Friday, January 18, 2013

Report from … Wrapped Up In the Valley – November 17, 2012

Recently I reviewed Niagara on the Lake’s November offering: Taste the Season – an event I have been going to for a number of years.  This year I was invited to do the round of the Twenty Valley “Wrapped Up” Tour, which features 24 wineries from Peninsula Ridge in the West to Henry of Pelham in the East.

Even before we began two things impressed me greatly: 1) There was a gift for all attendees – this year it was a box of shortbreads – this is something Niagara-on-the-Lake used to do, and when talking to long-time visitors of that event many still remember and miss their glass ornament (the usual gift) fondly.  2) Was an email on the Friday night before the tour began on Saturday informing all participants of any changes they might find along the way (ie: both Creekside and Good Earth had changed their wines due to dwindling supply and an update about road closures in the area).  This was very helpful to both the wineries and myself because I didn’t have to ask why a certain wine was not being poured and gave the winery an interesting talking point if it was brought up; plus, who wants to have their tasting-day interrupted by one of those guys holding a stop sign..  

We (my wife Erica and I) judged the pairing for the Valley the same way as we did the Niagara event: on a scale of 1-5, where one was poor and 5 was excellent.  We scanned the list of potential pairings and each chose our top 5 that we were most looking forward to – between the two of us 8 wineries made this list:  Angels Gate, John Howard – Megalomaniac, 13th Street, Cave Spring, Creekside, Flat Rock, Harbour Estates, Di Profio Wines and Sue-Ann Staff … these are the wineries we had the biggest Jones for, and thus had their bar raised even before we walked in the door – that’s the problem with high-hopes.

I would have to say that most wineries put on a really good pairing – of the 24 wineries participating 17 received a grade of 3 (average) or above.  But, if you were one of the prized-8 listed above you could not just be “average” you had to go beyond.

Words of Wisdom on the Peninsula Ridge Chalk Board
The Eight Wineries of Expectations …

Angels Gate Pulled Pork
Angels Gate – slow roasted pork slider with green pepper, onion and estate BBQ sauce … met our expectations with flying colours, and those colours included red and yellow peppers too. It just needed a little more BBQ flavour to put it over the top. (Rating: 4)

Megalomaniac – big mouth Merlot marinated pulled pork slider in mini-pita with fresh sprouts … I’m seeing a theme of pulled pork here, but I have high expectations for my pulled pork, this one met it but didn’t go over the top. (Rating: 4)

Flat Rock Cellars – caramelized onion tart with goats cheese … another fine bite here with a nice ratio of tart to filling to pastry. (Rating: 4)

13th Street's offering, pretty but ...
13th Street – Montreal smoked beef and caramelized onion, served with a mini Yorkshire pudding … odd bite served as one mouthful, but was it the texture or the taste that wasn’t quite right?  That’s a debate for another day. (Rating: 3)

Cave Spring Cellars – duck confit pot pie … once again the Cave goes for a tartlet stuffed with goodness, and unfortunately they didn’t hit the mark, though this was better than last time when the tart totally over-ran the filling flavor; they just need to tweak the ratio – talk to Flat Rock. (Rating: 3)

Di Profio Wines – pistachio crusted pork tenderloin with greens … had this not been on our top expectations list it would have rated higher I am sure, it was good it just lacked the wow factor we were looking for. (Rating: 3)

The Worst Bites of the Day …

Aure: Looks harmless but ... ick
Before we go on with some of the best pairings of the day and the rest of the Expected-8 (of which two have yet to make this page) I think I should tell you about the worst flavours of the day.  In Niagara only one winery made this list, here in the Valley two unfortunate wineries made this list, both got the same mark but one was worse than the other.  Starting with Vineland Estates, whose long-named concoction included a wild hibiscus flower in syrup, truffled popcorn and blueberries in peach syrup served over chevre … there was just too much going on here, too many flavours to try and process all at once and too many things for staff to remember (like I don’t remember getting any popcorn), it was like they said in the movie Amadeus, “Too many notes” – it just didn’t play like a symphony in the mouth, instead it was more like an ill-tuned guitar. (Rating: 1) … But as bad a flop as that was Aure Wines takes the cake for the absolute worst bite of the day: duck pate with pumpkin bread with cranberry jelly … nothing went right here, in fact we took one bite threw out the rest and wished we could scrape our tongues of the residual flavor left behind.  We wanted water but had none – and the wine just didn’t do the trick either.  Simply put, this was nasty.  I don’t want to belabor the point here but some food combinations should best remain in the thinkers head. (Rating: 1 – because that’s the lowest mark we could give).

The Sheep hard at work at Tawse
Great Bites of Note …

Wineries that made pretty exciting nibbles and earned a rating of 4 out of 5 were: Rosewood Estates (beef tagine with apricots and honey), Thirty Bench (mushroom soup with crème fraiche & foie gras crumb garnish) and Henry of Pelham (dried cranberry arrancini with allegretto cheese and smoked celery) – all touched our taste-buds with excellent flavours.
Sue-Ann Staff's welcoming committee (of one) ...

Exceeded Expectations (we’d go back again and again) ...

Starting with the last two on our expectations list:

Creekside's Stew - love the crumble
Creekside – Cabernet Sauvingon braised beef stew with autumn root veg topped with garlic herb crumble … an amazing well integrated stew that warmed us up on the cold day we visited, and that crumble also contained the wonderful un-advertised flavor of blue cheese; beef and a light touch of blue cheese, how in the world can that be bad?  (Rating: 5)

Sue-Ann Staff – zippy peach chutney summiring [sic] on an innovative grilled cheese sandwich … a very long winded description full of flowery language (ie: “summiring” – typo or special term), but in essence it was this ooey-gooey cheese sandwich I was looking for a few weeks back at Jackson-Triggs – this brought it to a whole new level with lots of cheese and an amazing taste.  Sue-Ann serves you at the dining room table, which also gives everything a very homey feel adding to the flavour. (Rating: 5)

Creekside's Newest Staff Member
Now for the wineries that we didn’t pick as potential favourite but over-delivered on their mini-bites of bliss …

Tawse: looks so simple ... but oh so tasty
Tawse – crispy duck roll with Niagara fruit and cayenne marmalade … Tawse redeems themselves from our last tasting adventure through the Valley with this delightful bite, it’s not what we expected from the description, here they under-promised and over delivered. (Rating: 4+)

Harbour Estates – slow roasted beef and sautéed mushrooms with a Cabernet-Merlot reduction … the Harbour does it again, serving up something we’d love to make at home, good thing they provided the recipe. (Rating: 4+)

The Good Earth Great Debate
The Good Earth – mini-choucroute garnie … “what the heck was this?” we wondered as we got to the winery, turns out it breaks down to being sausage and sauerkraut; a perfect smoky bite combination, especially to a girl her grew up on a farm with German grandparents, my wife was thrilled, it was the one place we split on, she gave it a whopping 5, I said it was worth a 4 … so we’ll split it down the middle at 4+ … “what was that honey? … sorry, yes dear, you are always right dear.”  (Rating: 5)

Overall a great day of touring and tasting and one that should be experienced year after year (because it’ll change year after year) … and the shortbread cookies to take home were a great reminder of the event – at least for the week they lasted in the house.

Other noteworthy foods ...

Thirty Bench makes a mean soup

Rosewood and their Beef Tagine with Apricots and Honey

Mountain Road has it all wrapped up ... in domestic grape leaves

Megalomaniac's hairy-ed pulled pork - those are sprouts I swear.

At Vineland the Hibiscus flower coloured the sparkling wine

Sue-Ann Staff's grilled cheese delight

"Ah Senor, sometimes the bull wins" ... the um, arrancini balls at Henry of Pelham

Monday, January 14, 2013

Report from … Masi Dinner – November 6, 2012

Sandro Boscaini of Masi explains the circumstances of the 2008 Costasera

While the picture of Sandro Boscaini isn't the most flattering I've ever taken of him - the wine he brought with him are possibly some of the best Masi's I've ever tasted ...

This was a much different Masi dinner than I had been to in the past, though there were also some similarities.  Similarity to previous dinners were the high-quality Masi wines, the camaraderie and the great stories and information provided by Sandro Boscaini – the difference was the inclusion of the white Masianco 2011 (pineapple, tropical notes, creamy and smooth on the palate) and the wine from Masi’s Argentinean project (started in 2000), the Malbec / Corvina appassimento Passo Doble.  But this was not the focus. 

Tonight’s dinner was a more casual affair and was all about introducing the new vintages of the flagship wines:  2009 Campofiorin (the original Ripasso) and 2008 Costasera (the flagship Amarone).

Sandro described Ripasso as a “zero cost” wine: skins cost nothing (plus you can sell them for grappa making when you’re done with them) – “Ripasso is like making a 2nd cup of tea with the same bag”, Sandro explained.  We were also told that Masi started the ripasso method in 1964 and went to the double fermentation method in 1983.

The 2009 Campofiorin ($18.95 - #155051) might be one of the best values in a Ripasso to come along in quite some time.  2009 was a better vintage than 2008 and the wine shows that.  The ’09 is still quite young but with vibrant fruit:  plum and spice rule the roost, but there’s still quite a bit of punch from the tannins; that all said it is also very drinkable.   Touches of chocolate, black cherry and mocha also make appearances.  What really makes this wine special is the sheer elegance it shows in all aspects from nose to palate.   That all said it’s also a wine that punches well above its price point, and definitely tastes that way – it is a wine you could easily lie down for a decade or more, and to find that kind of wine for under $20 that’s a bargain and a plus.  This might be one of the best Ripasso’s … oops, Campofiorin’s Masi has ever made; even if the vintages doesn’t get the coveted 5 star rating from the producer. (**** ½)

The key to Campofiorin is that it is made as a stand-alone wine and not, as some producers attempt to portray their Ripasso-style wines, as a baby Amarone; interesting to note that Masi was the only producer making Ripasso form 1964-1989 – so they’ve had time to hone their skills with it and perfect their techniques.

The 2008 Costasera has an interesting story to tell this year … 2008 was a good vintage but not an exceptional one, compared with the previous vintages, especially its predecessor 2007.  Because of that fact Masi decided not to make its single vineyard Amarones in that year – that means the grapes that would have gone into those single vineyard offerings had to go somewhere (after all they grew and were picked) so they were declassified and put into the Costasera production.  This has benefited the Costasera wine greatly as it too might be one of the best I have tasted from Masi in quite some time.

The 2008 Costasera ($39.95 - #317057) has lovely plum, cherry and chocolate with spice and anise notes … this is one elegant and delicious wine that should, by all rights, fly off the shelf.  Age ability is more than double that of the Campofiorin at 20-25 years with ease – but it is also so supple and tasty right now.  (**** ½)

Masi has given us two beautiful new wines – one to drink now and one to drink later … the good news is, if you buy a few bottles of each you can do both.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Report from ... Wines of Chile Holiday Press Tasting - December 4, 2012

A few weeks before the holidays were to begin Chile made a push for you to drink more Chilean wine over the holidays - and I suspect beyond that, because nothing screams Christmas like Chile, am I right or am I right?.  I did my part this holiday season (see review of a Valdivieso 2009 Single Vineyard Old Vines Malbec consumed on December 25) ... now it’s time to give you a look at some wines available now and upcoming:

Four-and-a-half plus Stars (**** 1/2+)
Valdivieso 2010 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.75 - Consignment) - big red fruit, smoked cherry and raspberry, hefty tannins; good ageability.  The 2009 version is coming out in Vintages January 19, 2013 ($19.95 - #312769 - **** 1/2).

Four-and-a-half Stars (**** 1/2)
Marques de Casa Concha 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95 - #337238) - beautifully juicy and incredibly tasty with a hint of mint and spice on the finish.

Four-plus Stars (****+)
Marques de Casa Concha 2011 Pinot Noir ($19.95 - #301424)
Valdivieso 2009 Reserva Syrah ($19.99 - Consignment)
Valdivieso 2011 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18.75 - Consignment)

Four Stars (****)
Terrunyo 2009 Carmenere ($29.95 - #562892)
Errazuriz 2012 Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc ($15.95 - #273342)
Errazuriz 2010 Max Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.95 - #335174)
Errazuriz 2010 Max Reserve Syrah ($18.95 - #614750)
Vitral 2011 Reserva Chardonnay ($13.95 - #270009)
Valdivieso 2010 Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($16.70 - Consignment)

Report from ... Discover. Wines of Chile - October 2, 2012

This year's seminar was called "Chile the Natural Choice" and was all about the new sustainability code of the Chilean wine industry with a tasting of nine wines ... I won't bore you with the details of the seminar - I am sure they will appear in other columns, writing and such that will appear over the next year or so as Chile implements their new codes - so let's get to the important part.  Below is a selection wines from the Grand Tasting (in alphabetical order) ...

Arboleda 2011 Chardonnay ($18.95 - #606772) - *** 1/2
Carmen 2009 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.95 - #78980) - *** 1/2+
Carmen 2010 Reserva Carmenere ($10.95 - #169052) - *** 1/2
Carmen 2009 Gran Reserva Syrah ($17.95) - ****+
De Martino 2008 Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines "Las Cruces" ($34.95) - ****+
De Martino 2008 Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines "La Aguada" ($34.95) - ****
Errazuriz 2011 Estate Chardonnay ($12.95 - #318741) - ****
Errazuriz 2011 Estate Pinot Noir ($13.95 - #226696) - ****
Errazuriz 2010 Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.95 - #335174) - *** 1/2+
Errazuriz 2010 Max Reserva Syrah ($18.95 - #614750) - ****
Maipo 2010 Gran Devocion Carmenere Syrah ($16.95 - #274100) - *** 1/2+
Montes 2011 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.95 - #157883) - ****+
Montgras 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva ($11.95 - #619205) - ****
Montgras 2011 Antu Ninquen Syrah ($16.95) - ****+
Montgras 2009 Intriga ($21.95) - **** 1/2
San Esteban 2010 In Situ Gran Reserva Carmenere ($16.95 - #93542) - *** 1/2+
Santa Alicia 2011 Pinot Noir Reserva ($14.95) - *** 1/2
Santa Ema 2010 Reserve Merlot ($16.95 - #642538) - ****
Santa Rita 2011 120 Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.95 - #218644) - *** 1/2
Santa Rita 2010 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.95 - #253872) - *** 1/2+
Santa Rita 2009 Medalla Real ($17.95) - ****
Siegel 2010 Crucero Reserva Syrah ($13.95) - ****+
Siegel 2011 Crucero Reserva Chardonnay ($13.95) - *** 1/2+
Valdivieso 2009 Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($18.35) - ****
Valdivieso 2010 Reserve Syrah ($17.95) - *** 1/2+
Ventisquero 2009 Grey Single Block Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95) - ****+
Via Wines 2011 Chilensis Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($11.95 - #620849) - ****
Via Wines 2011 Chilensis Pinot Noir ($12.95) - ****
Vistamar 2010 Sepia Reserva Syrah ($12.95) - *** 1/2+
Vistamar 2012 Late Harvest Moscatel ($7.95 / 375ml) - ****

Report from … Meeting Angelo Gaja and Tasting his wines – October 15, 2012

When you meet an icon winemaker like Angelo Gaja you expect him to want to talk about his wines, their makeup, his vineyards … but instead we were treated to an hour long dissertation about what he has seen in his life and his 51 years in the wine business, from communism to Robert Mondavi, from artisanal winemaking to Bernie Madoff and many more topics in-between – Angelo seem to bring them all together with wit, humour, and interesting insight into his, and this, world of wine making and beyond … all-in-all it was an enjoyable hour that kept your ears on their toes (if that is even possible) – and asking yourself “where is he going with this?” But sooner or later, as the old saying goes, “the train came back to the station". 

When it was over we got to try 6 Gaja wines while Angelo stood by to answer any questions we might have.

Highlights of Angelo’s Talk …
-    He is 72 years old and has spent 51 years in the wine business.
-    Gaja is a Spanish name but the winery is located in Italy’s Piedmont region.
-    The winery was started by his grandfather in 1859.
-    Communism and deregulation: neither system works for wine production because extremes stymie creativity
-    Spoke highly of Robert Mondavi as being the most important wine man in the last 45 years: Mondavi showed that volume AND high quality was possible.  He named things by varietal, created different levels of quality and, most importantly, he introduced wine tourism in Oakville, California (1966) – this idea found its way to Europe.
-    Gaja and Mondavi once spoke about a partnership, but Angelo was worried his company was too small: “It was like an elephant having sex with a mosquito, no pleasure for the elephant and dangerous for the mosquito.”  1.5 years later Mondavi partnered with Frescobaldi and created LUCE.
-    Comparing the grapes of Piedmont versus International or more specifically California:  Nebbiolo has been planted in Piedmont for 800+ years, and it is not a common tasting wine, it will never reach the popularity of Cabernet or Merlot, but it does appeal to adventurous wine consumers.
-    He derided the manipulation of wine in particular opulence in Cabernet Sauvignon and the search for the “perfect wine” and the manipulation to create such a beast.  Elegance does not need perfection.
-    Climate Change:  the first hot vintage was in 1997 which was loved by US writers, but it was the first sign it was afoot … downside: parasites are being introduced, grass is changing and old knowledge has to be integrated with the new reality.
-    Sees a trend of people moving back to an agricultural based lifestyle.
-    He has a gentleman’s agreement with his children: they will not force him to retire and he will not fire them.
The six wines tasted

The Wines …
The famous two tone label (black and white) was finally demystified: black represents the past, you can’t re-write the past or write new stuff upon it.  The white is the future, a clean slate to be written upon:  “Excellence in wine takes courage, vision and dedication.” – Angelo Gaja

6 wines were tried.  4 of the wine were rated (4+) stars including:
2009 Ca’Marcanda ‘Magari’ – Tuscany (Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc) - $69.95
2010 Sito Moresco – Piedmont (Nebbiolo, Merlot, Cab Sauv - $54.95
2007 Gaja “Dagromis’ Barolo – Piedmont (100% Nebbiolo) - $79.95
2008 Gaja Barbaresco – Piedmont (100% Nebbiolo) - $159.95

(**** 1/2)
Top Two Wines …

2007 Pieve S. Restituta ‘Sugarille’, Brunello di Montalcino – Tuscany (100% Sangiovese) - $159.95 … nose is pencil shavings with cherry and white pepper, while the palate doles out cherry, herbal intensity and great acidity. (**** ½)

2005 Gaja ‘Sperss’ – Piedmont (94% Nebbiolo, 6% Barbera) – N/A … this vineyard is a nostalgic one for Angelo’s father and finally was purchased by the Gaja family.,  The nose is plum, cherry with a touch of herbs and spices.  Palet is elegant and earthy with big acidity, bing cherry, black and white pepper with great spiciness. (**** ½)