Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Report from ... Bollinger Champagne Tasting - November 4, 2014

Today I am lucky enough to find myself at a drop in tasting at the King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto for the iconic Champagne producer Bollinger ... the wine of choice of 007.  I met with Guy de Rivoire, Commercial Director for Bollinger Champagne, who along with their agent Hanna & Sons, presented in a relaxed walk around style 3 different wines in the Bollinger line.  I got a chance to sit down with Guy at the bar and discuss Champagne and Bollinger in particular.

First wine was the Bollinger Special Cuvee ... which makes up 80% of Bollinger's production of which 86% gets exported.  Major export markets (in order) are England, Australia, USA, Sweden, Italy, Japan - Canada ranks in the top 25.  The Special Cuvee spends a minimum of 3 years on lees, though the average is 4-5 years.

Bollinger Special Cuvee ($75.00)
Lovely biscuity-breadyness, clean, fresh biscuits, bread crust,
touch of baked apple all with a complexity that makes each sip
a different, yet enjoyable, experience
(**** 1/2)
Bollinger owns 60% of the grapes that go into their wine ... 164 hectares in total: 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier.  It is a wine that has been served at Buckingham Palace since 1884.  Bollinger now uses a special bottle for their 750ml Champagne bottles, they call it "The Little Magnum":  it reduces the amount of air trapped in the bottle thus aging it slower.

The next wine tasted was the Rose, which makes up 10% of their production ...

Bollinger Rose ($100.00)
Beautiful raspberry-cranberry nose which mixes with pretty floral nuances;
hints of cherry and raspberry tickle the tongue with biscuit and
bready notes on the finish
Finally, the Bollinger R.D. 2002 which is still hand riddled and was disgorged March 13, 2014 after 11 years on lees.  The next vintage to be released in the RD line up will be the 2005.

Bollinger R.D. 2002 ($180.00)
Almond and hazelnut, stale bread crust and bruised apple
Monsieur Guy de Rivoire
Commercial Director

Report from ... Louis Roederer Champagne Dinner - October 14, 2014

Somedays are better than others, and a day when you get to have a "Champagne Dinner" with Jean Baptiste Lecaillon, executive vice-president of production & chef de caves/winemaker of Louis Roederer, must count as one of those days.  Read on as I take you inside to see what happens at one of these dinner.

Dinner was to be held as Sassafraz in Toronto and saw the pairing of
7 Roederer Champagnes - with a few special, not-yet-released and limited
bottlings in the mix.
It all starts with the Brut Premier in all its fancy packaging;
Brut Premier has 8 different vintages within the blend.
A dimming of the lights and lightning of the candles signifies a start to the evening
And a quick look at the menu
(more on that later)
Mr. Jean Baptiste Lecaillon,
a wealth of valuable knowledge about Roederer, founded in 1776.
He joined the company in 1989, became Chef de Caves in 1999
and added agronomist to his title in 2000.
"I will be quiet tonight because the wine will speak for itself"
(notice the pursed lips)
Roederer is one of the last family owned Champagne houses.
Today they own 240 hectares and buy land at a rate
of ~2 hectares per year.  140 hectares of that land
is Grand Cru, the rest is Premier Cru.
"We do not make Champagne at Roederer, we make wines of Champagne."
There are 410 blocks and each is fermented separately because of the
different soils Roederer has to play with.  They grow only Chardonnay
and Pinot Noir, then buy in Pinot Meunier for the Brut Premier.

The Wines ...

Created in 1876 for the Tsar of Russia who dictated the label and the bottle.
Made from old vine grapes grown in chalky soils, which are cropped at 30%
than the appellation dictates - then 25-30% is oak fermented.  It's a wine
made in 7 of 10 years and disgorged after 7 years.  They have used the same
glassware since 1896

Nose:  Definite mineral, green apple, lime zest and apple skin
Taste:  Dried apple and mineral with a lovely mid-palate and a touch of
hazelnut/almond notes - surprisingly crisp yet with a weight on the palate.
First time tasted in North America:
10 years on lees and released 10 years after disgorging
They held back some 1995, 1996, 1998, and 2002 just for this purpose.
57% Pinot Noir - 43% Chardonnay

Nose:  lovely biscuity, bruised apple, hazelnut and bread crust
Taste:  Great texture with mineral, butterscotch and spice;
rich mouthfeel, fresh with creamy lime notes and a long finish.
This wine almost defies description, it is one to be tasted to be believed
"When we make Rose we are not winemakers, we are more like pastry chefs,
we go on flavour because it's all juices that we blend." - JBL
"To make good Rose you need good Chardonnay." - JBL
Acidity comes from North facing Chardonnay.  70% Pinot Noir - 30% Chardonnay

Nose:  Gentle hints of raspberry and strawberry with subtle lime notes
Taste:  Follows the nose but with a huge dollop of acid keeping it fresh
and lively - quite simply spectacular (**** 1/2)
"I would never base a blend or wine on purchased fruit, only my own vineyard." - JBL
The success of blending is cool Pinot Noir with riper Chardonnay and vice versa
70% Pinot Noir (cool climate adds minerality) - 30% Chardonnay (adds roundness)

Nose:  Lots of yeasty character, fresh bread crust: bakery first thing in the morning
Taste:  Follows the nose; lovely fresh biscuity, bready, lively and exciting;
rich and full of finesse with beeswax on the finish (****+)

2006 Brut Nature
First ever Brut Nature for Roederer, made with 20% Pinot Meunier
All grapes picked on the same day to show terroir alone, monochrome colour
50% oak / 50% stainless steel - 10 months - no dosage

Tasting Note: Fresh, crisp, good acidity, a touch earthy with
great minerality; pretty yet slightly bitter, a perfect oyster wine.
Wild yeast, no malolactic, grapes from three villages (all Grand Cru)
Nose:  crisp apple, croissant, burnt butter, toasty almond
Taste:  chalky, mineral, vanilla foam and a long finish (****)

The Dinner ...

Arugula with cumin cashews, grapefruit, toasted coconut
and a rhubarb citrus vinaigrette
Organic BC Chinook Salmon with roasted garlic mascarpone orzo,
broccolini, pine nuts, yellow tomato romesco

Cheese Platter
Milk Chocolate Mousse with olive oil ganache,
passion fruit coulis, roasted candied almonds

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Report from ... 10 Years of "Portfolio" from Laughing Stock - November 25, 2014

Earlier this year I attended a ten year vertical tasting of the iconic Canadian producer in British Columbia, Osoyoos Larose ... Today another of BC's great contributors to the Canadian wine landscape showed 10 years of their wines.  Sitting down with owners David and Cynthia Enns to taste through the first decade of Laughing Stock Vineyards' iconic "Portfolio" (2003-2012), a, for the most part, 5 grape Bordeaux blend (save for the years 2003 and 2004).  This tasting showed that this winery on the Naramata bench can produce wine with just as much age-abilty and complexity as their neighbours to the south in Osoyoos.

Let's take a look ...

David and Cynthia Enns discuss the wines of their Laughing Stock Vineyards

Wines from the Original Naramata Vineyard ...

Portfolio 2003
64% Merlot / 33% Cabernet Sauvignon / 3% Cabernet Franc
Aroma:  Leather, earthy, tobacco
Palate:  Follows nose, smooth, but little to no finish and it's too woodsy and smoky
Other thoughts:  Nose really stinks but the palate intrigues ... drink up (ok+)
Portfolio 2004
55% Merlot / 35% Cabernet Sauvignon / 10% Cabernet Franc
Aroma:  Old fruit, dried cranberry, earthy
Palate:  Hard to get past the old, gamey, leathery flavours
Other thoughts:  Definitely not a favourite, bland and has aged poorly (ok)
Portfolio 2005
59% Merlot / 33% Cabernet Sauvignon / 3% Cabernet Franc / 4% Malbec / 1% Petit Verdot
Aroma:  Woodsy and cassis
Palate:  Silky, woodsy, dried-sweet cherry, tannins still grip
Other thoughts:  First year to have all five grapes and it benefits from it (good)
Portfolio 2006
61% Merlot / 16% Cabernet Sauvignon / 16% Cabernet Franc / 5% Malbec / 2% Petit Verdot
Aroma:  Subtle and quiet with pencil shavings and licorice
Palate:  Pencil shavings, smoky, cassis, anise seed, still has grippy tannins
Other thoughts:  This one sits right in the middle for me (good)
Portfolio 2007
56% Merlot / 25% Cabernet Sauvignon / 12% Cabernet Franc / 6% Malbec / 1% Petit Verdot
Aroma:  Ripe cherry, plum, mocha and cassis
Palate:  Juicy with a sweetness of tobacco, plum, cherry, mocha and anise
Other thoughts:  One of my favourites before the addition of the Osoyoos fruit (good+)

Addition of the Osoyoos Fruit ...
In 2007 22 acres was purchased in Osoyoos which has been added into the wines in following years

Portfolio 2008
53% Merlot / 24% Cabernet Sauvignon / 12% Cabernet Franc / 9% Malbec / 2% Petit Verdot
Aroma:  Smoky-tobacco, blackberry, cassis, black raspberry and meaty
Palate:  Richness of chocolate, black cherry, burnt coffee, vanilla,
tannins show real finesse toasty, tasty, deep and complex
Other thoughts:  When it comes to ranking these wines this one's in my top 3 (great)
Portfolio 2009
36% Merlot / 27% Cabernet Sauvignon / 22% Cabernet Franc / 14% Malbec / 1% Petit Verdot
Aroma:  Cranberry, raspberry, cherry, nice red fruit and anise
Palate:  Cranberry, sour cherry, smoked-cherry,
shows tannin grit with woodsy, tobacco and smoke on the finish
Other thoughts:  Only wine in the line with higher portion of Franc (good)
Portfolio 2010
32% Merlot / 42% Cabernet Sauvignon / 6% Cabernet Franc / 18% Malbec / 2% Petit Verdot
Aroma:  Mocha-cherry, plum with a touch of floral
Palate:  Cherry, chocolate, blackberry, cassis, vanilla, smoke and cinnamon;
rich and creamy with lots of depth and complexity
Other thoughts:  Ranks second on my top 3; the only one that's Cab Sauv dominated and has more Malbec than Franc (great+)
Portfolio 2011
42% Merlot / 32% Cabernet Sauvignon / 17% Cabernet Franc / 7% Malbec / 2% Petit Verdot
Aroma:  Blueberry, cherry with hints of vanilla and cedar
Palate:  A little lean yet shows finesse, but the fruit seems restrained with acid and subtle tannins
Other thoughts:  This cooler vintage wine shows it with its leaner than usual palate (ok+)
Portfolio 2012
45% Merlot / 25% Cabernet Sauvignon / 22% Cabernet Franc / 7% Malbec / 1% Petit Verdot
Aroma:  Big, bold, black cherry, raspberry, blackberry, dark chocolate and vanilla
Palate:  Really follows the nose with a richness of dark fruit, vanilla, chocolate, mocha,
black cherry, juicy with all that ripe fruit and generous of tannins
Other thoughts:  Top wine of the day, lush and sexy, simply gorgeous,
has the potential to age better than the 2001 (excellent)

The "Portfolio" wines
Thank you to David and Cynthia for sharing their stories and their wines.

Report from ... Exclusive Osoyoos Larose 10 Year Vertical - September 8, 2014

All lined up:  10 Vintages of the Osoyoos Larose vertical
As a wine writer there is no greater thrill than a 10 year vertical from a very reputable producer; double so when it is one from you home country (Canada).

Today, a select number of members of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada partook in an exclusive opportunity to taste 10 years worth of Osoyoos Larose Grand Vin (their top wine).  Seven of the 10 wines were provided by the winery itself (a big thank you there) - the other three wines were filled out by members of the Circle:  Alan McGinty (2002 / 2008) and Konrad Ejbich (2001) ... an even bigger thank you to those members.

It was incredible to taste these wines side-by-each making not of their evolution and how they opened in the glass through the few hours they were tasted.

All lined up and ready to taste
Top wines according to the writers in attendance were the 2001, 2008 and 2005.  

My top 5 were the 2001, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 ... here are some notes on all the wines.

  Touch of leather, forest floor and dried fruit leather
Palate:  Woodsy, spicy, cassis, dried plum and a touch of vanilla
After 40 minutes: It opens beautifully with everything smoothing out
with tannins that sit pleasantly on the tongue
Aroma:  Very bland, hardly seems to be a wine of interest
Palate:  Overly oaky
After 40 minutes: Opens to loads of mocha and black cherry with great acidity
and spice - pure delight with great complexity

Aroma:  Baked black fruit a la cassis and blackberry
Palate:  Anise, blackberry, spiced plum, though it tastes older than the 2001
After 40 minutes: The acidity seems to come out more and over-powers the wine;
in the end it becomes a most unpleasant experience
Aroma:  Spicy, anise, cinnamon, blackberry, cassis and mocha
Palate:  Woodsy, spicy, high acidity, anise, lots of sediment in the glass
After 40 minutes: Chocolate wafts from the glass bringing with it cedar, smoke
and a plethora of spice.

Aroma:  Inviting and alluring - smoky, tobacco, cassis, anise, blackberry, mocha
Palate:  Elegant and inviting - anise, black cherry, blackberry, mocha;
this wine shows well right now with elegance and delicious flavour
After 40 minutes: Continues to excite in a big way; plenty of life in this bottle.
Aroma:  very closed up
Palate:  continues to be closed and hard to get a handle on
After 40 minutes: Maybe some anise, but lots of vegetal - weakest of the line-up
Aroma:  Cinnamon, cassis and spiced blackberry
Palate:  Smooth and silky yet with some tannins grip with everpresent acidity
After 40 minutes: Lots of heft and dry dark fruit.
Aroma:  Loaded with dark fruit
Palate:  Lush and beautiful of fruit and spice; really is a treat
After 40 minutes: Cassis, blackberry and black cherry continue to shine through.
Aroma:  Red and black fruit
Palate:  Shows lots of fruit, spice, pepper and good tannins
After 40 minutes: Charms from start to finish and then some.

Aroma:  Mocha and black cherry
Palate:  Creamed coffee, black cherry, nicely balanced with great acid and tannins
After 40 minutes: This is the current/coming vintage and will age a decade very well.

The writers hard at work during the tasting