Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Report from ... Duorum Dinner - November 16, 2010

I was doing a little house cleaning this morning when I discovered some tasting notes from a dinner I attended back in November of 2010 at the University Club of Toronto in the Big Smoke ... it was a wine tasting and dinner around a wine project out of Portugal called Duorum.  Duorum, according to the info I have sitting in front of me is a `joint project between two of Portugal`s best known oenologists: Joao Portugal Ramos and Jose Maria Soares Franco`.  It looks like I found dinner passable but I found the wines to be much more than that with 4 of them garnering four-and-a-half star ratings ... so instead of just letting these wines languish on my desk I thought I would share them with you, and if you see the Duorum label and have opportunity to buy these wines I would snap them up.
Pre-Dinner Wines of Note ...
Duorum 2008 Old Vines Reserve (**** 1/2)
full of dark fruit with spice on the palate, 14% alcohol but doesn`t show it because it is supple and smooth with hints of anise and cassis.
Tons de Duorum 2009 (**** 1/2)
lots of cherry here, sweet, smooth and fruity with red licorice and anise; good acidity and tannins.  Only 6 months in oak barrel.  If it ever makes it`s way to Ontario shores it would retail for only $9.95, a total steal.

Dinner Wines ...
Vila Santa White 2009 (****)
best of the two whites poured with the first course of pickerel; made with three indigenous white grapes: sweet fruit, fresh and very tropical.

Conde Vimioso Reserva 2007 (**** 1/2)
a delicious red with chocolate, red cherry, blackberry, mint and cassis notes, the finish delivers bunches of delicious black cherry.
Duorum Reserva 2007 (**** 1/2)
another stunning and delightful wine with smoky notes that compliment the cassis, black raspberry, spice, dark chocolate and all culminates in a long finish.

Final thought:  As much as I enjoy Port I found the Duorum 2008 was passable but not outstanding, but of course a vintage Port needs time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Report from ... 9 years worth of Baco Noir With HoP - June 20, 2011

"Baco Noir has been berry-berry good to me" - not sure if they say that around the winery at Henry of Pelham but they should - they are the Kings of Baco Noir - and one of three wineries in all of Ontario I feel are doing justice with this grape (the other two are Sandbanks (PEC) and Sanson (LENS)).  At its best it can taste like a real wine - at its worst its not fit to clean the toilet ... harsh words yes, but as someone who has waded his way through many a Baco Noir (way back in 2007 I organized an Ontario-wide Baco Noir Challenge) I can say that with authority.

Today, at the Summerhill LCBO, a dozen wine writers from the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada joined Paul Speck (co-owner) and Ron Geisbrecht (winemaker) of Henry of Pelham to taste through 9 years of Reserve Baco Noir.

By the Numbers ...
Henry of Pelham (HoP) started growing Baco in 1984 and making it into wine in 1988.  The first year the word `Reserve` appeared on the label was in 1995.  Oak treatment is always 100% American oak, of which 60% is new in the Reserve line ... the wine rests in oak for 6-10 months (regular) and up to 18 months for the Reserve.  Finally, Ron admitted to using 8-15% of Merlot in the wines, though sometimes he`ll use Cabernet Franc

The vintages tasted today ranged from 1997 to a 2010 barrel sample, missing were 01, 03, 04, 06 (no Reserve made those years) and 05 (limited made - sold out).  On average HoP makes only 1500 cases of Baco Noir Reserve compared to 12,000 of the regular.

By the Nose and Palate ...
General note: old Baco smells pretty rank, but the palate is surprisingly gentle and welcoming ... the older wines also seemed to fall apart quickly in the glass.

1997 ... an early favourite with a leathery nose and leathery red fruit flavours, but within a half hour it turned rubber hose and nail polish, drink quickly for best enjoyment.

1998 ... smoky yet horrible on my nose, thought about plugging it before sipping, but that would have taken all the fun out of this (?) - palate has some redeeming qualities with hints of black cherry and smoke.

1999 ... the best of the 90`s Bacos.  The nose proved to be pretty harsh but the palate rescued it from being poured down the sink - full in the mouth with new leather and black cherry, still quite drinkable with a pleasant and long sweet fruit finish.  Drink now.

2000 ... "Not half bad, " I wrote in my notes, "still has a stinky nose though" - palate is okay for a little while, half hour in the glass and it turns weedy and unappealing.

2002 ... one of two that really had impressive credentials - we have here a nine year old Baco with red licorice and cherry on the nose and a lovely palate of sweet vanilla cherry, black currant and plum with blueberries.  I could not swear this to be Baco, it tastes too good.  Drinks very well now.

2007 ... another hot vintage (see above) and another excellent example of well made Baco (this time Cabernet Franc was added).  The nose was almost non-existent but the palate was more than just a little inviting: smooth red fruit (cherry) with nice tannin structure to hold it up and good acidity - great fruit core.  Still a few years ahead of it, the question is: will it turn out like the `02?  One can only hope.

2008 ... no redeeming qualities at this time - varnish aromas and flavours - but as we have seen Baco needs time.

2009 & 2010 ... both barrel samples that need time.

It was once said to me that "good Baco (if there is such a thing) needs at least 5 years in bottle to become a drinkable wine".  Judging by the proof of 1999, 2002 and 2007 - there seems to be some truth to that statement.

Big thanks to Paul Speck and Ron Geisbrecht for giving us some insight into this most maligned and misunderstood grape variety.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Report from ... Wine & Herb Festival NOTL - Weekends in May 2011

This year a record number of wineries took part in the Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine & Herb festival ... 26 wineries in total are now part of this NOTL collective and each participated by grabbing an herb out of the hat and blending it up in a food they could then pair with one of their wines.  Wineries I spoke with said numbers were down this year.  Could it have been the rain?  Which decided to be part of every single weekend in May.  Was it the strength of the Canadian dollar keeping the Americans away?  Or was it the number of wineries?  Which to some my seem like a daunting number - 26 to do in one weekend ... doable, but daunting.  Whatever the reason numbers were down, leaving plenty of food left overs for staff and those who deemed it necessary to cop a second helping of a favourite.

This year we (my wife [foodie] and I [winie]) did all 26 wineries over two weekends, because we now reside in the area, though I'll admit we got kinda lazy, we did 24 one weekend, and because we could, saved the last two for another weekend - choosing instead to lounge on the Coyote's Run patio drinking 2010 Pinot Blanc and homemade Sangria on the first real sunny Saturday afternoon in quite some time (I even got a burn).

At events such as these it's really about the food and the pairing more than just the wine itself, so I have refrained from naming a Best Sip of the weekend (though I bet I cave by the end of the article) and instead we have ranked our top 10 pairings/food; we have also provided the bottom three wineries along with why we thought they were below par ... wineries not mentioned did a good job but did not stand out as better-best material or the alternative.  Here we go.

The Bottom (in reverse order) ...
We'll start with the wineries that underwhelmed.

24.  At first we thought we were punishing this winery for following one of our top choices (who ended up as our top choice), but in retrospective our reasoning was sound for why they're on the bottom:  Riverview Winery (bergamot) - the award winning 2009 Gewurztraminer is deservedly so, but the tart with the bergamot was decidedly no ... too much pastry overwhelmed the other flavours - everything got lost in that dough.

25.  It's been a rollercoaster ride for Pillitteri (that basil), some events they're up, others they're down, this was a real downer ... everything seemed okay until the wine and food meshed together in the mouth, then a bitterness on the finish and nasty aftertaste ruined what it had built up - we tried this a few times and got the same result with each bite. 

26.  Hands down this was our least favourite pairing of the day - surprising because these guys have a good restaurant on the property.  The terrine served was bland and boring and the wine was way too sweet, no matter how hot it was outside and how much the person serving told us it was a great hot weather pairing it did not make it so:  Ravine Vineyard (sweet woodruff) ... also, shame on Ravine for a $14 half bottle of Chardonnay Musque, even the folks we met on the back deck, who did not seem too knowledgeable about wine realized that $28 (for the equivalent full bottle - 750ml) was a lot to pay for this wine.

Ten thru Five ...
We had a number of ties as we scored each winery out of 10, the low end of our top 10 produced a 6-way tie for 2 spots, and so we used 'herb taste' as the tie-break: which pairing gave us the most herb taste based on the herb that winery had to work with.

10.  Cattail Creek (lemon balm) - lemon flavour really shone through on the shrimp and the unoaked Chardonnay helped to cleanse the palate nicely.

9.  Stonechurch (coriander) - "ya gotta like cilantro/coriander," said my wife.  I don't, the wife does, but the chicken and lentil dish did what it was suppose to do: highlight the herb, and it did it well.

More ties in the 8-5 positions, it was like splitting hairs here, these 4 were well worth the price of admission but here's how we finally ranked 'em:

8.  Hillebrand (mint) - the spicy sausage and mint yogurt paired well with the delicious 2009 Artist Series Gewurztraminer.

7.  Joseph's (basil) - a goat cheese/sun-dried tomato/basil tart; pastry was the right consistency and thickness for the flavours and the filling came shining through without interference; paired surprisingly well with the 2006 Merlot, which brought out the basil and especially the sun-dried tomato taste.
Innovation in packaging - Vintner's Lunch

6.  Marynissen (summer savory) - should also get an innovation award for presentation, the wine paired well with their simple take on the plowman's lunch.

5.  Stratus (sorrel) - scalloped potato with creme fraiche, need I really say anymore here.

The Top Four ...
Here's where it got really difficult, we gave out two 9's and two 10's this year and discussed these at length as to which order they should go in, though in truth our top choice was never in doubt - but the rest went exactly like this ...

4.  Lailey Vineyard (mexican oregano) - funny how a simple thing like a meatball can bring such pleasure to the inside of one's mouth, but this wasn't just any old simple meatball (it was a Stone Road Grille creation) - the sauce totally made it worth having again and again - too bad you could only have one.  The '06 Cabernet Franc seemed to work some magic here, making the entire pairing sing ... but that meatball really stole the show, give me a plate and some pasta and stick me in the back room.

3.  Pondview (rosemary) - same could be said for what Pondview was serving - it's as if they had been reading my mind.  After putting this little delicacy in her mouth my wife declared "God that was good": pulled short rib on a paper thin rosemary potato paired with the award winning 2009 Bella Terra Cabernet Franc, which managed to turn my wife into a red wine fan (if only temporarily).
Colaneri brings outdoors inside

2.  Colaneri (oregano) - these newbies to the group of 26 pullled out all the stops, including bringing in their own back deck furniture and laying fake grass down to give that outdoor feeling indoors.  But who seriously thought an Italian family would have any problems with oregano, in fact they made it into a meal: manicotti served with tomato/cucumber/bocconcini and olive skewers ... "want more?" Betty Colaneri asked, really Betty I'm full, but I'd gladly come over for dinner anytime (at least I know what your backyard looks like).
And the winner is ...

1.  Ice House (garlic) - now really, who woulda thought that garlic and icewine would be a match made in heaven?  Obviously the folks at The Ice House saw something they could work with and hit it out of the vineyard, thus raising the bar for the entire Wine & Herb Festival.  Shrimp and cream cheese (all with an element of garlic) may sound simplistic but it was the pop-in-the-mouth presentation and the paired Vidal icewine match that made this one stand out.  It looks so ... plain ... but tasted so divine.  Icewine, shrimp and garlic goes together, who knew?

Best Sip ...
Alright, what the heck, top wine of the day (previously not tried) was a newly released Chardonnay from Maleta:  2007 View Chardonnay ($18.95)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Report from ... Ontario Wine Awards 2011 Gold Medal Winners – June 10, 2011

The 16th Annual Ontario Wine Awards were held Friday night with a triumphant return to the Queen's Landing Inn in  Niagara on the Lake hosted by Food Network star Laura Calder, host of French Food at Home.  She brought decorum to the event with her little side bar comments about how excited she was to be there and a lovely little chat about how wine develops fine cuisine:  "With wine on the table we aren't just wolfing down our food, we sit and converse, just like you are doing here tonight"  Comparing North American culture to that of Italy and France where they sit down with wine saying how civilized a meal can be - "We're heading in that direction because we make wine."  She said as she encourage more and continued making of this fermented grape beverage.

Big winners this evening were Kacaba, winning two Golds in the Red categories (Cabernet Franc and Meritage) as well as another for Label Design; Chateau des Charmes for winning Best Dry Riesling twice (both its category and Best White of the Year) along with a Silver for the close to my heart Sparkling (Rosé).  Flat Rock did the same for Red Wine of the Year for their The Rogue Syrah and another Gold for Their Rogue Pinot Noir, prompting them to immediately change their name to "Flat Rogue Cellars" (kidding - not about the awards, about the name change).  Inniskillin and Malivoire pulled off tri-fectas in their categories by sweeping them (taking the Gold, Silver and Bronze): Vidal Icewine and Gamay respectively.  A full list of the Gold medals winners is below. 

Winemaker of the Year was none other than Paul Pender of Tawse Winery, in part for shepherding this winery to the first ever Winery of the Year Award for an Ontario winery at the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards, and for the excellent wines he has produced year after year.  Finally, the Wine Journalism Award went to Beppi Crosariol, wine columnist for the Globe & Mail for his article 'Hot growing season spells a great year for Niagara vintages'

And the Gold Medal winning wines are …
The rest of the winners, in the silver and bronze categories, can be found at

Sparkling Wine –
Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvee Rosé

Dry Riesling –
Chateau des Charmes 2008 'Old Vines' Riesling Estate Bottled
*winner of the White Wine of the Year Award

Semi-Dry Riesling –
Mike Weir Estate 2008 Riesling

Dry White Varietal –
Nyarai Cellars 2010 Viognier &
Creekside Estate 2009 Viognier Reserve

Gewurztraminer –
No Gold Awarded

Pinot Gris –
Calamus Estate 2009 Pinot Gris

Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon –
Jackson Triggs 2009 Gold Series Fume Blanc

Oaked Chardonnay (under $20) -
Magnotta Winery 2007 Chardonnay Special Reserve

Oaked Chardonnay (over $20) -
Exultet Estates 2009 Chardonnay

Unoaked Chardonnay –
Niagara College Teaching Winery 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay

Rosé / Blanc de Noir
Flat Rock Cellars 2009 The Rogue Pinot Noir

Gamay –
Malivoirse Wine Company 2010 M2 Small Lot Gamay
*Malivoire clean swept this category by winning the silver and bronze too

Pinot Noir –
Tawse 2008 Laidlaw Pinot Noir

Red Hybrid –
No Gold Awarded

Cabernet Franc –
Kacaba Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Cabernet Sauvignon –
Fielding Estate 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Merlot –
No Gold Awarded

Syrah/Shiraz –
Flat Rock Cellars 2007 The Rogue Syrah
*winner of the Red Wine of the Year Award

Meritage and Cabernet/Merlot Blends –
Kacaba Vineyards 2007 Meritage Reserve

Late Harvest –
Konzelmann Estate 2008 Special Select Late Harvest Vidal

Vidal Icewine –
Inniskillin 2007 Pearl Vidal Icewine
*Inniskillin clean swept this category by winning the silver and bronze too

Vinifera Icewine –
Magnotta Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc Icewine Limited Edition

Blended Red Award –
Wayne Gretzky Estates 2008 Estate Series Shiraz Cabernet
*third year in a row they have won for this wine

Blended White Award –
Peninsula Ridge Estates 2009 Top Bench White

Best Label Design Award –
Kacaba Vineyard 2008 Single Vineyard Syrah

Larry Paterson Innovation in the Vineyard Award -
Deborah Paskus of Closson Chase

Winemaker of the Year -
Paul Pender - Tawse Winery

Monday, June 6, 2011

Report from ... Exclusive Concha Y Toro Tasting at Select - May 12, 2011

What a day ... it started out in the morning where a few select writers joined the folks at the office of Select Wines to taste wines alongside Gabriel Salas, brand ambassador for Concha Y Toro, for a tasting of something so new from Concha Y Toro, that few had actually experienced these wines yet: A new line of Gran Reserva wines from this Chilean powerhouse.  Now to many of us North Americans the words `Grand Reserva` means as close to nothing, when it comes to wines, as our shell-shocked great uncle Charlie`s fears about Area 51 and the Ruskies ... but in Latin America, where these wines were initially released, it means a great deal.  So here in North Ameria the wines will be released as the River Bank Series (Serie Riberas) because all of these single vineyard wines can also be tied to a river that flows right beside, or very near, to the vineyard - in fact the vineyards that supply the grapes that go into these wines are specifically influenced by the rivers they lie near.  Interesting to note that because all rivers are short and flow east/west in Chile, they start in the Andes Mountains and reach the Ocean within 4 days (talk about fresh water) ... I am sure you did not come to read about the river and water flow of Chile, you can get that on a number of other sites, as for the reviews of these wines ... well, that you can get here.  Seven wines were tried ... all were very good wines, some got higher star ratings then others, here they are in tasting order:

All Wines below are Concha Y Toro Serie Riberas (River Series) ...

The Whites ... (only two)
2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95)
The River: Ribera del Rapel
Citrus, grapefruit and melon lead the charge on the nose, while the palate was refreshing but with real cutting acidity.  Grapefruit-citrus notes that mellowed to grapefruit cocktail through the mouth and ended pleasantly with a long melon-grassy finish.  Weighty mouth-feel that delivered a nicely fat (but not flabby), full, and fruity wine. (*** 1/2)

2010 Chardonnay ($16.95)
The River: Ribera del Rapel 
The big 14% alcohol might carry you away here, but there is a nice balance of fruit and oak.  The nose is grassy, herbal and grapefruit-ish with a nice hint of vanilla.  There is some very pleasant acidity along with vanilla, hazelnut and mineral notes on the tongue.  Lemon-melon and slightly tropical nuances finishes it off nicely.  This is a lively Chardonnay that went thru no malolactic fermentation (to keep it fresh and yes, lively). (*** 1/2)
Merlot and Carmenere shine in Chile ... as for Malbec ...

The Reds (five wines)
2009 Merlot ($16.95)
The River: Ribera del Maule
A slight blend here, Merlot is the lion`s share of 95% and Syrah (5%); Merlot is the obvious star of the show.  Blackberry, plum, vanilla along with other sweet dark fruited aromas, are all over the the smell of this one, really alluring, the way good Chilean Merlot should be.  The palate really shines with dark fruit: blackberry, spiced plum and firm tannins, which gives it a rather chalky finish - but you can mellow this with some aging.  You can`t avoid the chocolate/mocha like flavour that real rounds out the finish.  Bigger than your average Merlot and one that can age nicely for 2-5 years or more; so well-structured that the 14.5% alcohol is imperceptible. (****)

2009 Malbec ($16.95)
The River: Ribera del Tinguiririca
At the moment Malbec is the IN grape and Argentina`s shining star ... but I have often called Chile the great copycat of the world because they can grow anything, here they try their hand at Malbec.  My feeling is they need more time with this one.  The nose is brambly black fruited and red plum, while the taste has a blackberry creaminess along with black cherry and spice, soft fruit, good acidity with decent tannins.  Leave this grape in Argentina because you do much better with your own signature grape. (***+)

2009 Carmenere ($16.95)
The River: Ribera del Cachapoal
Carmenere is Chile grape of choice (signature) and they seem to be getting better and better at being able to handle it; as Malbec is having it`s day soon we`ll see Carmenere shine its own light on the world, at that time Chile will have cornered the market on making great Carm and this is a delicious example.  The aromas lure with mint-chocolate, raspberry and blackberry jam.  The palate is juicy raspberry with hints of chocolate, nice blackberry and other juicy dark fruits ... Concha seems to have a real handle on the making of good Carmenere.  A friendly, drink-now kinda wine that`s gulpably good.  There is a sweet element that really adds to the enjoyment, some described it as humbugs, black licorice, or vanilla - whatever you call it, it is delicious.  The addition of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon helps carry the wine to its ultimate conclusion. (****+)
The two stars of the tasting

2009 Syrah ($16.95)
The River: Ribera del Loncomilla
100% Syrah and loving it ... make no mistake, this was the star of the show, at $16.95 (if it sees the market) is a steal.  The nose is white pepper, red raspberry, black licorice, vanilla and sandlewood (oh papa you could smell this wine all day and get more from each sniff).  But a wine is nothing without a great taste and this one has it in spades.   Juicy entry then pepper and spice take over before surrendering to black cherry fruit; then in a magical mouth moment it all melds together with the pepper coming back into the fruit and voila, mouth nirvana.  Good acidity makes this an excellent food wine, but I could sit and sip on it all evening without a scrap to eat.  Sitting on it for a few years will mellow it and make it even more of a sipper. (**** 1/2+)

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.95)
The River: Ribera del Tinguiririca
As the Cab helped the Carm with 10% so the Carmenere helps the Cabernet with 10% and it works beautifully.  Had it not been for the excellent Syrah this would have been the star of the show, it just delivered everything one looks for in a Cabernet Sauvignon and then added a little extra to push it over the top.  The nose has black raspberry, chocolate and vanilla along with a touch of cedar.  The palate was full of juicy red berries, more chocolate and vanilla, and silky tannins.  The best thing about it was that there is real balance here: lots of fruit with the acidity and tannins keeping it from being just being another fruit bomb of a wine. Great value. (**** 1/2)