Friday, July 31, 2015

Report from ... Looking Back at Don Melchor - April 29, 2015

A lot can be said about Concha y Toro ... they were first established in 1883 and the first winery to become public in 1933.  They were the first on the New York Stock Exchange (1994), bought Trivento in Argentina in 1996, partnered with Baron Philippe de Rothschild in 1997 to form Almaviva.  They acquired Fetzer / Bonterra (in California) in 2011 and they partnered up with Manchester United in 2010 ...

Their wines are in 147 markets, 70% of their production gets exported; they have 30% of their domestic market and make up 35% of Chilean exports.  They have 10,750 acres planted, which is second largest and between the years 2011-2013 Drink International named them the #1 most admired wine brand in the world.

Chile is the perfect place to grow grapes and is one of only 2 countries free of phylloxera ... So why is Chile so perfect? Because of 4 natural barriers: the desert in the north, the Pacific to the west, Antarctic to the south and the Andes Mountains in the east. 

So what brings them to Toronto on this fine April day? The anniversary of their iconic Don Melchor wine, the wine named after their founder that was started in 1987. This single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is known as the "King of the Company" - taken from a 127 hectare planting whose range ages between very young to 100 years old in the Puente Alto Vineyard which represents the best Cabernet Sauvignon in their vineyard.  Within this vineyard are 7 parcels, 6 are Cabernet Sauvignon and one (which came as quite a surprise), is Cabernet Franc ... in 1998 they discovered there was a little Cab Franc in the blend.

Today we got a chance to taste five wines from Don Melchor ... wines range in age from 1991 to the current as 2010 - hence a look back at Don Melchor.  And the results are:

2010 Don Melchor
15 months in French oak: 76% new
Blend: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon / 3% Cabernet Franc
Nose: deep dark, black cherry and cassis
Taste: savoury with spicy-pencil shavings and rich dark fruit
(**** 1/2+)
1996 Don Melchor
12 months in French oak
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose: earthy, sandlewood even a tad vegetal with leathery-gamey notes
Taste: hints of white pepper, sandlewood, and dried currants
Quite lovely but showing its age.
1995 Don Melchor
12 months in French oak: 65% new
Blend: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon / 3% Cabernet Franc
Shows more youth than the '96: better acidity, better spice
more fruit - lively and delightful
This is a fabulous 20 year old wine showing surprising youthfulness
1993 Don Melchor
12 months in French oak: 65% new
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose is earthy and mushroomy with hints of coffee, but the palate
shows an elegant smoothness and hint of red fruit with earthy
character returning on the finish.

1991 Don Melchor
12 months in French oak
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Shows licorice, leather and game meat - old but definitely still
drinkable ... on the plus side it does have nice soft tannins.
Lunch at Cafe Boulud ...

Alas, I don't think the lunch went very well - it just didn't go with the wines - the food was good but the meal was not a good pairing ... many around the table said they were "interesting" matches ... but let's be honest they were just being nice.

Tasting of Charcuterie
Artichoke Salad
Spring Lamb
Tasting of Cheese

Report from ... The Evolution of Argentina - July 29, 2015

It seems like it has been awhile since the Argentinian's have been to town and talked about their wines instead of just letting us taste them ... sure there was a tasting afterward, but first they had to inform us that much has changed in the land on the other side of the Andes: They have broken down the country into many appellations and three major regions - North, Cuyo and Patagonia. The whole of the country grows grapes between 1000 and 10,000 feet above sea level (300m - 3000m) - making it some of the most high altitude vineyards growing in the world.

Most of Argentina's grapes grow in the Cuyo region, where Mendoza is situated, this region is home to 95.52% of cultivates vines in the country.

Grapes (vitis vinifera) first came to Argentina in 1551, brought by Spanish colonists ... today it is the 5th largest producer, 9th largest exporter, 8th in cultivated surface and 7th in largest wine consumption.  They also have some 1301 wineries within their borders.  Mendoza grows 80% of the grapes, San Juan 16%, La Rioja 3% with at least 7 others growing less than 2% each.  Wine is big business in Argentina, the Uco Valley alone has seen vineyards double since 2012.

As one would suspect Malbec is the #1 grape of the country, followed by Bonarda ... it is interesting to note that Malbec was brought to Argentina in 1853 by Michel Pouget (as far as records indicate).

The Wines of the Seminar ...

The wines were presented in a number of flights: Sparkling, Torrontes, Chardonnay, Bonarda, Malbec, "Malbec & Friends" and a Tannat.

Sparkling ... neither of the two wines presented were impressive, both had a slight oxidative note that was mostly off-putting - until we see more of these wines here in Ontario it is hard for me to make a blanket judgement as to quality.

Torrontes ... two wines were presented, the best of which was a Dominio del Plata 2014 Susana Balbo version that had some barrel notes to it, yet it was delicate, with tropical fruit and melon rind along with subtle grapefruit and nice acidity. (*** 1/2+)

Chardonnay ... neither Chardonnay was of interest the first had too much oak while the other suffered the same fate but had a note of something spicy - which made it slightly more intriguing.  Having tasted another 5 during the walk around I would say Chardonnay is a not yet a strong suit of Argentina, nor do I think it will be.

Bonarda ... I have long been a fan of this grape, but some of the wines can be so boring, but a good one can be very juicy and a real delight. The winner here was the Sin Fin Guardia 2013 Bonarda with its sweet plum, cherry, and leather, with hints of spice and a real juiciness. (****)

Malbec ... this is Argentina's calling card to the world and there are some doing it real justice like the Colome 2013 Authentico Malbec with its concentrated fruit of cassis and blackberry backed by white pepper, spice and mocha with a blueberry skin finish. (****) ... While the Casa Bianchi 2013 Leo Malbec Premium is a wine that is very consumer friendly with its up front cherry, blackberry, plum, violets and spice. (****) 

& Friends ... this was the cutesy name they gave the blends of Malbec and other grapes, these were the best wines of the seminar: Monteviejo Lindaflor 2010 Malbec / Syrah Blend - an 80/20 blend favouring Malbec with mocha, white pepper, blackberry, vanilla, smoke and plum with a good long finish. (****+)  The other is the Catena Zapata Nicolas 2010 Cabernet / Malbec - this is an iconic wine for Argentina and is a 75/25 blend that shows beautiful red and black fruit, chocolate, fine tannins, a juicy core and real elegance. (**** 1/2)

Tannat ... I would say this is an upcoming grape with good potential in Argentina's future, there is not a lot planted at the moment but it is one they should consider putting more in ground.

The Walk Around Tasting ...

We all know Argentina is a juggernaut for Malbec - but are there other grapes they do well? Let's take a look at some other wines:

Alta Vista Estate 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.95)
a juicy chocolate-cherry number with hints of white pepper
(*** 1/2+)
Catena 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95)
another juicy Cabernet with raspberry, cherry, white pepper
and mocha ... very well balanced - ready to drink or for cellaring

Desierto 2013 '25' Cabernet Franc ($18.95)
touch of herbal with smokey-raspberry and gentle pepper
(*** 1/2+)
Dominio del Plata 2013 Crios de Susana Balbo Red Blend ($14.95)
Malbec / Bonarda / Tannat / Syrah make up this blend
that's rich in pepper and black fruit - ripe and ready
(*** 1/2)

Dominio del Plate 2013 BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.95)
red fruit, licorice, vanilla and smoke
(*** 1/2)
Zuccardi 2012 Finca Piedra Infinita Malbec ($120.00)
silky smooth with blackberry jam, mocha and coffee taking center stage
Finca Las Moras 2012 Gran Syrah ($26.95)
quite simply put this is a delicious Syrah with lovely black fruit,
mocha, white pepper and raspberry notes - plenty more to come with age
Fincas Las Moras 2014 Alma Mora Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.80)
well-priced little Cab that shows chocolate and strawberry-rhubarb
(*** 1/2+)
Graffigna 2013 Elevation Red Blend ($14.95)
Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon / Tannat / Syrah
dominated by black fruit, white pepper; easy drinking, BBQ ready
(*** 1/2+)

Kaiken 2012 Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95)
the Malbec has long been a staple of Vintages, and Kaiken proves
that they can do Cabernet Sauvignon just as well or even better
Luigi Bosca 2012 Malbec DOC ($30.95)
lush with a soft and silky mouthfeel: vanilla, smoky, raspberry,
mocha, along with elegant yet firm tannins on the finish
Luigi Bosca 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($26.95)
spicy mocha-cherry with raspberry, blackberry and chocolate
Mascota Vineyards 2014 OPI Chardonnay ($12.95)
while not a great Chardonnay it is one that delivers a delightful
fruitiness (pear, peach, grapefruit) but lacks the acidity to give it punch
(*** 1/2)
Masi Tupungato 2010 Corbec ($24.95)
a wine made in an Amarone style using the Italian Corvina and Malbec
smooth and supple with lovely chocolatey-cherry character on the silky
palate and a great spiced cherry finish.

Pascual Toso 2013 Barranca Toso ($16.95)
Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon juicy fruit of red berry along
with blackberry and an element of floral
(*** 1/2+)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Report from ... La Ferme du Mont Lunch and Tasting - July 21, 2015

The set up for La Ferme du Mont
A lunch and tasting at the Novotel Esplanade in Toronto (Cafe Nicole) with winemaker and owner of La Ferme du Mont winery in the Rhone Valley, Stephane Vedeau ... eight wines were poured - 6 scheduled and two special wines that Stephane "brought over in his luggage".  Here's what we learned ...

"Making wine is only interesting when the terroir is special."
- Stephane Vedeau

2014 La Truffiere ($16.95)
50% Grenache White, 40% Viognier (3% Botrytis Affected), 10% Clairette
Nice acidity with pineapple, melon and minerality - long finish and good weight
(*** 1/2+)
2014 Rose ($16.95)
100% Grenache
Aromas full of citrus pith followed on the palate with
raspberry and grapefruit pith - dry and refreshing
(*** 1/2)
First of the "special" wines
2012 Clos Bellene "Les Echalas" ($16.95)
100% Rousanne (late harvested in November)
Aromas of melon and pineapple rind with lime zest
Mouthfeel is round and thick, dry and pleasant
Impressive vicosity with a buckwheat linger
(*** 1/2+)
2012 "Premier Cote" - Cote du Rhone ($14.95)
60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre
Pinot-esque in its delicacy: mineral, raspberry, sour cherry
with blackberry, cassis and some savoury notes - fresh and clean
14.2% alcohol is not noticeable on either the nose or palate

2012 "Le Ponnant" - Cote du Rhone Villages ($18.95)
60% Grenache (oldest vineyards), 40% Syrah
Licorice, spice, blackberry, spiced-cranberry, loads of acidity
with great mid-palate layered with red and black fruit.
Keeps getting better and fruitier with each sip.
Finishes with licorice, black cherry and blackberry
2013 "Jugundas" - Gigondas ($29.95)
80% Grenache, 20% Syrah
Big red berry notes with hints of anise, vanilla, smoke and
minerality ... fresh, full and lovely with raspberry, strawberry
and pepper on the finish. Savoury, supple and floral - great value
(**** 1/2)
Second of the "special" wines
2013 Clos Bellene "Purete 400"
100% Grenache
Red licorice, raspberry, strawberry jam - fruity and fun
misleadingly light, simple yet balanced and delicious
(*** 1/2+)

2011 "Cote Capelan" - Chateauneuf du Pape ($80.00)
80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre
2.5 hectares of pre-phylloxera Grenache aged in top selection of oak.
Rich red and black fruit with chocolate, cherry, blackberry, licorice
and spice - nice balanced tannins
(**** 1/2)

Other Pictures from the Lunch ...

Stephane Vedeau talks about his wines
The eight wines of the tasting
Simple sirloin for lunch paired well with the Rhone reds
Rich chocolate cake for dessert - another red pairing
"Super Sommelier" Zoltan Szabo examines the wine

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Report from ... 6 Barrels for 6 Chefs at Huff Estates, 8th Edition - July 10, 2015

I'll be honest with you, 6 for 6 is one of my favourite events of the year, and as you read on you'll see why ... I've attended seven of eight that have been held -  best part about missing that one was it rained cats and dogs that one time. Over the years (other than that one time) weather has ranged from gorgeous to excellent each year - there have been sweltering hot evenings and windy evenings, mosquito filled evenings and one's that went longer than expected, but thankfully it has always been clear of any foul weather.  This 8th edition was absolutely gorgeous: cool breeze, comfortable temps, it was I think the best weather ever for a 6 for 6 evening ... but enough about the weather - it's time to talk about 6 for 6 itself.

6 Barrels for 6 Chefs is Huff's annual charity event where they invite outstanding chef talent (6 in total) to cook "in their vineyard" and pair their dish with an unfinished wine (from barrel), hence 6 Barrels for 6 Chefs ... this year, for the first time, they really shook it up by inviting 6 wineries to participate - in the past it has been three wineries doing the heavy lifting: Huff Estates, Closson Chase and Norman Hardie - but this year they added Rosehall Run, Casa Dea and Lighthall to the mix ... still with a separation of 3 Chardonnays and 3 Pinot Noirs, it gave the evening an even great air of camaraderie and friendly competition about who was making better wine.

Notably absent this year was Chef Bryan Steele, who, according to legend, helped inspire the event, along with Huff's winemaker Frederic Picard, over a few glasses of - the whole sordid tale can be found here.  The Chefs in attendance this year were: Matt DeMille (Drake Devonshire), Pat Garland (Absinthe Cafe), Scott Kaplan (East & Main), Clark Day (Aquaterra & Bayview Farm in Collins Bay), Sebastian Schwab Cuisine, Carl Heinrich (Richmond Station), and Elliot Reynolds (Hubb at Angeline's).

It's now time to look at the notables this year from food to wine and of course the pairings - all the food was outstanding, but some are always better than others, but there is always thought put into how it matched with the accompanying, yet ever changing wine (it's in barrel after all) - I am told that some chefs make adjustments in the vineyard while others stick with their originally conceived dish.  The wines speak for themselves and are bell-weathers for the vintage they are from (all from the currently barreled vintage - 2014) so are quite young - some seem really drink now while others still need time to round out, but they are all interesting so see at this moment in time.

This all said: Six Barrels for Six Chefs still remains one of the premier events in all of wine country Ontario and that takes into account all regions - it is the jewel in the crown of Prince Edward County events and to this day remains a unique experience that has yet to be duplicated elsewhere.

Chef Carl Heinrich shows off
his Pate en Croute

Now let's look at the evening in pictures ... 

Let's look at the food, the wine and the pairings and how they rank throughout the evening ...

Chef Par Garland works at his station
His finished product:
Lake Pickerel "Lox", Vegetable Macedoine Salad,
Poached Egg, Sour Cream and Onion Chip, Lemon Verbena

Paired with Closson Chase 2014 Chardonnay
Seguin Moreau 225L barrel medium toast - 1st fill
--- A lovely pairing - #2 on the list of best food of the night ---
Chef Carl Heinrich puts the finishing touches on his dish
While Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run, provides the wine
The Dish:
Rabbit and Pork Terrine en Croute with Pistachio
Paired with Rosehall Run 2014 Pinot Noir
Billon barrel 225L Vosges forest medium toast - 1st fill
--- most drinkable now Pinot of the night, both the wine and
food were delicious, but sadly neither enhanced the other ---
Sebastian Schwab works on his dish
The finished dish:
Ice Wine White Tea Smoked Mariposa Farm Magret of Duck,
Sour Cherry Sauce, Heirloom Beets
While the beets were fresh the duck was tough and chewy ...
easily our least favourite dish of the night (sorry Sebastian)
not even the Casa Dea 2014 Pinot Noir Mercurey barrel 225L
SR toast - 5th fill ... could elevate it.
Chef Clark Day presents his dish
Frying Crispy Spatzle in a pan full of butter ...
and you know all GOOD recipes start off that way
His Dish:
Crispy Spatzle with Pinot-Braized Pulled Water Buffalo
in Reduced Drippings with Brie de Milford

Paired with Lighthall 2014 Pinot Noir
Dargaux & Jaegle barrel 225L medium toast - 3rd fill
A match made it heaven we had to look at it twice ...
--- this was the #1 food and wine pairing of the night
and the #1 food - Congrats Chef Clark ---
The scallops of East & Main (Chef Scott Kaplan)
marinate before being turned into their dish
Scallops and Satsuma Escabeche with
Long Pepper and Basil Served on Lavash
Paired with Norman Hardie 2014 Chardonnay
Mercurey barrel 500L ST toast - 3rd fill
--- my #1 pick for Chardonnay of the night ---

The dish on its own had little pizzazz but the pairing worked -
the wine elevated the food making it delicious
(nice job Scott & Norman)
Matt DeMille's Rabbit Foie Gras Terrine
with Foraged County Greens
Paired with Huff Estates 2014 Chardonnay
Dargaux & Jaegle barrel 225L medium-heavy toast COF - 3rd fill
--- It was an okay dish, not top, not bottom -
somewhere in the middle ... someone's got to be ---

Top Two Dishes of the Night ...

Chef Clark Day (#1 - on left) - Bayview Farm in Collins Bay
Chef Pat Garland (#2 - on right) - Absinthe Cafe
Other Pictures of the Night's Event ...

A look at the perfect weather of the evening
overlooking Huff's vineyard
The evening from the other side of the tent - where the work is done
The gathering of the chefs and winemakers for the annual post event picture
It's never easy to get as people are always looking everywhere -
but sooner or later you take what you can get:
There they are folks, the Chefs and Winemakers of 6 for 6, 2015
And another Six for Six comes to a close with dessert by
Chef Elliot Reynolds: White Miso and Apricot Jelly Roll with
double smoked Bacon Soil, Coconut Caramel
See you Next Year