Sunday, August 30, 2015

Report from ... Finger Lakes Tasting and WBC15 - August 13-18

View from Ventosa Winery patio
I will talk with many people over the next 3-6 months (or so) about my trip to the Wine Bloggers Conference held in the Finger Lakes, New York – and inevitably I will be asked “How were the wines?”

As New York’s neighbor to the North and admittedly more serious wine producing region, Ontario, we have always looked down on New York wines as being too sweet – as someone said to me as explanation (while at the conference) “they’re burgeoning” – but when I was in the Finger Lakes 10-12 years ago and as recently as 7 years ago they held the ‘burgeoning’ moniker at that time too … how long can a region of this size be ‘burgeoning’?

As the second largest producer by volume of wine in the United States, New York has always been seen as inferior to California, Washington and Oregon (all serious wine producing regions) – New York is not to be taken seriously for wine; how can you take a place seriously that creates wines like Hot Tub Red, and uses grapes to make wine that most of us would use in the making of jam?

Well, I’m not about to tell you that New York has shed the “burgeoning” moniker – many of the wines I tried during the conference were on the way to being good – yes sweet still rules – though dry is starting to sink in and make in-roads more and more.  Among the sweet Rieslings are the dry versions. Atop the florally laced and sweet tasting Gewurztraminers there are the dry versions that really claw back on the rose-petal and sugar for a serious finish.  And the reds are showing potential as well (Cabernet Franc being the most promising), as both drink now and for wines that will require some serious ageing.  I also saw things like Lemberger and Gruner Veltliner being produced, with a moniker all their own “The Next Big Thing”.  Only time will tell if that is the case, but while the Lemberger was dry to sweet and at times more Pinot-esque in its make up; the Gruner tasted sweet and not at all like what the Austrian’s had in mind … there is only so long you can say “it is from New York so it is altogether different” – the tension, acidity and austerity in Gruner is what makes it so refreshing, so until they reduce the residual it’s just another white wine.

After the conference I selected half-a-dozen wineries to visit – with the help of some New York knowledgeable pals – specially selected for making “serious in-roads on the Lakes” and known for taking wine seriously – plus I visited a winery I was floored by at one of the dinners.  Below is a sampling of what I tried, was impressed with and the two-stars of my tasting days.

Best Wines at the Conference:

White ...
Keuka Springs 2014 Gewurztraminer
Dynamite Vineyard
Red ... 
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards
2012 Cabernet Franc
Sparkling ... 
Lamoreaux Landing
2009 Brut

The Best of the Winery Visits:

Inside Domaine LeSeurre and their line-up of wines
Best Wine:  2012 Barrel Select Cabernet Franc
Simple aromas of black cherry are followed on the palate
by smooth vanilla, cherry, hints of tobacco and all touched
by mocha-cherry on the finish.  Rating: *** ½+

Stop at Ravines where the wines were consistently good.
Anthony Road's best wine was this bottle of
2013 Cabernet Franc / Lemberger
14 months in a mix of French and American oak results in a wine
with a more than ample cherry nose followed by cherry, plum,
red currant, anise, cedar and hints of vanilla on the finish.
Rating: ****
Ventosa is a gorgeous and very big place - great pizza smells inside.

Best Wine: 2011 Lemberger
Winner of the 2015 Governor’s Cup at the New York Wine & Food Classic
3 years in second fill Hungarian oak delivers sour cherry and strawberry
to the palate with some weight and a cedary finish.  Rating: *** ½+
Looking up the path at Lamoreaux Landing
Plenty of great wines, including these two:
2010 Chardonnay and 2011 Cabernet Franc ...
but (aside from the Brut) there was one better

Best Wine: 2012 "76 West"
blend is 45% Cabernet Franc, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Merlot
with the hallmark of an age-able red (5-7 years): blackberry, black cherry,
cedar, vanilla, smoke mid-palate and a black pepper, cedar-smoke and anise finish.
Rating: ****+
Heart & Hands Winery might be one of the most focused
wineries we visited, making wines from two varieties:
Riesling (white) and Pinot Noir (red)
More wineries in the Finger Lakes should be following this example.

Best Wine: 2012 Pinot Noir, Paul's Legacy
the most delicate of the 2012 Pinot from Heart and Hands is also the most juicy:
earthy, cherry and floral with a cranberry/strawberry cocktail on the mid-palate
leading to a fine tannin finish.  Rating: ****+

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Report from ... Australia's First Families of Wine - May 26, 2015

First Families by the number
Every time I get the invite to the Australian First Families of Wine, I'm always reminded of the Godfather movies and the "Five Families".  But the Australian First Families are a group of 12 families that are making wine over 16 regions and between them they have some 5000 hectares of vineyards. They span 48 generations and 1200 years of winemaking experience - pretty impressive really.

They are "The custodians of some of Australia's finest vineyards, most famous wine names and some irreplaceable history" and surely names you recognize: Brown Brothers, Campbells, D'Arenberg, De Bortoli Wines, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry Wines, McWilliam's, Tahblik, Tyrrell's Wines, Wakefield and Yalumba (only Campbells was not in attendance today).

Today's tasting was structured as a speed dating event, each group had 10 minutes with each winery representative (it may have been 5 minutes, felt like it anyway) and tasted two wines, gleaning as much information as could be imparted in that short period of time.  Of the 22 wines poured here were the best of the best ...

The room set-up for the "speed dating" afternoon
The Wines ...
Jim Barry 2006 'The Armagh' Shiraz ($270)
this wine makes up less than 1% of Barry's production
gentle with blackberry and black pepper with a
back-drop of smoke (*** 1/2+)
Jim Barry 2013 'The Florita' Riesling
Clare Valley grows more Riesling than any other region in Australia
dry and fairly refreshing with lemon and hints of lime (*** 1/2+)

McWilliam's 2013 Appellation Tumbarumba Chardonnay
this is a 138 year old company
a little lemon/lime note, and hints of peach;
more delicate than the usual Aussie-Chardonnay (*** 1/2+)
Tyrrell's 2011 Vat 47 Chardonnay
made since 1971 - started vineyard on stolen cuttings
surprisingly good acidity, peach, apple, vanilla
with a long tannin-pith-like finish (*** 1/2+)
Wakefield 2012 St. Andrew's Shiraz
Jim Barry was their first winemaker
creamy and lovely mouthfeel: chocolate, touches of white pepper,
raspberry, black cherry, silky smooth long finish - stunning (**** 1/2)
Wakefield 2009 The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon ($150)
also made from fruit taken from the St. Andrew's vineyard
fruit forward with big raspberry, cassis, and blueberry
with nicely integrated oak - another silky smooth offering (****)
Yalumba 2014 Eden Valley Viognier
tropical aromas with honeydew rind,
grapefruit and pith on the finish (*** 1/2)

Yalumba 2005 FDR1A Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz
shows the ageability of this quinessential Aussie blend
mocha, black cherry with an mineral/stoney finish (****)
d'Arenberg 2013 The Money Spider Rousanne
fresh and cheerful with apple puree, peach, mineral and
Bosc pear skin - lovely long finish (****+)

d'Arenberg 2006 The Ironstone Pressings
70% Grenache / 25% Shiraz / 5% Mourvedre - this wine is foot-trodden
peppery and spicy with black cherry, cassis, mineral
and good acidity on the finish (****+)
De Bortoli 2011 Noble One Botrytis Semillon ($32 / 375ml)
sweet apricot and peach, honeyed tangerine, hint of floral,
thick yet unctuous this is really delicious (****)

Henschke 2012 Mount Edelstone Shiraz - 60th Anniversary Vintage ($188)
first made in 1952, vines were planted in 1912
smoky, dark fruit, cassis, black raspberry, mineral and cocoa powder
Henschke 2005 Hill of Grace
100% Shiraz - 500 cases made maximum in any vintage
an absolutely beautiful wine with black currant, strawberry
and blackberry - so much depth of flavour; stunning (**** 1/2+)
Howard Park 2014 Porongurup Riesling
dry with lime and lemon pith with hints of zest and good acidity
(*** 1/2)
Tahblik 2009 '1860 Vines' Shiraz ($164)
made from half an acre of ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines
make 100-150 dozen per year - red raspberry, white pepper,
cocoa and blueberry with a touch of floral (*** 1/2+)
Tyrrell's 2010 Vat 1 Semillon ($55)
this winery has "an obssession with Semillon"
and this wine is bottle-aged before release

honey with lime and lemon zest, hint of floral and a clean
mouthfeel and finish - only 11% alcohol (****)
The Personalities ...
Peter Barry shows off a bottle of 'The Armagh'
Scott McWilliam, Family Ambassador and Senior Winemaker,
talks Chardonnay from Tumbarumba
Alister Purbrick, from Tahbilk (left), talks old vines Shiraz,
while Zoltan Fekete, of Kylix Wines (agent) does his best
Vanna White impression
Bruce Tyrrell waxes poetic on the subject of Semillon
Justin Taylor, Company Director & Export Manager (Wakefield)
has the confidence to know he has one of the best wines in the room
Chester Osborn knows he's got a winner
on his hands with this Money Spider
Stephen Henschke preaches the gospel of family
and history that goes into every bottle

Report from ... Ponciago Bouchard & Fevre Tasting - April 15, 2015

Fevre wines on ice awaiting tasting

The annual Villa Ponciago, Bouchard Pere & Fils and Willian Fevre tasting, put on by Woodman Wines and Spirits, is one of the highlights of the spring tasting season - for many it is the first taste of newly finished vintage of Burgundian wine, this time it's the 2013.  Then of course there is the beauty of Beaujolais that is Villa Ponciago - and we'll start there:

Villa Ponciago ...
Nothing beats a lightly chilled Gamay - especially a well made one
2013 Fleurie - La Reserve ($29.00)
deeper and richer with cherry
but excellent consistency from year-to-year
2012 Fleurie - La Reserve ($29.00)
lovely raspberry and cherry fruit
basic but still gorgeous
2013 Fleurie - Cuvee les Haut du Py ($35.00)
rich cherry fruit with delicate floral notes

2013 Fleurie - Grande Cuvee La Roche Muriers ($58.00)
raspberry, cherry, floral, mineral, complex and lovely
Bouchard Pere & Fils ...
2013 Pommard ($59.00)
cigar box, raspberry, black cherry
with touch of smoky and rollicking tannins
(*** 1/2+)
2013 Volnay Caillerets, Ancienne Cuvee Carnot ($107.00)
plenty of fruit with raspberry and cherry dominating;
mid-palate is all berries
(*** 1/2+)
2013 Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Cailles ($142.00)
there's a thickness to the palate, wine's almost chewy
with cherry, raspberry and mineral at its core
2013 Beaune Greves, Vignes de L'Enfant Jesus ($140.00)
nice red cherry and raspberry with good seam of minerality,
acidity and tannins - another strong effort for this wine
2013 Chapelle-Chambertin ($286.00)
delightful raspberry nose with a mineral palate
along with good acidity and spice - well balanced
2013 Meursault Les Clous ($61.00)
creamy mouthfeel, baked apple crumble with the
bite of Granny Smith on the finish
William Fevre ...
2013 Saint Bris ($19.95)
Sauvignon Blanc in the Burgundy region, there ain't much
this one is light and pleasant to drink with slight vanilla note
(*** 1/2+)
2013 Chablis Premier Cru, Les Lys ($56.00)
full flavoured, good buttery softness and acidty
that is spot on - great mouthfeel

2013 Chablis Grand Cru, Les Preuses Domaine ($119.00)
apple and pear dominate with a mineral/creamy mid-palate