Thursday, September 27, 2012

Report from ... Back for More Banfi – September 19, 2012

Today's wine list ...
Just 5 months ago I sat at a table in Bravi Ristorante and tasted through a number of Banfi wines with general manager Enrico Viglierchio and export manager Javier Rodriguez during a delicious lunch … I can tell you without a doubt that these wines are primarily food wines as today’s stand-alone tasting did not impress me as much – though the wines remain as impressive as ever, the food really bought out what they could do to enhance a meal.  On their own some wines showed better than others did last time.

We started with the Aurora Rose (bubbles) – still a great starter that needs no introduction, if you read my previous report.

One of the wines that stood up better today than five months ago was the 2008 La Lus Albarossa … back then I gave it four stars, today I raised it to four-plus.  This Nebbiolo/Barbera crossing is a wonderfully fruity wine that’s juicy and incredible tasty.  Red and black berries with nice spice and a red licorice finish … and the presentation (bottle-wise) is as elegant as the wine in bottle.  The good news is that come November 10, 2012 you (and I) will be able to put our hands on a few bottles as 300 cases will be making their way into the LCBO Vintages program.  At $23.95 this is a must purchase wine – at least three bottles worth … so make sure your local store is going to bring some in (#291575) - ****+.

Another wine that rocked my taste buds today was the Centine Rosso 2010 Toscana – a blend of Sangiovese (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (20% each) – this beauty just came to Vintages (September 1) and at $15.95 is one of the best Italian bargains: licorice, cassis, brambly-raspberry and dark berries all wrapped up in a very rustic Italian style wine yet also with a modern flair (****).

The Banfi Brunello di Montalcino: 2006 and 2007 were also tasted today – both received the same score they did from five months ago (3.5+) and (4+) respectively … nice to see I’m consistent.

The Poggio Alle Mura 2007 seems to have dropped almost a full point to 3.5+ … proving that this wine needs food to truly shine – and better glassware (which was the case at Bravi but not at today’s tasting, the vessel left something to be desired).

The Poggio All’Oro faired better, picking up a half point to settle in at 4-stars, this wine proved to be quite tasty – the leanest of the previous bottle was gone and now showed dried and fresh cherries, blackberry, cassis and a nice dry finish that wasn’t too tannic – chalk this one up to bottle variation.

Two other wines did not make the trip last tasting, so I was excited to try them today – both interesting IGT blends: the 2009 Excelsus (last time around was the stellar ’07) was full of fresh fruit – both red ad black – and lovely chocolate notes, it also had a juicy palate with a lovely silkiness across the tongue – all before the tannins kicked in on the finish (****+)

The final wine was the Cum Laude 2009, a blend that incorporates 4 varieties: Sangiovese (25%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), Merlot (30%) and 15% Syrah – this one was rich and flavourful with plum, cherry and blackberry on the nose; which followed through on the palate with more dark fruit and hints of cocoa added for good measure … and, of course, you can’t avoid the delicious finish (****+).

I still say that La Lus is a bargain for an as-yet unheralded grape (Albarossa) and the Cantine is a steal at $15.95 … keep your eyes peeled for the one (Nov. 10) and rush out now to get your hands on the other.

The three star selection -

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Report from ... Victorian Regional Identity – July 18, 2012

Sounds dirty, but it's really about wine

The title of this article refers to Victoria, Australia – not the life and times in the Victorian age … just in case you were wondering. 

Australia has seen a fall off of sales lately, it’s tough to fall from the top dog position, but even tougher to make your way back to the top.  So these days, instead of making what one Australia referred to as “Wanker Wines” (high alcohol fruit bombs) a style they have been known for all these years, Australia is now starting to think about showing regional diversity in the glass – starting with Victoria.
Tasting of 17 wines from Victoria, Australia

Interesting things to note about Victoria …
Victoria is diverse and densely populated (winery wise); there are more wineries and regions in this state than in South Australia. 

Other than Tasmania, Victoria is the smallest state, but has the greatest diversity of site climates and wine styles in Australia.  23 of 64 geographic indicators are cooler than Bordeaux..

Phylloxera is almost non-existent in many areas of Australia, and they have some of the oldest plantings of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache, many still un-grafted; and some date back to the 1840’s.

The Wines …
Today we tasted some 17 wines form Victoria, below is my scoring of those wines, many are very good, but few were outstanding:
Top Rated Chardonnay (*** 1/2+)

3.5 star wines (*** ½) …
Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2011 (Mornington Peninsula) - $39.95
Yabby Lake Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 (Mornington Peninsula) - $49.95
Camelback Shiraz 2008 (Sunbury) - $26.95
Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz 2009 (Strathbogie Ranges) - $34.95
Tar & Roses Shiraz 2010 (Heathcote) - $21.95
Innocent Bystander Chardonnay 2011 (Yara Valley) - $23.95
Windy Peaks Pinot from Bortoli (*** 1/2+)
3.5+ star wines (*** ½+) …
Taltarni T Series Sauvignon Blanc / Semilon (Pyrenees) - $17.95
Caledonia Australis Chardonnay Reserve 2008 (Gippsland) - $39.95
De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2010 (Yara Valley) - $17.95
Tahbilk Shiraz 2008 (Nagambie Lake) - $19.95
Another well received Pinot (****)
4 star wines (****) …
Giant Steps Gladysdale Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 (Yarra Valley) - $39.95
Blackjack Block 6 Shiraz 2009 (Bendigo) - ~$35.00
Top Rated Shiraz: Pyrenees 2009 (****+) - good value
4+ star wines (****+) …
Pyrenees Ridge Shiraz 2009 (Pyrenees) - $24.00
De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon - $29.95

Report from ... An Evening with Adolfo Hurtado of Cono Sur – June 5, 2012

New Look Label of Cono Sur
It’s been so long since I had this dinner that I can barely remember where it was held; thankfully I took copious notes (which I just found).  This dinner was hosted by Adolfo Hurtado, head winemaker of Cono Sur and was in honour of the new brand re-launch and update of the labels.  We’ve all seen Cono Sur wines on the shelf at our local liquor store – and most likely you have bought a bottle or two based on their amazing price-point … then you probably bought a few more bottles based on the quality that was in the bottle:  price + value + good tasting wine = a consistently good buy – and that’s what Cono Sur wines are all about.
Every pic I took of Adolfo, he has demon eyes ... hmmmm
Tonight we tasted 10 wines, including two bubblies, three Chardonnay, two Pinot Noirs, a Syrah and two Cabernets – here’s my take on my top 6 … really it’s a Top 5 with a special mention:

5. Cono Sur 2011 Reserva Syrah ($12.95) – this wine also has three other components: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carmenere – all equaling 12%.  The nose is raspberry with smoky white pepper aromas, the palate has a smoky, meaty quality with spice and will-integrated tannins … good wine, especially for the price. (*** ½+)
Sippable and Affordable - you gotta like that
4 & 3.  Chardonnays … we tasted three Chardonnays tonight, one I did not like at all, so because I have nothing nice to say I’ll take mama’s advice on that one.  The other two garnered 4 stars and 4+ stars respectively.  First, there’s the great value Cono Sur 2011 Reserva Chardonnay ($12.95), 100% Chardonnay with 15% of the wine aged in new barrels, the other 85% sees stainless steel for for 5 months.  The result is a well-balanced, totally quaffable wine.  The nose has vanilla, peach, delicious apple, floral and citrus notes.  The palate really shows some complexity so bear with me as I explain.  It starts off with a creaminess to the palate with mainly vanilla and apple puree notes, then comes a little lemon and peach; finally, it ends with a hint of lime meringue (****).  Where the Reserva Chardonnay has a creamy freshness, the 20 Barrels Limited Edition 2008 Chardonnay ($24.95) is bold and powerful without being too oaky and overpowering.  It’s interesting to note that the grapes that go into this Chardonnay are picked later than most Chardonnay in Chile, giving it longer hang time which in turn gives the wine weight on the palate … then an aging regime that sees the wine spend 9 months in oak and 1 month in stainless steel.  The result is a nose that’s rich in buttery, vanilla and lime pith.  The palate keeps ripe fruit front-and-centre: lemon/lime, apple pulp, peach pit and there are also some interesting elements that add up to major enjoyment of this wine: it’s a touch salty, a touch creamy and a touch of oak sweetness – fresh, bold and delicious – this one’s worth it’s $24.95 price tag (****+)
One delicious Pinot Noir
2. Two Pinot Noirs were swerved up: one, the high end Ocio 2009 ($62.95), the other the 20 Barrels Limited Edition 2009 ($27.95) – I liked them both and scored them pretty equally at 4 stars, and for different reasons, but when push came to shove I just found myself drawn to the 20 Barrels each and every time.  The Ocio needs time to find its path in this world as now it is leathery, gamy and sour fruit-ish, with peppery-spices throughout …the 20 Barrels wine was just so pretty right now, with loads of finesse that lured you back again and again.  Aromas of raspberry and cherry, hints of floral and a little VA (nail polish) wafted about on the occasional sniff, but nothing off-putting.  The palate had all the goodies of warm climate Pinot: raspberry, cherry, and strawberry with barely a hint of earthiness – the fruit carries this one all the way to the finish, where darker fruit notes begin to emerge (****).
Wine of the Night: 2008 Cabernet 20 Barrels
1. The wine of the night goes to the 20 Barrels Limited Edition 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($26.95) … the vines from whence this wine comes were planted in the 1960’s, aged 17 months in barrel and let rest 1 month in stainless steel.  It has everything you’d look for in a Cabernet from Chile: aromas of chocolate, spice, blackberry and black cherry with a hint of mint.  The palate is full flavoured with black cherry, blackberry, powerful tannins along with pepper and spice biting at the tongue for supremacy on the finish – it showed real elegance especially with steak (****+)

When asked his favourite wine of the night I expected Adolfo to fall back on the “they’re all my children, you can’t pick a favourite …” B.S. that many winemakers use, but instead he thought careful and came right out and said: “the 200 Barrels Chardonnay” – that would have been my second had I been like Adolfo and had fish.

What's for Dinner ...

For more wine reviews and related articles go to,
while there sign up for Michael's free bi-weekly newsletter.

Report from ... Wines of Portugal Grand Tasting – May 17, 2012

Everything listed is a red wine unless otherwise noted … two things to take away from this tasting: 1) Portugal makes very good red wine – 2) Port is (still) awesome, and why more people aren’t drinking it is beyond me:

3.5-star wines (*** ½) …
Bacalhoa: Quinta do Carmo 2008
Casa Santos Lima: Lab 2011
Dao Sul: Quinta des Tecedeires Reserva 2009
Jose Maria da Fonseca: Quinta de Camarate 2008
Terra d’Alter: Fado Special Selection 2010

3.5+ -star wines (*** ½+) …
Pocas: Vale de Cavalos 2009
Herdade da Comporta: Chao des Rolas 2010
Senhora do Convento: Vintage 2003 (PORT)

4-star wines (****) …
Bacalhoa: Quninta do Carmo Reserva 2008
Casa Santos Lima: Monte das Promessas 2010
Pocas: Pocas NV Special Reserva Tawny (PORT)
J. Portugal Ramos: Marques de Barba 2011
Jose Maria da Fonseca: Periquita Superyor 2008
Quinta do Infantado: Reserva 2009
Portugallwines: Valdazar 2009
Sogevinus: Veedha DOC Douro Red 2009
Sogevinus: Calem Colheita 1998 (PORT)
Terras d’Alter: Terra d’Alter Alicante Bouschet 2009
Senhora do Conento: Vintage 1999 (PORT)

4+ - star wines (****+) …
J. Portugal Ramos: Vila Santa Reserva 2010
Jose Maria da Fonseca: Hexagon 2007
Herdade da Comporta: Parus 2009

4.5-star wines (**** ½) ...
Pocas: Colheita 1994 (PORT)
Qunita do Infantado: Porto LBV 2007 (PORT)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Report from … Tasting Brengman Brothers Wines at Brengman’s Restaurant - September 1, 2012

Now here’s a novel idea:  own a restaurant outside of Detroit and have your vineyard a few hours north (not on your winery property).  On the first day of September I find myself at Brengman’s Inn Land Restaurant in Richmond, Michigan, having a burger and brew for $4.50 (yes there’s a decimal point between the four and the five), their regular Saturday special, with my in-laws, when my father-in-law announces that Brengman’s owns a winery up near Traverse City and proceeds to tell the waitress who I am.  Soon after a few tasters appear on the table … as I taste through the wines my brother-in-law says with a smirk, “can we hurry this along, I have to get to work.”  I return the facial express and say, “I am at work.”  Touché.

The Brengman Brothers winery is located on Lake Leelanau, part of the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan wine country neat Traverse City … it is the left arm of the U that encompasses the Old Mission Peninsula – both areas I visited a few years ago.  The winery “just” opened so I must have just missed it on our journey through the two peninsulas.  Brengman Brothers is a 45-acre vineyard growing vitis vinifera grapes, mostly of the white variety (something I garnered from the ‘literature’ on the table).

As for the wines, five were offered to me for tasting, 3 whites, a fruit wine and a red (Syrah) … three of these wines I thought rather good – the others were passable, but not my cup of vino (so to speak) – three others around the table also agreed.

The Wines …

2010 Block 65, white blend is a Pinot Gris, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc mix.  Nice to see the Viognier grape is getting around and getting more respect in the process, I see a superstar variety in this grape, as long as winemakers don’t over-saturate the market with it (a la Pinot Grigio).  The Block 65 has a sweet nose with apples and pears, which I thought would lead to a sweet palate, but instead the wine ‘dried out’ on the finish as the Sauvignon Blanc took over, leaving the sensation of grassy and citrus notes and a lovely lemony-grassy linger on the tongue.  The mid-palate was very fruity but the finish is what you’ll most remember here. (****+)

2010 Runaway Hen, Late Harvest Riesling – the “runaway hen” wines (dedicated to the guinea hens that roam the vineyard) encompass a red and a white; this is the white version, a semi-sweet Riesling that shows lovely mineral notes amongst the pear and peach fruit sweetness; well balanced for a 2010 vintage wine, which would have seen lots of heat that summer, and Riesling is not a fan of heat so I expected more fatness to this wine … this one is lean and lanky but in a good way, with a nice balance to the sweetness and acidity keeping it from being cloying in the mouth. (****)

The third and final wine I’ll mention is the 2010 Runaway Hen Red, which is 100% Syrah.  When I was last up in Northern Michigan wine country a Leelanau producer told me his worst mistake was trying to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, and if anyone asks him he always tells them to avoid the same mistake he made, so I suspect Syrah is an even tougher endeavor in their clime (as it is here in Ontario).  But 2010 was a different beast of a vintage and Syrah would have done quite well.  The wine was laced with smoky, licorice, raspberry and blackberry notes from nose to palate … in the mouth there was also quite a bit of pepper and spice nipping at the tongue … the finish was all smoky-licorice and quite dry.  I suspect the wine had been open between 24-48 hours because there was a hint of oxidation on it, but if you pushed passed this you could see this is quite a lovely wine indeed. (*** ½+)

Next time I tour Michigan wine country I’ll have to check out Brengman Brothers to see what else they’ve got at the tasting bar.