white wine of the day. (****+)

Nugan Estate 2008 McLaren Vale Parish Vineyard Shiraz ($24.95 - Australia) - cherry, plum with big fruit burst on the nose with each subsequent swirl of the glass; mouth also had a fruit explosion with a lovely red fruit finish along with lovely mouth-filling hints of chocolate. (****)

Allianca Quinta Dos Quatro Reserva ($59.95 - Portugal) - sweet cherry and plum on the nose, spiced-plum with a hefty tannin finish. (****+)

Villa Maria 2010 Taylor's Pass Sauvignon Blanc ($34.95 - New Zealand) - lovely sweet fruit reminiscent of grapefruit cocktail. (*** 1/2+)

Finally, Innis & Gunn poured three beers that really impressed, one specially brewed for Canada Day 2011 ... the other two:
- Original Oak Aged Beer
- Rum Cask Aged Beer
all three available at the LCBO, the Canada Day beer is a limited edition that will be available soon.

Report from ... Vinexx Portfolio Tasting - April 13, 2011

Second tasting of the day.  First was in Toronto (Somewherness), this one is on the way home, in Oakville and is the Vinexx Portfolio tasting - seems like I'll go anywhere to sip a glass of something interesting.  Vinexx is based out of Hamilton and has a portfolio that covers the big ports-of-call for wine-lovers: France, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, California ... today's tasting consisted of wines mainly available at the LCBO with a few consignment / private order wines thrown in for good measure.  Wines were arranged by table number, starting with bubblies, then two tables of whites and three of reds, by my count there were 42 in total - here were my favourites listed here by table number.

Table 1 ... Bubbles and Rosés
Of 4 bubbles and 2 rosés at this table the Caves Bailly Lapierre Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Reserve ($17.95 - LCBO) was far and way the best bottle here.  Made from Pinot Noir (40%), Gamay (10%), Chardonnay (40%) and Aligote (10%) - good fruit aromas and flavours, this is a good bubble for the price, light and airy across the tongue. (****)

Table 2 ... White Wine Part 1
A no-brainer here as the Alois Lageder 2009 Pinot Grigio DOC ($18.95 - LCBO) was a delicious version of a Grigio, exactly what one looks for with this wine style. (*** 1/2+)

Table 3 ... White Wine Part 3
Riesling fans would be very happy with the Studert Prum 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett ($18.95 - LCBO) with its slightly sweet nose and palate, lovely fruit and some slate notes, especially on the palate. (*** 1/2+)

Table 4 ... Red Wine Part 1
I probably would have sided with the Casa Girelli wines here (Syrah and Primitivo), but they are sealed under plastic cork, so bottle variation over time will be a big problem (I don't trust plastic cork); so instead opted to be a fan of the Villa Cafaggio 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG ($34.95 - private order), it had plenty going for it: raspberry, spice, cinnamon, big tannins, dark cherries, rustic in the a very appealing way. (*** 1/2+)

Table 5 ... Red Wine Part 2
This stop on the Vinexx-Table-Tour tied for best table (with Table 6) with three wines, but at this stop they scored four-plus stars versus the three 4 star wines at Table 6; making Table 5 the best table to visit tonight:
E. Guigal 2007 Cotes du Rhone ($16.95 - LCBO) - a dark-fruit forward Cote-du-Rhone with good acidity and matches well with food or on its own (I've done both with this very wine in the recent past). (****+)
Cases de la Ermita 2008 Roble Jumilla ($13.95 - LCBO) - smooth and silky with red licorice, plum, chocolate and white pepper; good value. (****+)
Cline Cellars 2009 Ancient Vines Mourvedre ($18.95 - LCBO) - lovely plumy sweetness, lush and plush and ready for BBQ ribs and other grilled meats. (****+) 

Table 6 ... Red Wine Part 3
Another three wine table, here they scored the same mark of 4 stars:
Roux Pere et Fils 2009 Volnay Vieilles Vignes ($29.95 - LCBO) - pretty floral nose along with light cherry and raspberry fruit, delicate and delicious with an earthy-raspberry finish and decent length. (****)
Calera Wine Company 2008 Pinot Noir ($32.95 - LCBO) - a totally different animal from the Burgundy above; a really red fruit driven Pinot, lovely cherry all the way through with that sweet red fruit caressing the tongue right to the finish.  Very Cali. (****)
Cline Cellars 2009 Zinfandel ($13.00 - LCBO) - a base model Zin from Cline but one that has all the goods needed for Zin-lovers and neophytes to the grape in its red form: plum, vanilla, black cherry on the nose, cherry-cola mid-palate, sweet fruit with supple flavours ... really good value so you can hop the Zin-bandwagon. (****)

Report from ... 9th Annual Churchill Cellars Portfolio Tasting - April 11, 2011

For the 2nd time in 2 weeks I find myself at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts for a wine tasting ... this is another agent portfolio tasting, but this time it's 52 wines from Churchill Cellars; below is a list of my top 10 wines tasted (with selected notes) ...

*** 1/2 (good) ...
Pisse Dru 2009 Beaujolais ($12.25 - General List)
- serve chilled and you'll find lots of cherry and raspberry fruit.
Patriarch 2009 Pinot Noir ($10.25 - General List)
- dark berries, juicy and enjoyable

**** (very good) ...
Wente 2009 Morning Fog Chardonnay ($16.75 - General List)
- still a lovely Chard, better acidity than in previous vintages
Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.75 - General List)
- juicy red fruit with hints of vanilla
Grove Street 2008 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.80 - Vintages)
- plum, red berry, cherry, quite a bit of peppery-spice on the finish
D'Arenberg 2008 The Stump Jump Lightly Wooded Chardonnay ($13.75 - General List)
- nice tropical fruit: pineapple, mango, pear with a light vanilla tinge
Navajas 2005 Tinto Reserva ($16.75 - Vintages)
- very cherry with good spice notes

****+ (very good +) ...
D'Arenberg 2006 d'Arry's Original Shiraz Grenache ($19.75 - Vintages Essential)
- red licorice, anise, red fruit, hint of herbed-spice ... one of the nicest wines of the afternoon, can't wait to try this one out at a summer BBQ.
Chivite 2005 Gran Feudo Vinas Viejas Reserva ($19.75 - Vintages)
- another sip of deliciousness; a Tempranillo/Grenache blend with lovely spice/pepper, blackberry and cassis
Pol Roger Brut Champagne ($59.75 - General List)
- always lovely, toasty and baked apple notes

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Report from ... Somewhereness Media Preview - April 13, 2011

On the eve of the NHL playoffs the folks from Somewhereness (old soils new wines) decided to give us media types a preview of what the public will be tasting and seeing come May 10 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

Today we are on the 6th Floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox building in Toronto - pretty impressive place - to taste the wines of the original six (another hockey reference): Norman Hardie, Charles Baker, Stratus, Malivoire, Flat Rock and Tawse, plus those of the expansion wineries: Hidden Bench, Southbrook, Cave Spring and Thirteenth Street.  An hour long seminar previewed a wine from each producer plus an introduction from May 10th keynote speaker Ian D'Agata.

In honour of the NHL references (original six, expansion and playoffs) I will now give you two lists of awards ... my three star selection and my best of awards for the day (all link back to full reviews on my website).

Starting with the best of category wines:

Best White: Cave Spring 2009 Dolomite Riesling (**** 1/2+)
Best Rosé: Hidden Bench 2009 Bistro Rosé (****+)
Best Red: Norman Hardie 2009 Cabernet Franc (**** 1/2)

The above would seem like an all-star line-up, but the whites outshone the reds today ... the wines below represent my three star selection:

OWR Three Star Selection ...
* Cave Spring Cellars 2009 Dolomite Riesling
** Norman Hardie 2009 Cabernet Franc
*** Charles Baker Wines 2009 Picone Vineyard Riesling

Friday, April 15, 2011

Report from ... Hobbs & Merchant Vintner Tasting - March 29, 2011

It took place at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts ... two portfolios brought together for one tasting:  Hobbs & Co Wine Merchants Inc. and The Merchant Vintner Ltd.  58 wines were poured, below the top 15 with selected notes:

3.5 stars (good) ...
Quails' Gate 2008 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir ($44.99 - Canada) - 
up front cherry aromas with cranberry-sour cherry and spice in the mouth.
Weingut Josef Leitz 2008 Riesling Kabinett ($19.99 - Germany) -
peaches and apples, a touch of sweetness with a lovely lingering finish.

3.5+ stars (good +) ...
Torlesse 2008 Waipara Riesling ($18.95 - New Zealand) - 
good bit of sweetness amongst the tropical fruit, crisp, nice acidity, lingering finish.
The Grinder 2010 Pinotage ($19.99 - South Africa) -
all out coffee with a latte-like creaminess, nice spice notes on the finish.
Edward Sellers Vineyards 2006 Vertigo ($27.54) -
chocolate, cherry, spice aromas with spicy raspberry and lingering pepper finish.
Vilafonte 2006 Series M ($39.95 - South Africa) - 
nice red and black fruit that shows elegance across the palate.
Domaine Sainte Rose 2009 Coquille d'oc Red ($16.75 - France) -
lots of cherry fruit with just a pinch of pepper.

4 stars (very good) ...
Dr. Frank 2010 Dry Riesling ($24.99 - New York) -
melon, citrus and tropical aromas; lots of melon and tropical on the palate and a lime zest finish.
Vignoble Guillaume 2009 Chardonnay ($17.95 - France) -
nice mouth weight, creamy vanilla, hazelnut, butter and peach.
Chateau Grand Moulin Vieilles Vignes 2005 ($22.10 - France) -
good black fruit and spice.
Alpha Zeta 2008 'R' Ripasso (21.99 - Italy) -
fruit driven with a touch of chalky on the finish: cherry, plum, vanilla and cinnamon.

4+ stars (very good +) ...
Chalkers Crossing 2009 Tumbarumba Pinot Noir ($27.99 - Australia) -
sweet red fruit nose, touch of mineral, cherry, raspberry fruit palate all mixed with spice and pepper; really nice finish.
Empordalia 2010 Verdera ($11.99 - Spain) -
sweet raspberry fruit on the nose; raspberry-spice in the mouth.
Domaine Francois Lichtle 2008 Gewurztraminer ($22.70 - France) -
lychee-peach with the right amount of sweet spice ... yum.

4.5 stars (excellent) ...
Clairault Wines 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($27.80 - Australia) -
red fruit and floral smells, delicate and elegant, the right amount of playful fruit, spice, pepper, mocha/coffee, lovely fine tannins on a slightly chalky finish.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Report from ... Ontario Wine Awards, The Last Day of Judging - March 27, 2011

The last day of the Ontario Wine Awards Judging is a more light-hearted affair then the previous two days, which seems to be a lot more serious.  The last day takes place in the catacomb-like confines of the Fine Wine Reserve in downtown Toronto and it's the sweeties that we are all putting to our collective noses and onto our palates.  Sure icewine is serious stuff, but once all 60+ wines are poured and those tropical-honey smells waft through the room, there is just a wave of good feelings that go through the place.

This year's Ontario Wine Awards will be held June 10, 2011 at Queen's Landing in Niagara on the Lake ... for details of the event visit:

What follows are a few pictures, before, during and after the tasting:

Look at all that icewine ...
Jimson Bienstock eyes a wine and then me
The Deacon raises his first glass of the day
Dick Snyder sniffs a glass
Tony Aspler stands on a chair to take in the action
Konrad grins mischievously as he contemplates the job ahead
Suresh Doss socializes ... on his phone
The Deacon ... after the tasting
Tony calculates the winners in his own private corner
We end this special day with a special wine

Report from ... Rodney Strong Taste and Blend - March 28, 2011

The day started for me at three, as I made my way up the elevator to the 54th floor where I would find Canoe Restaurant.  There I was shown into a side room where a seminar was just finishing up and a tasting was just about to begin - I did not get an invite to the seminar (but I did get a chance to try my hand at what they were doing - a little on that later), so I went right in and tasted 10 wines that Rodney Strong brings into Canada, way or another (Vintages / Consignment / Private Order): a Sauvignon Blanc, 3 Chardonnays, a Merlot and 5 variations on Cabernet Sauvignon or Cab dominated blends.

The seminar was on the blending of their Symmetry wine, a Cabernet dominated affair that had 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec in the 2007 version (***1/2) with the last five percent being the remainder of the Bordelais grapes (Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc).  They brought along the five building blocks for the 2009 Symmetry and asked those in attendance to make up and record their own blend.  Rick Sayre (V.P. and Director of winemaking oversaw the blending and even took notes on the ones he liked; I think this might be the new wave of winemaking - have your customers make up your blend.  Tasting through the components I used one word to describe each (keep in mind these wines had been open for 2 hours when I finally got to them):  Cabernet Sauvignon - chocolate; Merlot - raspberry; Cabernet Franc - tobacco; Petit Verdot - spice; Malbec - dark fruit.  My attempt at a blend had mainly Cabernet Sauvignon (70%) with 10% Merlot, 10% Malbec and the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot at 5% apiece ... though I didn't use any scientific measuring tool.  Rick was not a fan of my blend because he found it too heavy and tannic, Rodney Strong likes their wines to drink now, but also age.  I have to admit that I liked my version, oh well, back to the drawing board.   As for the real completed wines, here were my top choices:

The Finished Strong Wines (The Strongest) ...

2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay
($24.95 - Vintages, April 30, 2011) - lots of vanilla and buttery notes on the nose; palate doles out the fruit by way of peach with a touch of the tropical, the vanilla nuances really round out the fruit in the mouth; lovely. (****)

2006 Sonoma County Merlot ($18.95 - Vintages, March 5, 2011) - the wines was big on cherry, and loads of other red fruit, with enough spice in the mix so that things weren't too fruit dominated; delicious and easy to drink right now. (****)

2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.95 - Private Order) - the nose was chocolate, black cherry and blueberry, while the palate had rich dark fruit, chocolate, spice, vanilla and cinnamon.  The tannins gave the wine nice weight without being too demanding. (****+)

2007 Rockaway ($89.95 - Private Order) - a monster at 15.2% alcohol.  This single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 24 months in 100% French oak (with less new oak than you would expect) is ready to drink now - or can be lain down for 10 years.  Amazing red cherry fruit on the nose with hints of chocolate and vanilla.  The mouth proved to be silky smooth with red fruit dominating, but with chocolate and spice playing and elegant backing role.  Real finesse on both the nose and palate makes this one of those wines perfect to consume throughout an evening, and there was a really clean yummy finish.  Deliciously approachable now, yet surely layable for the future. (**** 1/2)

Report from ... Terroirs & Signatures of Bourgogne 2011 - March 22, 2011

Burgundy can be a confusing piece of France: regions, appellations, sub-appellations, vineyard specificity.  The basics are pretty easy to grasp: the white grape is Chardonnay and the red grape is Pinot Noir, after that the head starts to spin.  We can talk about the 5 regions: Chablis & Grand Auxerrois; Cote de Nuits; Cote de Beaune; Cote Chalonnaise; Maconnais ... but the key here is to find a region or sub-appellation or something else you can hang your hat on and stick with it.  I have to admit that before today I had no idea where I really stood in the world of Burgundy wines - but looking back at various Vintages releases I started to notice my poking fun at the name of a certain sub-appellation.  As it turned out I was crazy 'bout a Mercurey (or many of them).  Not sure crazy is the word, but I sure did like them.  I decided to take this opportunity to see if it was a fluke of the releases or that I truly had found my Burgundy region of choice.

Crazy or Not ...
I focused my attention on the red Mercurey (Pinot Noirs).  I found 8 within the room, and discovered, after tasting, I was a fan of 7 of them.  What a revelation - I can now say I like Pinot Noir from the sub-region of Mercurey (part of the Cote Chalonnaise) - here were my top 5 wines:

Domaine Michel Juillot 2008 Mercurey 1er Cru, Clos Tonnerre -
deep rich blackberry / cranberry and strawberry with plenty of tannins and spice. (****+)

Maison Albert Bichot 2009 Mercurey -
good spice and dark fruit. (****)

Domaine de Suremain 2007 Mercurey 1er Cru, La Bondue -
really good red fruit mixed with vanilla and spiced strawberries. (****+)

Domaine de Suremain 2007 Mercurey 1er Cru, Le Clos L'Eveque -
floral and delicate with lovely cherry notes. (****+)

Domaine de Suremain 2008 Mercurey 1er Cru, Le Clos L'Eveque -
darker and denser than its older counterpart. (****)

More from Burgundy ...
Of course there is more than just Mercurey, and I tried plenty, below is a list (with selected notes on the wines tasted):

4 Star Selections -
Domaine Bachey-Legros 2009 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, Morgeot - creamy vanilla and buttery goodness
Domaine Bachey-Legros 2009 Santenay, Les Charmes - rich in red fruit and red licorice
Maison Chanson Pere & Fils 2008 Santenay 1er Cru, Beauregard
Maison Joseph Drouhin 2008 Beaune 1er Cru, Le Clos des Mouches
Domaine Michel Prunier & Fille 2007 Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru, Clos du Val
Maison Loron & Fils 2009 Bourgogne Chardonnay, Montvallon ($12.95) - great value, lovely fruit
Domaine Jacques Prieur 2007 Meursault, Clos de Mazeray Monopole
Domaine Henri de Villamont 2008 Volnay 1er Cru Le Ronceret

4+ Star Selections -
Bailly-Lapierre 2006 Vive la Joie - a five year aged Cremant, very tasty and Champagne-esque
Maison Chanson Pere & Fils 2007 Beaune 1er Cru, Les Feves, Monopole
Domaine Daniel Rion & Fils 2009 Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Grandes Vignes - this wine had spice to spare.

Finally, the curiosity of the day came from Maison Loron & Fils with a magnum of 1997 Pouilly-Fuisse, Les Vieux Murs, Reserve Caveau - 13 years and still going strong, delicious and good to the last drop.