Monday, March 26, 2012

Report from ... Alvaro Palacios wines - March 19, 2012

The Royal Canadian Yacht Club sounds like a high falutant place, and it might be, but the room we tried these wines in overlooked the sidewalk contruction in mid-town Toronto.  Here we learned lots about Spain, it's terroir, it's history and the wines of it's past and present from one of the innovators of the new Spanish wine revolution, Alvaro Palacios. With Alvaro leading the tasting we tried 10 wines from the three regions throughout Spain in which he makes wine:  Rioja, Bierzo and Priorat.
Alvaro addresses the crowd
Rioja Wines ... Palacios Remondo:
2009 Placet 'Valtomelloso' ($32.00) - baked fruit, exotic flavours, has some decent acidity.  Made from 100% Viura.

2009 La Montesa ($21.00) - Montesa is the name of the vineyard; it is planted with young vines that were put in the ground in the 80's so there is lots of green harvesting done to thin out the eventual crop.  Alvaro told us that in general vines of over 50+ years self-regulate their own production, but because of the nutirent rich soil and the vigor of the plants those under that age will produce lots of fruit if not attended to.  This is Alvaro's most important wine because of the size of production ... 1000-2000 barrels per year.  This vintage is 65% Grenache, with some Tempranillo and Masuelo with 12 months in barrel, mainly French with a hint of American.  Nose is red fruited with hints of pomelo skin ... lovely red fruit on the palate with a little bit of tannins, that are silky and lush in the mouth.  Juicy and flavourful. (****)

Alvaro's philosophy:  "In a less than ideal vintage I prefer to do one wine instead of two - make a better Montesa than a poor Propiedad"

2008 La Propiedad ($39.00) - makes 50,000 to 100,000 bottles of this wine from very old vines.  The make up is 70% Grenache, with the rest being Tempranillo, aged in 100% new oak.  Black and blue fruit, lots of pepper and spice, and you can smell the minerality.  Almost creamy smooth in the mouth with dark chocolate, bramble, blackberry, and black cherry.  Good weight and mouth-feel. (****+)

Next vintage of Propiedad (2010) - will be 92% Grenache.  Alvaro loves the Grenache grape because is it very much a part of Spanish history.

Bierzo Wines ... Descendientes de J. Palacios
2010 was a glorious vintage in Spain, "the kind of vintage that happens twice a decade, sometimes only once," Alvaro said.

2010 Petalos del Bierzo ($26.00) - a regional blend that has a little mentia and some white grapes mixed into the blend; aged 12 months in barrel - 350,000 bottles are produced.  Red fruit and raspberry jam, hint of floral.  Floral comes through on the palate, there is also a chalky note that carries the red fruit and hint of anise on the finish. (****)

2009 Villa de Corullon ($49.00) - grapes grown in the village of Corullon, there are 30 hectares in total and very steep; it is rare to have 30 hectares of continuous vineyard in this region so it is "constellation-style", as Alvaro called it, meaning a plot here and a plot there scattered about like stars, 16,000 bottles produced.  Black licorice, hint of floral and blackberry ... lots of mineral notes on the mouth, red and black fruit, good acidity and nice tannins. (****+)

2009 Las Lamas ($116.00) - delicate sweet fruit with a little grit, raspberry, strawberry, thick and concentrated of fruit, nice flavour in this single vineyard wine.  (****+)

Alvaro Palacios (Priorat region)
Priorat means prairie

2010 Camins del Priorat ($26.00) -  perfumed, floral, wet rocks, sweet grass ... sweet strawberry, touch of rocky mineral, chalky tannnins. (****).

Camins is made from grapes grown in 7 different villages from Grenache and Carignan with a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon with 8 months of ageing in barrel.  Alvaro hinted that it was hard to make this kind of wine because you need lots of growers, lots of small plots and plantings.

2010 Les Terrasses ($45.00) - same 7 villages as Camins, though older vines are used, and more Carignan, ages 12+ months in barrel depending on the vintage.  Deep rich dark fruit, chocolate and red/black fruit, plums, follows into the mouth and is just lovely with hints of chalkiness on the finish, which should smooth out in the next few years. Delicious blackberry and violets on the finish. (**** 1/2)

Great Quote:  "I'll tell you something, I don't know" (asked about the amount of time his wines can be aged)

2009 Finca Dofi ($90.00) - made from mostly young vines, planted personally by Alvaro in 1992 and 1996, with a density of 7200 vines per hectare; first vintage of this wine was in 1999.   Juicy of fruit, lots of dark fruit, strawberry and mineral notes.  (****+)  80% Grenache with the rest Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  By 2011 it will be 95% Grenache with 5% Carignan ... moving towards the classic version of Priorat wines which is Carignan dominant.

2010 Vi de la Vila Gratallops ($66.00 - barrel sample) - 8000-9000 bottles, 60% Grenache, a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, but very little.  Wine will be bottled in about 2 months ... milk chocolate and raspberry, deep plum, hint of cinnamon ... beauty of fruit, rich robust and really tasty ... (no mark because of barrel sample; but it would be high on the scale if it remains like this)

Other Quotes and facts ...
"Priorat wines are not for weak people - they have a strength, and are for people with a lust for life and have things to celebrate"
17,000 hectares were planted in Priorat prior to the phylloxera pest coming to Spain ... everything was replanted after phylloxera ... and then the Spanish civil war decimated everything (wine and vineyard wise) and Rioja became the main region, many vineyards in other places were abandoned.  When Alvaro arrived in 1989 there were only 650 hectares ... now 1100 hectares are planted.

Report from ... Grandi Marchi Tasting and Italian Video Launch - March 13, 2012

Lured into Toronto to taste the wine of Grandi Marchi ("the result of the determination and enthusiam of 19 of the most important Italian wineries to promote the culture and commercialisation of Italian high quality wine on world markets") to taste less than 18 wines from some of Italy's best and most well known wineries such as Masi, Pio Cesare and Antinori.  I say "lured" because it seems like it was a bit of a ruse, the occasion was not to try the wines  in the Barbarian Steakhouse wine cellar, but instead to promote the launch of Italian Month at the LCBO and their new series of Discover DVDs on the wine regions of Italy.  I probably would have been ticked making the trip in if the wines hadn't been worth trying.  As for the videos they are available as part of a three part series through podcast, itunes and other options ... check out the lcbo website for details.  Below, a list of nine wines that were truly the best of this class ... and that is saying something.

Michele Chiarlo 2009 Barbera D'Asti "Le Orme" - lovely cherry finish (****)

Pio Cesare 2010 Gavi - peach and delicious apple, refreshing and clean (*** 1/2)

Carpene Malvolti Presecco DOC Treviso - refreshing citrus and peach with a touch of sweetness and fresh acidity (*** 1/2+)

Masi 2006 Riserva Costasera - chocolate, plum, and lots of dark and red fruits; nice chalky tannins (**** 1/2)

Antinori 2007 Badia a Passignano - smooth and sexy with a heft of dark fruit and silky tannins (****+)

Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari 2007 Tenute di Nozzole "La Forra" Riserva Chianti Classico - lots of ripe red fruit, namely cherry, with spice and pepper; deliciously drinkable (****+)

Lungarotti 2007 Sagrantino di Montefalco - chalky dark fruit and rough tannins (*** 1/2)

Lungarotti 2008 Vigna il Pino Torre di Giano - nice with an almost creamy smooth mouthfeel, shows some weight (*** 1/2)

Donnafugata 2007 Tancredit - leathery black fruit with nice tannins (****)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Report from ... Vina Ventisquero wines - March 5, 2012

The second time in a week I'm at a tasting of a winery that is just going into it's second decade of production (see Hall from March 1).  Today we'll be tasting 10 wines (2 whites, 8 reds) from Vina Ventisquero, a winery that started production in 2001 and has grown to be one of the biggest exporters of Chilean wine.  Filipe Tosso, winemaker for Ventisquero since the beginning started things off with a brief history of the winery and make up of the winery:  owner started his business 55 years ago with a chicken farm, 16 years ago he started thinking of getting into the wine business.  Today they have 7 different vineyards spread out from the north to the south of Chile and 5 different lines: Queulat, Grey (single block), Vertice, Heru, Pangea.  It was also pointed out to us that Chile is the only phyloxera free country in the world - there are pockets in other countries that did not get hit by the louse but Chile is fully phyloxera free.

Vina Ventisquero is trying to break into the Canadian market, let's hope we see more of their wines.

Felipe Tosso explains the soils of their Chilean vineyards in the Apalta

Best White ...

Queulat 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca) - on lees for 3 months
Nose: tropical gooseberry and grapefruit cocktail
Taste: tropical and grapefruit cocktail flavours while acidity plays in the mouth
clean fresh and refreshing, nice lingering finish ... 3.5+

Best Reds ...
Queulat 2010 Pinot Noir (Casablanca) - 10% new, 100% French oak
Nose: raspberry, hint of spice
Taste: quite the raspberry palate, soft and supple, touch of spice, seemingly silky smooth, fruity with just the right amount of spice and wood to make it easy to drink ... 3.5+

Heru 2009 Pinot Noir (Casablanca) - fruit comes from 2 hectare block called "Block 34"
History: started to seperate the vineyard in 2006 (in secret) made 4 barrels just to show there was a difference in the terroir and kind of wine that can be made
Nose: raspberry, strawberry, lots of nice red fruit
Taste: earthy, smoky, raspberry-strawberry, and mineral note - more complex, added fruit richness, and an interesting minerally finish with good length length ... 4

Grey 2009 Merlot "Block 3" (Colchagua, Apalta Vineyard)-
History: these grapes were planted by mistake in stony soil, they were told it was Cabernet Sauvignon; because of the soil they get very small grapes but very intense flavours
Nose: blueberry, cherry, with a hint of milk chocolate
Taste:  black cherry, blueberry skin, vanilla, herbal, good tannins and acidity, juicy and soft ... 4+

Grey 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon "Block 38" (Maipo) - 6% Petit Verdot added
Nose: raspberry and sweet black pepper
Taste: raspberry, black pepper, chocolate, juicy, with hint of vanilla-smoke, and good tannins, sweet red fruit finish with just the right amount of spice to keep it interesting ... 4+ (favourite wine of the tasting)

Pangea 2007 Syrah (Apalta Vineyard) - 3 blocks in three kinds of soil
Nose: red licorice, hint of balsamic and chocolate, with some raspberry liqueur
Taste:  juicy red fruit and berries, good spicy-peppery character, chocolate, smooth and silky tannins; white pepper, cassis and blackberry on the finish with some creme de cacao ... 4+

Report from ... Lunching with Mike Reynolds of Hall Winery - March 1, 2012

If you haven't heard of Hall Winery you're probably not alone.  Hall is a fairly new winery just entering their second decade in business, but they have built up quite a name for themselves south of the border, and quite the exquisite operation.  From nothing in 2002 to two facilities (Rutherford and St. Helena) and owners of 500 acres in Napa alone; total holdings of 3300 acres in 6 appellations between Napa and Sonoma.  The pedigree of the owners is quite impressive too: Craig Hall a real estate tycoon from Ann Arbor Michigan and his wife Kathryn whose family once own a winery in Mendocino (California), she was US Ambassador to Austria from 1997-2001.  These two have turned into one of the largest land owners of California vineyards and they buy or grow fruit in all but 4 appellations - though that is about to change.

About the winery:
- First Gold LEED certified winery in California
- all wines are un-fined and un-filtered (even the whites)
- exclusively Bordeaux variety producer, they grow and make wine from all 5
- in coming years they will be getting into Pinot Noir under a different name "Walt" (Kathryn's maiden name)
- they farm organically and use natural yeast to ferment their wines
- one of the first wineries to use an optical sorter (2011)

Choice Quote from Mike Reynolds, former winemaker and now President of Hall:
"Our wines have to have a reason to exist, they can't all be the same"
(see below for quote about fruit)

The Wines ...
Hall released it's first wine into Vintages February 4, 2012 (2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, ****, now sold out) ... the following are my top three wines of the 6 we tried:

2009 Jack's Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon (winery only)
Tasting Notes:  full on red fruit with licorice, mocha and cherry on the nose; palate is rich and juicy with red fruit, then comes milk chocolate, spiced and peppered cherries and finishes with a mineral chalkiness (**** 1/2)
- 900 cases made ... 15.5% alcohol ... grapes come from three appellations
- this is the only wine that Mike Reynolds' makes these days, Jack is the artist who's masterpiece appears on the label, Jack is Mike's 18 month son (at time of artistry)

2009 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon (N/A)
Tasting Notes:  nose is chocolate, red berries, plum, vanilla-smoke and mocha laden; the palate is full of opulent fruit, white pepper, vanilla, chocolate, mocha, black cherry with a sweet cherry and plum wrapped in chocolate finish ... very tasty, rich and full (**** 1/2)
- fruit comes from the "Sacrashe" vineyard located in Rutherford
- we tried both the 2008 (****+) and 2009 of this wine

2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.95)
"We don't think of a wine being over or under oaked, we think of a wine being over or under fruited." - Mike Reynolds
Tasting Notes:  speaking of fruit this one has it in spades, lots of red fruit on the nose with just a hint of dark fruit in the background; palate is also big fruited with blackberry well seasoned with pepper and spice and a sprinkling of cocoa powder on the finish (****+)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wine and Casinos - an overview

I have been asked a few times what my thoughts on gambling and wine are ... not sure why this topic comes up in conversation but when you travel to places like Windsor and Niagara I suspect people are interested.  I found this little article that might offer a little advice and help:

When you think of having a few drinks at the casino, you probably think of having a rum and coke, vodka, Jello shots, or downing a few beers.  You probably don't think about drinking wine while you play casino games, but it is an option.  Casinos all over the world serve a wide variety of wines to help keep customers happy.  Here are just a few of the reasons casinos serve wine.

The first and most common reason that you see wine served in casinos is for player's enjoyment.  Above all else casino gambling is supposed to be entertainment and if a player is enjoying their time spent at the tables, they are more likely to spend more money.  That is why you will see wine and other types of alcohol served.  Nothing keeps one playing and in their seats better than to have a glass in their hand, it's the way many of us unwind and enjoy ourselves.

Another indirect reason that wines are served in the casino, and one that casinos will not admit to if directly asked, is that wine can impair players at the tables.  By this we mean that players who regularly drink alcohol at the tables will not make the same types of decisions that a person that is not drinking will make.  They will not be capable of using betting strategies as well or make the same types of decisions.  In the end that increases the house edge on its players.

US casinos and many around the world will also serve wine to allow players to feel an air of sophistication when playing at the tables.  For many, playing at the casino is about fantasy and feeling like a high roller.  If someone is well dressed and sipping on Gaja Sito Moresco while playing blackjack, they will give off the appearance of being a high roller; they may even be treated better by the casino if they give off that air. 

Finally, another reason you will see casinos serve wine is due to restaurants.  Many casinos host a variety of restaurants, from buffets and cafeteria-style to fine dining and steakhouses.  Nothing beats a great Cab when savoring a fine steak, a Riesling with your Thai or Chardonnay with most anything else.  Offering a solid selection of wines gives customers the chance to enhance their dining experience, and increases the chance they will choose that establishment again the next time they want to dine out at the casino or spend their hard earned entertainment dollars.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Report from ... Cuvee 2012, And the Winners Are ...? - March 2, 2012

A few more awards than last year, including Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir ... you'll also notice a few name changes of awards like Assemblage is now Blend - means the same thing but this time in English.  The big winner was Fielding Estate who took home 3 first place finishes (Viognier, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc); Peller, also won big carrying home 2 first places: Sauvingon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Congratulations to all the winners, and they were ...

Cuvee 2012 Winners:

Red Wine:  Palatine Hills Estate Winery 2007 Proprietor's Reserve Merlot
Limited Edition Red:  Angels Gate Winery 2009 Moutainview Pinot Noir
White Wine:  Greenlane Estate Winery 2010 Riesling
Limited Edition White:  2027 Cellars 2010 19th Street Chardonnay
General List Red:  Creekside Estate Winery 2009 Shiraz
General List White:  Hillebrand Winery 2010 Trius Sauvignon Blanc
Sparkling Wine:  Tawse Winery 2009 Spark Rosé
Dessert Wine:  G Marquis Vineyards 2009 Riesling Icewine
Limited Edition Dessert Wine:  Sue Ann Staff Estate Winery 2007 Riesling Icewine
Meritage:  Kacaba Vineyards 2007 Reserve Meritage
Cabernet Sauvignon:  Peller Estates Winery 2010 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc:  Fielding Estate Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc
Gamay Noir: 13th Street Winery 2010 Gamay Noir Sandstone Old Vines
Merlot:  Palatine Hills Estate Winery 2007 Proprietor's Reserve Merlot
Pinot Noir: Angels Gate Winery 2009 Moutainview Pinot Noir
Syrah/Shiraz:  Creekside Estate Winery 2008 Broken  Press Syrah
Red Blend:  Colanari Estate Winery 2009 Insieme
Riesling:  Greenlane Estate Winery 2010 Riesling
Sauvignon Blanc: Peller Estates Winery 2010 Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
Chardonnay:  Stoney Ridge 2009 Excellence Chardonnay
White Blend:  Stonechurch Vineyards 2009 Riesling Gewurztraminer
Gewurztraminer: Konzelmann Estate Winery 2010 Gewurztraminer Late Harvest
Viognier: Fielding Estate Winery 2010 Viognier
Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio: Fielding Estate Winery 2010 Estate Bottled Pinot Gris