Monday, December 25, 2006

2002 Goldeneye Pinot Noir

The Goldeneye Winery is Duckhorn's Pinot Noir estate in the Anderson Valley. Despite the high price tag, I purchased a few bottles of the 2002 Goldeneye Pinot Noir one year ago due a strong review (93 points) in Wine Spectator. I love Pinot with a turkey dinner, so I grabbed this wine - one of my priciest Pinots - with high expectations for a perfect pairing with Christmas dinner.

This wine was a very dark cherry or ruby red, and visibly very dense. A very nice nose - very California Pinot Noir - this wine showed lots of interesting, subtle scents: strawberries, cherries, mint, earth, truffle, liquorice, almonds and venison. Very dessert like - my notes refer to Maraschino cherries.

However, on the palate I found the wine somewhat disappointing. Medium bodied, with flavours of very ripe (overripe?) black cherries, the Goldeneye was very rich, heavy and viscous, with low acidity and modest tannins. With modest length, this is a wine for drinking now.

Overall, it was nicely made, but nearly a dessert wine - over the top for my taste and disappointing vs. the price and my expectations. Score 17.5/20, Cost C$79. Note that Parker rates this wine a more modest 89 points.

After the Goldeneye, I opened a bottle of 2004 Ninth Island Pinot Noir. While not at the same level, the price was much more reasonable and paired very nicely with dinner.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

2003 The Ironstone Pressings

After the Cicinis below, we opened this wine (another gift) to simply enjoy by the fire on a wintery evening. The 2003 D'Arenberg "The Ironstone Pressings", an Aussie Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre, is an upscale wine from one of my favourite wineries. Despite its youth, I decided to pour this to enjoy with the bearer of such fine gifts!

A beautiful, deep cherry red, the nose was very interesting, with meaty scents dominating, followed by flowers, blackberries, mint, leather, oak, vanilla, and coffee. Medium bodied with big, dry tannins, it was very peppery, with flavours of blackberry and oak. Good balance, but a bit young, this wine had a VERY long finish and should improve with more bottle time. Could be a nice match for a steak or lamb right off the grill, but give it a few years (2008+?).
Score: 17.5/20
Cost: gift.

2004 Attems Colio Cicinis

My cellar is well stocked, but I don't keep a large selection of white wines, so I was very excited to receive as a gift an impressive looking bottle (a solid bottle, with the label embossed on the glass) of Italian white wine to enjoy over the holidays.

The Attems winery is an estate in the Friuli region of Italy, and recently established a relationship with the Frescobaldis of Tuscan fame. The 2004 Attems Cicinis is a blend of Sauvignon, Tocai and Pinot Bianco, and was a lovely, deep golden colour (almost amber). Very aromatic, the wine showed nice floral and fruit (apple, grapefruit) aromas, as well as some very oaky, buttery, toasty aromas. It was rich, and interesting, I thought it resembled a new world chardonnay. On the palate it was rich, silky, buttery, with very nice balance and light acidity. It was a heavy white that paired well with salmon and some heavy/diverse holiday fare, but perhaps the light acidity might make it a better wine to enjoy on its own? A crowd pleaser for sure, ready now.
14% alcohol
Score 17.5/20
Cost: A gift, but fancy Italian bottles tend towards pricey ...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2005 Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon

I bought this wine based on a favourable write up in the Montreal Gazette, in which the reviewer referred to Decanter calling this the Best Value Cabernet Sauvignon on the Planet. I love corroborating evidence!

The 2005 Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon (made by Chilean giant Concha y Toro) was a deep cherry red hue. The nose was spectacular, starting with a very strong scent of vanilla, later developing chocolate, pepper, cedar, leather/spice, maybe even some tar and floral scents. Powerful, and very interesting. On the palate the wine was bold, medium bodied, well balanced, with a good dose of gentle but firm tannins - very cool. The length was short, so no need to cellar this - it is ready for drinking now. Would pair well with food, but is also nice on its own. According to Decanter, this is "Mass-produced excellence". I agree - Bravo! At this price it should be a staple at weddings and holiday parties. Buy! Buy! Buy!
Score: 17/20
Cost: C$13

PS - here is a write up of the Casillero del Diablo Malbec. Also note that Wine Spectator's Wine of the Week is the 2005 Casillero del Diablo Carmenere (85 points)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

2001 Chateau Montus

Ok, so I like Montus (1,2)! Not exactly a mainstream wine, Chateau Montus hails from the little known appelation of Madiran in the rather annonymous "Southwest France" winemaking region, and is made (mainly) from the very rare Tannat grape. Don't expect to find this on too many wine lists...

Anyway, there is something very extraordinary, in my opinion, about a well made Madiran. Leathery, gamey, tannic, but in the right hands balanced. Alain Brumont, proprietor of Chateau Montus, has "the right hands", both in the less expensive regular cuvee (which I drank tonight), the high end "Cuvee Prestige", and at his other Madiran estate, Chateau Bouscasse. All of those wines are fabulous.

The 2001 Chateau Montus has a wonderful, complex nose, hitting you with leather, cedar, rose, blackberry, mint, tea, nutmeg and some licorice. Awesome. On the palate there were dense, but velvety tannins. Full-bodied and very well balanced with good length. Excellent. This wine showed well with a one hour decant, and paired extremely well with Swedish meatballs and egg noodles. May improve, but very drinkable now (with some air).
Score 18.5/20
Cost C$32 (SAQ)

Buy! Buy! Buy! (easy for me to say, I bought every last bottle in town...)

1) Note that this is a wine that pairs very well with a grilled steak or any beef dish.
2) The key difference in my mind between this wine and the pricier Cuvee Prestige is length - the Cuvee Prestige is meant for aging, while the regular Montus is more accessible today.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

2003 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon

My wife grabbed an 'approved' (stuff she is allowed to touch) bottle of the 2003 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon from the cellar to pair with a roast beef. Cab and roast beef? Sounds great to me.

Very oaky and cedary on the nose, with a wild, earthy and meaty undertone. Some violet, strawberries, and LOTS of spice - kind of a cinnamon, nutmeg thing. Very exciting, if slightly unpolished.

Rich, chocolatey and SPICY on the palate, with good length, but slightly unbalanced. It softened up over the evening, but it might benefit from a few years in the cellar. I recommend having it now, but with a good decant before serving.

Note that this wine was overpowering with our roast beef - maybe a bbq lamb would pair better?

Overall, I really liked this wine, and not bad for the price. Score 16/20. Price C$29.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia

It is nice to have good friends, and it is even nicer to have good friends who make surprise visits with very nice wines! So it was a late Saturday evening when a (SUPER TERRIFIC EXTRA SPECTACULAR) friend decided to drop by and share a bottle of the legendary Joseph Phelps Insignia.

The 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia is one of Napa's most famous wines, and comes with a 'famous' price tag. I rarely get an opportunity to taste a wine of such pedigree, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity. Despite a few years under its belt, the 1999 still had an attractive deep purple colour. Tannic on the nose, with nice minty/vanilla scents, followed by leather, spice, oak, butter? , and some green pepper. The wine went through a major transformation in the decanter, later delivering scents of chocolate and coffee. Well balanced, rich, and voluptious, the nose was deceiving - I thought the tannins would be more powerful, but they have softened up to deliver a very drinkable wine.

Overall a terrific wine, although I expected more persistency and a longer finish after that wonderful nose. Perhaps difficult to pair with a meal, this is a special wine for drinking now - late at night with a cheese platter?
14% alcohol
Score: 17.5 to 18/20
Cost: I can't afford it

2001 Domaine de la Garreliere Cendrillon

This is one of my only experiences with a Loire Valley wine. I have typically avoided this region as the grapes are not my favourite, and there is very substantial vintage to vintage variation. Why do all that homework to find one good wine every four years?

Anyway, the 2001 Domaine de la Garreliere "Cendrillon" is from the Touraine appelation, and it is a Sauvignon Blanc blend. A very nice light gold colour, almost amber, with a very nice nose. Scents of white flowers, honey (dominant scent), apricot, truffle, oak, butter, and hazelnuts - one of the nicest whites I have ever smelled - almost like a Sauternes. On the palate it was EXTREMELY well balanced, smooth, rich, and elegant. An excellent match for a roast chicken. Drink now. Score 17/20, cost C$25.

Friday, December 01, 2006

2004 Steltzner Cabernet Franc

I bought this wine when I visited the Steltzner winery in October. Funny - I do not have any tasting notes for that wine during our visit, but I bought two bottles? Sure I tried it there.

Anyway, this was another Steltzner hit. Deep cherry red, with an impressive nose: captivating aromas of violet, blackberry/strawberry, a strong scent of truffles, leather, cedar, and spice, it also had nice meaty aromas and pencil shavings. Very complex, it changed and developed over the evening - fascinating. On the palate it was full-bodied with firm tannins, big fruit and a decent finish. Very drinkable, but slightly awkward due to the high alchohol. A bit of a bruiser. Nice now with a good decant, but should soften up with some more time in the bottle. Overall, a big muscular wine, and a nice take on Cabernet Franc - a nice change from those 'everyday' red grapes (Shiraz, Cabernet).
cork. 15% alcohol
Score 17.5/20
Cost C$40 (winery)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

2003 Nipozzano Riserva

Frescobaldi's Nipozzana Riserva is one of great wonders of the wine world - big, bold and interesting, and well made year after year. How do they do it for this price? The 2003 has great scents of blackberries, leather and spice on the nose. A bit rustic, it has nice tannins, fruit, and decent length. An excellent match for pizza, but would pair well with anything. A staple, highly recommended.

13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Cost: C$21.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Extreme Smackdown at Bistro l'Entrepont

An orgy of decadent wines! How else to describe this evening, a knee-jerk reaction to our successful C$35 Smackdown? Our "Extreme" tasting had one rule - your bottle had to cost you more than C$100. Recognizing that these were some of the world's greatest wines, we also decided that the evening would not be 'competitive' - the wines were not blinded, and we tasted them in series rather than head to head. We also went out to dinner for this tasting, a celebration of the three years our tasting group has developed!

I was the only geek taking notes. Note that I will not provide scores or relative rankings, as that would be a disservice to the quality of these wines (ok, send me a nice bottle of something and I'll cough up the scores/rankings). This was a truly stunning collection of wine and any preferences would be based on style, not quality.

Seven collectors raided their cellars, and came up with the following wines (in the order that we tasted them) for this evening's twelve tasters:

1997 Beringer Howell Mountain Bancroft Ranch Merlot (Napa)
2000 Chateau de la Gardine "Cuvee des Generations" (Chateauneuf du Pape)
1999 Ornellaia (Tuscany, Bolgheri)
1990 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa)
1989 Conterno Fantino Barolo Vigna del Gris (Piedmont)
1990 Chateau Clinet (Bordeaux, Pomerol)
1999 Gaja Darmagi Cabernet Sauvignon (Piedmont)

We decanted these wines upon arrival at the restaurant and started with an Austrian white (see below), to pair with the appetizers and give the heavies some air. The ordering was meant to move from the lighter wines to heavier wines, but it was more haphazard and probably not the best ordering.

For example, the first wine - Pramod's Beringer Merlot Bancroft Ranch - was one of the biggest, most powerful, merlots I have ever had! This wine needed some more time in the cellar, or at least a longer rest in the decanter before drinking. Anyway, this had a beautiful aromatic nose that developed and changed over time - rose, blueberry, mint, pepper/cloves, tar, minerals and some vegetal scents. Powerful and a bit awkward on the palate, this a medium-bodied red with light fruit and blockbuster tannins. Needs some time. WS-93, RP-92. Cost US$125.

Cam's Gardine Cuvee des Generations was another wine that may have been out of order. While CdeP is usually a more elegant wine, this young wine would have benefited from further aging. The nose on the Gardine is very-subtle at first, hiding its secrets of awesome meaty/leathery/nutty/vanilla scents. Extremely elegant and well balanced, with rich, jammy cherry fruit and heavy tannins, this wine will get better. Deceptively elegant in its youth, keep it for a few years. Rated a 94 by Parker, but a very odd 86 in Wine Spectator - did they taste the same wine? Go with Parker - this was a stunning wine. Cost of C$124.

While still young, I thought my Ornellaia would show very well after a good decant. Very complex on the nose - violet, deep cherry, mint, cedar, leather, and meat with stunning earthy aromas. Near perfection! Harmonius, medium to full bodied, with nice fruit and big velvety tannins. Eerily reminiscent of Opus One (there is a Mondavi thread in the history of both wineries), but much better. Ready now, this wine should continue to improve. Overall, one of the best-balanced wines I have ever had, developing beautifully. RP-94, WS-94. Cost of C$175.

Next up was Lloyd's Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Chateau Montelena. This wine was a highlight of the evening for me. Despite its age, this wine smelled like it was made and bottled last year! It even looked young, showing very little of the trademark brick red of an older wine (maybe Lloyd brought the legendary 1997 and scratched out the number to fool us?). A beautiful, fresh, cabernet nose - violet and white flowers, strawberry, musk, pepper, earth and smoke, with continued development over the evening. This harmonius, medium-bodied cab boasted nice fruit and velvety tannins. A veeery long finish, it may improve but it is certainly ready now. Amazing. RP-93, WS-94. He claims this wine cost him C$140 in a barter trade.

Ash's Conterno Fantino Vigna del Gris was the oldest of the evening, and perhaps the best value. A lovely nose, this wine showed some of the pruney, stewed-fruit scents of an aged wine, as well as meaty, leathery smells. Extremely well balanced, it still showed the power and intensity of Barolo with nice velvety tannins an a good finish. An excellent example of what a Barolo should taste like as it hits its prime. RP-91, WS-88. Cost US$90.

Cosme's Chateau Clinet is a legendary Pomerol. The same age as the Motelena, it was showing the brick red colour of an aged wine at the edges, and had that pruney cooked fruit smell of an aged wine. Perhaps the most memorable nose of the evening, it had enchanting scents of cherry/raspberry, earth, oak, leather, spice (cinnamon, cloves), and coffee. Very well balanced, elegant, meaty, and rich, it had a loooong finish that went on and on. Overall, I felt the tannins were nice, but the fruit was fading. Drink now. RP-95, WS-92. Easily the most expensive, it costs C$425 at the local shop.

We all expected Chris/M-L's Gaja Darmagi to be a bruiser, so we left it for last. We were correct - this wine was Rambo crashing a Bond flick! Deep red, almost purple, this wine had nice, classic cabernet scents of violet and pepper, with hints of leather, mint, vanilla, and coffee/cocoa. On the palate this was a monstrously big, tannic brute, with rich chocolatey fruit. It needs some time to mature. A beautiful Piemontese take on Cabernet, it will get better. RP-91, WS-88. Cost C$210.

Honorable mention:
While preceding wines were the feature wines, those were not all, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the others.

Our out of town guests came by my place before we went out for the evening, and I served a bottle of the 2001 Quinta de la Quietud a favourite Spanish wine of mine (RP-92, cost C$30). This is a beautiful tempranillo from the region of Toro - big, full bodied, with a tannic bite and a long finish, it softened up over the evening. Perfect for a steak off the grill, it also went nicely with a cheese plate. A great value for a wine of this quality.

To kick off the tasting above (and to pair with the appetizers), we started with a very nice Austrian Riesling. The 2003 Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibnerberg had a classic Riesling nose, with floral (honeysuckle, white flowers), pear, and litchee scents with some earthy undertones. Fresh, rich, and light bodied, it was very drinkable, but the low acidity might make it difficult to pair with food. Worth seeking out, but I don't know the price.

We had to finish with dessert, didn't we? The 1986 Farnito Vinsanto del Chianti had scents of flowers, pears, and almonds. It was very rich and well balanced, and not too sweet. Nicely done, worth seeking out.

Lastly, we finished a bottle of Sauternes, the 1998 Chateau d'Armajan. A very nice Sauternes, my notes are short, as you might expect after tasting all of the wines above. Seemed like a good value for a Sauternes.

Restaurant Bistro l'Entrepont
While the evening was a celebration of wine, the splendid Bistro l'Entrepont should also be celebrated. The food was splendid. I started with a creamy vegetable soup - beautiful texture, balanced flavours, and served at the perfect temperature. A plate of wild mushrooms was well prepared and matched our wines beautifully. For the main course I had the deer, and it was the nicest I have ever had! I am not a big dessert guy, but the Creme Brulee - spectacular. And the service was equally impressive. Despite the size of our group (which nearly occupied the entire restaurant) and a tableful of bottles, glasses and decanters, the service was unflappable. Thank you for a great evening - I recommend this resto to anyone. I will be back.

Friday, November 24, 2006

2001 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurtz Turckheim

I thought an Alsace wine would go nicely with a baked ham, but I was wrong (for the second time tonight). The 2001 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht "Herrenweg de Turckheim" Gewurtztraminer is a great wine, but not a match for a baked ham.

Beautiful golden amber in colour, this wine had a very aromatic and beautiful nose. Scents of lemon, white flower, sweet apricot, brioche and cloves - almost Sauternes-like. On the palate it was sweet, rich, soft and well balanced - perhaps even some licorice flavours?

Overall, this was a terrific wine, but a terrible match for our dinner. It is too bad, because it was such a good wine - try it as an after dinner dessert, or even better a before dinner apertif?
Score: 16.5/20
Cost: C$36

2004 Chateau de Nages Reserve (White)

I have had great success with the Chateau de Nages red wine (especially the Cuvee Joseph Torres - excellent value), so I thought I would get a few bottles of their white. An intriguing blend of Rousanne and Marsanne, it was even on sale - just C$12.21.

I thought the 2004 Chateau de Nages Reserve (Blanc)  would be a nice smooth sipper before dinner, but I was wrong - this would be an excellent wine for pairing with a meal. Nice lemon and toast scents, very minerally. Crisp and minerally with excellent balance, this would be a terrific match for a oysters or a simply prepared white fish. Highly recommended!
cork. 13.5% alcohol.
Score 14.5/20

Monday, November 20, 2006

Great Values, Spain

Following on my Argentinian and Australian value selections, here are my five best wineries for inexpensive wines (below C$20) from Spain. These wines are widely available, but some seem to sell out quickly so you have to be on your toes!

Castano: Castano has a great selection of wine under $20, and it usually sells out. There is a reason why - they are all great values. The Monastrell (Mourvedre) is fantastic, and the Dominio Espinal is probably one of the greatest values on the planet.

Castell del Remei: The Gotim Bru is a great value, and seems to be available in my price range. The Oda is a bit more expensive - pass, and go for the Gotim Bru.

Conde de Valdemar: Great values across the line. The Gran Reserva won our $35 smackdown. The Reserva, Crianza and even the white are nice, with the Crianza and white in the price range.

Muga: Muga makes some good high-end stuff, but their Crianza is a great buy. The other Mugas are pricy, but good.

Sierra Cantabria: The Crianza is a great value.

FYI - I will probably have a sequel to this post, cheers!

2004 The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne

The 2004 D'Arenberg "The Hermit Crab" (get used to the D'Arenberg wines...) is a blend of classic Rhone white grapes, Viognier and Marsanne. Bright golden yellow, it had nice aromas of white flowers, pineapple, vanilla, and nuts, maybe even a bit spicy. On the palate it was rich, with nice acidity and excellent balance, some butter/oak, but not dominant. Likely a terrific match for lobster, or even a simply prepared chicken. I actually paired it with a mild chicken chili, and it worked. Another D'Arenberg success - I will definitely buy this one again.
Cost C$16

Saturday, November 18, 2006

2003 D'Arenberg "The Laughing Magpie"

D'Arenberg is one of my favourite wineries, and "The Laughing Magpie" is one of my favourite values. It is also a good wine for drinking on its own, so it was a perfect way to finish off the evening after the Whitehall Lane below.

Young, with a beautiful deep purple colour, the nose was aromatic and dessert-like. There were scents of blackberries, cherries, mint, leather, pepper, cloves, and vanilla, but the nose was dominated by the vanilla and fresh fruit. Spicy and nice.

On the palate it had a nice, soft, mouthfeel. It was medium- to full-bodied, and despite the fruity, dessert-like flavours it was poised, with good balance.

This wine may keep for a few years, and could improve, but it is good now. Nice on its own, or perhaps pepper steak or lamb. Note the heavy sludge - I suggest you stand it up for at least a day and decant before serving.
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$27

Note that Yalumba makes a Shiraz/Viognier for a few $$$ less, and it is also a terrific wine.

2000 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon

I picked up this Napa wine on a business trip to New Orleans about 18-months ago and I thought it would pair very well with a roast beef. (My wife is conveniently hooked on California wines now)

While this 2000 Whitehall Lane Cab was not an old wine, the colour was beginning to show some brick red. I could tell by the nose this would be a bruiser - nice, but some harsh tannin and alcohol on the first sniff. Also scents of violet, blackcurrant, cherry, mint, cedar and pepper. The violet and pepper dominated, and over the evening it showed some green pepper scents.

On the palate this was a very rich wine, with good fruit, big tannins and good acidity - despite being 6 years of age, it is likely to improve with a few more years in the bottle. Slightly heavy on the alcohol and a bit unbalanced.

Overall, a very enjoyable wine and a great match for roast beef, but not very complex and slightly off balance. I will retaste my other bottle in a few years to see if it improves.
Score: 16/20
Cost: pricey at US$50

Friday, November 17, 2006

2006 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages Nouveau

While I like to think of myself as a wine enthusiast/afficianado/expert/freak (your choice), I have never had a "Beaujolais Nouveau" before. Imagine that, a self-described "expert" has never tasted a Beaujolais Nouveau! I have to admit that I looked down upon this 'phenomenon' simply because it was popular. Well, to address this deficiency I bought a Georges Duboeuf Nouveau yesterday - third Thursday of November!

The 2006 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau was a bright cherry red in the glass. Light, fresh and uncomplex on the nose, it had some nice, subtle aromas of peaches, raspberry, mint and maybe some nuts. On the palate it was light, fruity and fresh, lively but dry, with no tannins - if blindfolded I think I would have called it a chardonnay! Well balanced, this wine had no length and was meant for quaffing today. Very nice, and ready to drink, a party pleaser to be served slightly chilled. It paired nicely with 'Amaretto chicken'. Don't let my score: 14/20 fool you (cost C$16) - this was enjoyable and thirst-quenching, but not a complex wine to ponder while reading the RVF. Maybe "Nouveau" isn't so bad, in limited quantities...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Great Values, Australia

Following on my Argentinian value selections, here are my five best wineries for inexpensive wines (below C$20) from Australia. These are not in order of preference although the Yalumba/D'Arenberg selections are the preferred. Note that these wines are widely available on restaurant menus, so are worth knowing.

D'Arenberg: While famous for some pricey offerings, D'Arenberg has a way of being amongst the best wines at every price point. The whites are great deals, the "D'Arry's Original" is a great value, and "The Footbolt" Shiraz is close to being the best value on the planet. Consistent year after year.

Elderton: Pushing my luck with this one, as their wines are typically priced above my C$20 cut-off, but their "Friends" line of wines are good values and should be found under the price cut.

Greg Norman: Ok, I'll admit that I have avoided his wines because I figured any golfer's wines are hype, not substance. I will also admit I was wrong. The wines are typically pushing against my price target, but should be available at that magic C$20. Look for the terrific Chardonnay and Cabernet-Merlot. I can't comment on his California stuff.

Penfold's: They make some good high-end stuff, but their Koonunga Hill range are great values, especially the Shiraz-Cabernet.

Yalumba: Their "Bush Vine" Grenache, Barossa Shiraz, and Shiraz+Viognier are amongst the best value reds on the planet, widely available, and consistent year after year. Their Eden Valley Viognier is one of the most interesting inexpensive whites I have ever tasted. And their expensive wines are pretty good too! It gets even better - their Y series wines are even cheaper, and even better values (I like the Y Merlot).


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ribs and Pinot, Part 3

Pinot and ribs to brighten up a cold, damp, fall evening. We had two new world Pinot Noirs this evening:

2004 Domaine Carneros (California) Pinot Noir
2004 Ninth Island (Tasmania) Pinot Noir

The feature wine tonight was the Domaine Carneros, which I brought back from Napa. Note that the high end wine from this estate is also fabulous, winning one of our previous tastings. Very aromatic, with scents raspberry, mint, leather, vanilla or butter, and cocoa. Slightly earthy as well. Interesting - like a chocolate raspberry dessert. On the tongue it has beautiful, rich, chocolatey/fruity texture, with bright acidity. Well balanced and approachable in its youth, this was a beautiful, interesting Pinot.
Score: 17.5/20
Cost: US$30 (winery)

The poor Ninth Island, a Pinot I always rave about as a great value. And it remains a great value, but it was tough to follow the the Domaine Carneros. A nice but simple nose, with scents of oak, strawberry and cocoa. It was nice on the palate, but somewhat off balance due to the very high acidity. It is a nice match for food and a very reasonable price for Pinot Noir.
Score: 15/20
Cost C$23 (SAQ)

Friday, November 10, 2006

2003 Chateau Pipeau

I bought the 2003 Chateau Pipeau through a futures offering. While I thought it was much too young, I had six bottles so I thought I'd give it a try and see how it is today.

This St-Emilion was a deep cherry red, with a beautiful nose that evolved over the evening - starting out with strong pepper, cocoa, earth and smoke scents, it later showed hints of roses, strawberries, pine, leather and game - very minerally as well.

On the palate it was very dry, with nice acidity and big tannins that softened over the evening. Well balanced, this young wine had nice fruit, but these were somewhat masked the tannins. A great, long finish, this wine is definitely not ready yet - I will try again in three years. A fine match for a roast beef.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Cost: C$28 (LCBO)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Chardonnay Night

I have had a few too many "big reds" lately, so I was kind of looking forward to an evening of white wine. We had two Chardonnays tonight to pair with a roast chicken (in orange marinade):

2005 Montes Alpha Chardonnay (Casablanca Valley, Chile)
2005 Castello di Pomino (Pomino Bianco, Italy)

I bought the Montes because of a wonderful experience I had with their Merlot, and the Chardonnay was just as satisfying. This Chardonnay had scents of white flowers, cantaloupe, pear, pineapple, lemon, oak, butter, toasted bread, and honey - a nice, classic, chardonnay. On the palate it was rich, medium bodied, and tangy - nicely balanced with good acidity. Overall, a nice wine that successfully incorporates the new world and the old world. Recommended. Score 16/20, cost C$20.50.

The Castello di Pomino comes from one of my favourite wineries, Frescobaldi. Richly coloured, it had a more modest nose than the last, with scents of green apple, peaches, and toasted bread - nice, but not as intersting as the last wine. On the palate it was elegant but light bodied - a well-balanced, solid quaffer, but not terribly intersting. A good value. Score 15/20, cost C$16.

Friday, November 03, 2006

2001 Chateau de Lancyre "Grande Cuvee"

Hmmm - another Pic Saint-Loup wine - maybe this French region (1,2) is on to something that we can all appreciate - great, inexpensive wines?

The 2001 Chateau de Lancyre Grande Cuvee is a deep purple, with nice spicy and blackberry aromas, as well as oak, vanilla, and pencil shavings. Rich, dark cherries on the palate, it was peppery with good balance. Short length, this is a fruity wine for enjoying today (decant, lots of sludge). Score 16/20. C$24.65

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Great Values, Argentina

While I always have a "value" bent, I just noticed that many of my selections below are pricier than the average wine. It is not that I don't drink cheap wine, but I tend not to blog those wines. To address this paucity of inexpensive wine reviews, I would like to highlight my five best wineries for inexpensive wines (below C$20) from various regions. Tonight, Argentina (in order of preference)!

Altos: The "Las Hormigas" Malbec is a great value and worth seeking out.

Catena: Fabulous Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Save even more money and buy their Alamos line of wines - terrific values.

Norton: Great Malbec, and the "Privada" cuvee is usually priced very close to my sub-20 target (a definite buy)

Lurton: Good Cabernet, should have a good Malbec as well.

Zuccardi: The Zuccardi "Q" Malbec is a terrific wine, but I have not tried their other offerings.


2002 Ramey Claret

I thought a nice bottle of wine would console me after a terrible week, so I went California (I'm in a bit of a rut after Napa...). My wife also loves California, and was returning from a business trip, so the 2002 Ramey Claret sounded like a good choice.

The wine was a nice deep cherry red, with some brick red at the edges. The nose was very nice: scents of rose, strawberry, orange, pine, earth, leather, pepper, green tea, cocoa, hazelnut and wet stones. Overall, wonderful strawberries and leather up front,with an interesting diversity of aromas.

On the palate it was medium bodied, rich and velvety with supple tannins and a slight rusticity. Very well-balanced, it was more oaky than fruity, but elegant. Decent length, this wine will probably improve, but is nice today. (It reminds me of a "Baby Dominus") Depsite the high alcohol, it is not noticeable on the nose or palate. Overall, excellent winemaking - exuberant and restrained at the same time, should soften up over time, nicely done.
Score 18/20
Price: US$41.50

Saturday, October 28, 2006

2001 Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reservee

This Chateauneuf du Pape comes from an estate that is well regarded by the critics, but prices remain reasonable. While the 1999 did not place very well at one of our tastings, this 2001 Pegau was VERY different. After a 90min decant, a beautiful garnet red and very aromatic on the nose. Aromas of white flowers, blackcurrant, white cherries, cedar, woodsy/mushroom, musk, leather, cloves, pepper, smoke, tobacco, and caramel. Spicy above all, stunning. On the palate it was just as nice - medium to full bodied, rich, harmonious, lovely fruit and tannins. Deceptively ready now, it will get better. It was a nice match for our lamb stew, but I would have this wine for a meal. Spectacular, a great wine now, and will get better. Score: 19/20, cost C$54.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

2003 Cline Small Berry Mourvedre

For my first wine in three days (I had to recover from that Napa thing...), we opened a bottle of the Cline Mourvedre. I was dying to try this as it Mourvedre is rarely produced in the new world, especially as a single varietal. This was a big, powerful wine, with strong fruit and big tannins, and the wild leathery scent of Mourvedre. Kinda like a cross between a Madiran and a Zinfandel. A bit awkward, it had a good finish. It is ready to drink now, but will keep as well, I suggest a good decant before drinking. I had it with some Gnochi - not bad, but I recommend something heavier, like steak off the grill or game.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Napa - Day 3

On our third day we decided to get out and see some sights. We went to Old Faithful first, and fortunately we didn't have to wait too long to see the geyser blow. More importantly, we didn't get too soaked with the sulphur-scented water. After that we decided to go see the Petrified Forest, but the imposing gift shop out front scared us off and we got back to business.

On the way back from the geyser, Rob and I finally decided to make St. Clement our next stop. I first tasted one of St. Clement's wines with Pramod, a member of my wine tasting group, and their Oroppas (a meritage blend) made an impression on me. We tasted six of their wines. The 2005 Bale Lane Sauvignon Blanc ($20) had crisp, fruity aromas and a rich full-bodied taste - well done. The 2004 Abbott's Vineyard Chardonnay ($22) was a classic, buttery chard with melon and floral aromas, a nice rich texture and low acidity - nice, but the low acid may make it a challenge to pair with food, but it doesn't you can't enjoy it before dinner! The 2002 Merlot ($28) was earthy and peppery on the nose, with aromas of violet, rose, cherry, and smoke. Very well balanced with nice tannin and decent length, a great value. The 2002 Cabernet ($35) smelled of chocolate, pepper, leather, prunes, minerally. Big, lovely, gentle tannins with very nice lenght, very well balanced, would pair nicely with food. Terrific wine, great value. We also tried the 2003 Cabernet (same price) - it was fruitier on the nose than the 2002, less spicy with hints of truffles. A shorter finish, and perhaps a little less elegant than the 2002, it was a beautiful, drinkable wine. The last wine was the 2003 Oroppas ($50), one of their high end cuvees. A gorgeous nose of leather, black cherries, violet, pepper, cloves, mint, and undergrowth. It was rich, spicy, fruity and oaky on the palate, with a nice looooong finish yet very well balanced - stunning.

Overall, do not miss this winery. A beautiful house in a beautiful setting with great wines.

We drove through scenic St. Helena on our way to lunch at Bouchon, one of Napa's famous eating establishments. This French Bistro-styled restaurant was very nice, with excellent food an a well-chosen wine list. The service was good, but they do rush you out the door - 45min for lunch! I had a glass of 2004 Chave Cotes-du-Rhone "Mon Coeur" for a short break from Napa - spicy with black cherries, it was a nice, medium-bodied, well balanced quaffer with a leathery finish.

Cardinale is one of the most expensive wines in Napa, but it seemed like a quiet place and a Parker favourite so we had to stop. Speaking of Parker, he was in the room next to us, with the winemaker, tasting the Cardinale lineup! How awesome is that! Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see him, but it was enough for me to know that I was tasting in his presence...

We tasted two vintages of Cardinale - the 2000 and the 2003. The 2000 Cardinale, deep purple in colour, was sweet floral (violet) and chocolate aromas, cherries, coffee, smoke, cedar and oak, some mint and green pepper. On the palate it was medium-bodied with a strawberry tannic bite. Unfortunately, it was slightly dilute, not a long finish and slightly unbalanced. A great wine, but not outstanding. And then there was the 2003 Cardinale...a beautiful purple colour with mint, flowers, strawberries, liquorice and caramel on the nose. Sumptious, dense and well balanced fruit and tannins on the palate, this had a looooooooong finish. Harmonius, will soften with time but absolutely wonderful today. A stunning wine. They were also pouring the less expensive Atalon line of wines, so we sweet talked them into an extra pour (I was also stalling in hopes of see Mr. Parker...). The 2001 Atalon Cabernet had nice spicy licorice, coffee, chocolate, and black fruit scents. Powerfully tannic, with a looong finish. Beautiful, this wine should age well, and at a fraction of the price of the Cardinale this is a terrific value. Rob recently tried the Merlot at a restaurant and said it was spectacular.

More of a trendy club than a winery, this 'tasting room' was blaring hip music while 30-somethings from silicon valley jostled up to the bar for a pour. They were actually turning people away from the place (dare I call the parking lot attendant a 'bouncer'), but we sweet talked our way in (long story).

While the winery makes some celebrated Cabs, these were not on the menu today. We started with the 2005 Chardonnay. Lighter on the oak than some other Napa chards, this wine was crisp with nice scents of flowers, melon, lemon, peach and vanilla. Next was the 2004 Merlot (10% Cabernet). Fruity scents of dark cherries, almonds, toast, caramel and pepper. Rich, chocolatey fruit and nice tannins coated the tongue and stuck around. A very fruit forward style, this was a crowd pleaser. We finished with the 2004 St. Helena Cuvee, a 100% Cabernet. Very nice nose, minty with big chocolatey fruit, and scents of caramel/vanilla. However, it was heavy and dense, overextracted, definitely not my style. Almost port like. Overall, only the Merlot was interesting, and I recall it being expensive vs. the fine Steltzner and St. Clement offerings. While Plumpjack may make some famous wines, don't expect them to be on the menu.

Opus One

Such a famous and controversial estate, we had to go. Obviously, one attraction is the stunning architecture and stunning views, but we also had a chance to taste the wine. Expect to pay a big price for a glass of wine and a chance to look around this facility. The 2001 Opus One was oaky, with big leather and hints of nuts, strawberries and coffee. Spicy. Rough tannins, lighter fruit (vs. other Napa Cabs) and a decent finish, much more 'French' than most of the Napa wines I have had this trip. Additional scents of tea, earthy tones. Nice. The 2003 Opus One was more fruity on the nose, with hints of mint, cocoa, coffee, plum and 'lemon drop'? Lighter bodied than the 2001, but fruitier. It had nice length, good balance, and buttery oak aromas - very reminiscent of the Georges de Latour Private Reserve from yesterday. Overall, I loved the visit, but at that price point I recommend the Cardinale.

Elyse Winery

Our last tasting of the trip was a boutique winery I had never heard of. One of my questions for the locals was: "Which winery would you go visit if you weren't working here?". This winery came up a lot (for those tasting rooms with employees that actually drink wine...). That was enough for me to make the detour. The first wine was a 2005 Rose, made from Carignan. Crisp, with strawberry scents, well balanced, nice rose. The 2005 Chenin Blanc was a surprise, as it was off dry - didn't see that coming, but it was fruity, peachy and lovely. Next we tried a red, the 2004 Nero Misto. A blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and other grapes, this was very fruit forward with very high alcohol levels. The 2004 Morisoli Zinfandel was chocolatey, almost desert like on the nose. Very fruity, this wine had alcohol levels approaching a port. The 2001 Tietjen Cabernet Sauvignon had big fruit, with nutty/buttery aromas. Rich and thick, almost strawberry jam, fruit forward is an understatement. Very nice balance. We finished with the 2004 Petite Sirah, my favourite. On the nose it smelled of stewed fruit, leather, it was meaty/spicy/smokey - reminded me of a fine Madiran (some of my favourite wines - Napa should try Tannat). Big dry tannins, this is a very interesting wine that needs time to soften up. Once again, strong scents and tastes of alcohol. We bought this wine to take to Cole's Chop House for a big, fat steak dinner.

Overall, I think Elyse is a very high quality operation, and I commend their more restrained use of oak, but the high levels of extraction and high levels of alcohol are not really my style. The quality is such that I would recommend anyone to stop, try the wines, and let me know what you think.

Cole's Chop House
This is a fine dining establishment, with perhaps the best steak I ever had, and the Elyse Petite Sirah was a good match. The service was also splendid.

My only criticism (also directed to their Napa peers, and all restaurants in general) was the lack of decanters. No offer to decant, and this was a wine that REALLY needed it. I am tempted to bring my own decanter to restaurants - it pisses me off to see restaurants going on about their wine list when they don't serve the wine properly.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Napa - Day 2

We had a late start, as Rob went on a futile mission to find a 'happening' bar in Napa last night (we stopped at a jazz bar, but I can't recall the name right now). Anyway, it was sparkling wine for breakfast once again.

Domaine Chandon
Beautifully landscaped with a fancy schmancy visitor centre (the building is shaped like wine barrels...), Domaine Chandon also houses one of the better restaurants in Napa. We just went for the sparkling. After travelling so far to get to Napa, I had no interest in having a bad glass of wine, so I ordered the expensive "Prestige Cuvee" tasting of three of their sparklers. The first taste was of their US$40 "etoile Brut" (NV). Nice scents of dessert pastry, with soft, tiny and delicious bubbles, great balance and a persistent finish. Next was the "etoile Rose" (NV), US$50. The colour was very un-rose (you could hardly see the pink) - it had a lovely and elegant nose, spicy with soft foamy bubbles. Nice. The final taste was the US$45 1997 Chandon Vintage Brut. Larger bubbles, with a very subtle nose, I found it smooth but not as persistent as the last two. Overall, nice show - worth a stop.

Steltzner Vineyards
Steltzner was a big hit with us for a couple of reasons:
  • The winery produces excellent value wines in many different varietals and price ranges.

  • We got the full blown tour, including cask samples of their wonderful wines.

  • We tasted EVERYTHING (we were there for three and a half hours!).

Overall, thank you to the Steltzner family for their gracious hospitality!

We tasted (at least) eight different wines there. The 2005 Sauvignon Blanc was not bad, but I did not fly across the continent for Sauvignon Blanc! After the white, we moved on to their 2004 Claret - this wine was earthy with lovely fruit, an easy drinking wine and probably the best value (US$18) I tasted on the whole trip. The next was a total curve ball - a 2004 Pinotage (US$28)! The only Pinotage I ever tasted was the Kanonkop (an excellent wine), and this (100% Pinotage) was a very nice take on the varietal made famous by South Africa. It had an earthy, tarry, blackberry nose - medium bodied with soft tannins, decent length and a persistent, spicy finish. I loved it, but it's a bit rustic and I wonder how the "tours" will react to this one? The 2004 Malbec (90% Malbec, 10% Merlot) had a beautiful nose of nuts, fruit and chocolate, I thought it was 'ok' - not my normal Malbec style. The 2002 Merlot (100%) may have been the best Merlot of the trip, and at US$26 it was a terrific bargain. On the nose it was spicy, with scents of cloves, truffles, cherries, prunes, and coffee. Medium bodies with nice tannins and luscious mouthfeel, it was very well balanced and elegant. Delicious cherry fruit and nice lenghth. Bravo!

The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (with some Merlot, Cab Franc) had scents of violet, ripe cherries, buttered toast, pepper, smoke, vanilla and strong alcohol. On the palate it was elegant and well balanced with light tannins, minerally, tasty with a short finish. Enjoy now (US$36). The 2004 Sangiovese Riserva (100%) was very Italian - leathery, chocolatey, with cloves/nutmeg, and mint. Very Chianti with that tart white cherry flavour, good length, a bit wild but would pair very well with food, well done for Chianti lovers. (US$38). Finally we tried the 2002 Reserve Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep, tooth-staining, purple in colour, the nose was meaty, chocolatey, minty and leathery. It had a nice, rich texture with soft tannins and great length. This wine will likely improve with time, but had great balance and nice, dry tannins today. I think this was the wine that won one of our tastings. Awesome.

Overall, if you want great Stag's Leap wine, and a nice unpretentious visit, stop here. I bought the Sangiovese and both Cabernets, and if I had the luggage space I would have considered the Merlot (and maybe the Pinotage) as well.

Beaulieu Vineyards
After the long visit to Steltzner, we only had the time for one more stop. An older vintage of BV Georges de Latour won one of our tastings, so I had to go. I went for the pricey "reserve" flight to taste all of BVs best. First up was the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir. A very nice nose, but thin and tart on the palate. At US$40 I would rather choose any Domaine Carneros Pinot. The 2003 Reserve Dulcet was a Cab/Shiraz blend, very reminiscent of the Penfold's offerings. The scents of mint, chocolate, vanilla and caramel were very nice, and the spicy easy-drinking flavour would make this a great party hit. Short finish, drink now (US$40). The 2003 Tapestry Reserve is a meritage blend, with a lovely nose of pine, mint, chocolate, vanilla, and noticeable alcohol. It was a fruity, chocolatey wine - a little unbalanced at first, but it opened up after a few minutes (US$50).

Next up were three vintages of BV's signiature wine, the Georges de Latour Private Reserve. I started with the 2002. Deep purple in colour, with minerally scents of strawberry, oak, mint, caramel and chocolate. On the palate it was luscious, with soft tannins and decent length. It was a stunning wine, but US$85. The 2003 had more noticeable alcohol on the nose, and scents of coffee/cocoa, vanilla, spicy. On the palate it was very young - minerally, with nice leathery, chocolatey fruit flavours, but harsh tannins and a looong finish. Give this one a few years of cellar time. They were also pouring a 1990 vintage for an extra fee - could I afford NOT to partake in this piece of history? Rust coloured and very pruney, some scents of strawberry, mushrooms, the wine was very well balanced but probably at or past its peak.

I notice that Parker is not a big fan of the BV wines. My theory is that while these are great wines, they are missing some of the added depth and complexity of the world's greatest wines, and Parker is being hard on them because he believes they are capable of producing at a higher level. Just a theory.

NV Restaurant and Lounge

We learned today that all of the Napa restaurants allow you to bring a bottle of wine to dinner. This modern-styled restaurant in the heart of Napa had a nice atmosphere, excellent food, and nice service. I brought a bottle of the 2002 Georges de Latour for dinner - an excellent match for a rack of lamb. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Napa - Day 1

We started out from San Francisco early in the morning so that we could hit the tasting rooms by the 10am opening time. However, our early morning quest for a hit of Starbucks led to delays, and we decided to take the slower Golden Gate route for the view. Thus, we arrived in the area just south of Sonoma, well, parched! The weather was glorious, with beautiful fall colours, and as we zipped past winery after winery we felt a need to stop.

Gloria Ferrer
This was a slight deviation from 'the plan', but bubbly was probably the best place to start, and Ferrer is owned by Spanish Cava house Freixenet. We started with the Sonoma Brut (NV), a wine apparently rated 90 (and Top 100) by Wine Spectator. I liked the nice, toasty, brioche aromas, and soft bubbles and good finish - an excellent Brut and a terrific value (US$20). I also tasted the 2002 "Gravel Knob" Pinot Noir. A subtle nose of fresh cherries and oak, this was a lighter bodies uncomplex Pinot with lively acidity (very Burgundy-like). Pricey at US$40.

Domaine Carneros
This winery easily wins for beauty. Founded by the famous French Champagne house Taitinger, this stunning red brick French-styled Chateau sits nestled amongst the rolling hills of Carneros, with beautiful terraced gardens flanking the steps up to the Chateau and no other wineries in obvious sight - just fields of vines. I ran up the steps in anticipation of tasting their Pinot Noir (their "Famous Gate" won our last Pinot Noir tasting). While the 'tourists' all went straight for the bubbly tasting, we tasted a flight of three Pinots - the low end "Avant Garde", the Estate, and the "Famous Gate". The 2004 Avant Garde (US$22) had nice aromas of chocolate and cherries, tea, smoke, almonds, it was light bodied and elegant, but slightly unbalanced. While the cheapest, the best value (US$30) was the 2004 Estate Pinot - scents of truffle, oak, strawberries, oak, mint. This was a full-bodied, tannic wine, with a decent finish - getting elegant but could use some more time in the bottle. If you can afford it (US$55), the 2004 Famous Gate is a winner - very pleasant scents of black cherries, smoke, hazelnut, coffee, toasty, buttery, earthy, a beautiful ever-changing nose. It was very elegant and very well balanced, with medium length - nicely done, and maybe even more approachable today than the Estate. Sitting on the patio, sipping Pinot, was a "Life is Good" moment (to quote Rob). My recommendation - don't go to Napa without visiting fine winery. I bought the Famous Gate and the Estate.

I wanted to stop here to see the funky modern architecture, and I have had their low end Pinot before (2001), which I thought was terrific. The winery was crowded, with no chance to chat with the employees at the bar - must be a major stop on the bus tour. The 2004 Pinot was nothing like the 2001. While it had a nice nose of cherries and chocolate, it was a bit tart and unbalanced, not very complex - it was good, but a let down after Domaine Carneros - go here first if you want to do two Pinots in a row. It was US$40 - yikes! The 2003 Tempranillo (US$25) was a nice surprise - peppery, with subtle floral aromas - lovely, with a pastry kind of smell. On the tongue it was very classic tempranillo with a loooong finish, very oaky. Needs some bottle time, but interesting and fun. I have notes for the 2002 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon but not really relevant - musty, appeared corked, I asked them to open a new bottle, but it had the same musty smell.

Luna Vineyards
This was a target due to their focus on Italian varietals. The winery was very close to the town of Napa, with Tuscan-inspired architecture and a tower to climb and look out over the vineyard in its fall glory. Our first taste was the 2004 Pinot Grigio - oaky/buttery on the nose, with scents of lemon and green melon. Very fresh, very drinkable, but sported a hefty US$40 price tag. The 2003 Terrestrial was a blend of Teroldego (never heard of it) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep purple in colour, with strawberries and bready, gamey/meaty scents. Fruity with nice tannins, would pair well lasagna. A bit pricey at US$37, but very drinkable (and original). I was looking forward to the 2002 Canto (US$60), a blend of Sangiovese/Merlot/Cab Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah, and Luna's signiature wine. Beautiful earthy scents of leather, truffle, chocolate - plummy, oaky, and minerally (wet stones?). Very nice fruit and tannic, with good length, well balanced but racy, it will probably benefit from a few years in the bottle. The 2004 Sangiovese Riserva was bright and cheerful on the nose, with lemon and strawberry with hints of truffle and game underneath. Tannic with dark fruit, balanced and exciting - I bought two. The 'coup de grace' was their impromptu serving of a wine called Mille Baci (NV), a Sauternes-style white dessert wine - "stunning". Overall, a nice quiet tasting room with knowledgeable staff.

Sinskey Vineyards
An impromptu stop - something about Rob's local resto serving this. We tried two Pinots (2002 Vandal Vineyard and the 2002 Four Vineyards), a 2002 Merlot and a 2002 Cabernet Franc Vandal Vineyard. I was not terribly excited about the wines, and it seemed a bit of a tourist trap, but the canapes they served were delicious. The Four Vineyards was the best of the lot in my mind.

Clos du Val
Another impromptu stop - famous, on the way to our hotel, and (most importantly) they were still open. The first pour was a 2004 Carneros Chardonnay - classic, buttery toast, oak, minerals and citrus, a very nice Chardonnay. After that we had the 2004 Pinot Noir and the 2003 Merlot, and they were ok. Next was the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - minty, but not a classic cab on the nose. Big and balanced with a decent finish. However, the finale was the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. A lovely nose, also with a hint of mint, it was richer than the regular Cabernet with big cab tannins, more oak, and a looong finish. Very Bordeaux-like, elegant and powerful, will soften up in the bottle. Excellent wine.

To be fair, After so many wines on our first day in the valley my palate was probably a bit stunned, so the last two wineries deserve a retaste on our next visit.
For dinner we went to Tra Vigne, a relatively famous Italian resto in Napa. The ambiance was wonderful, the service great and the food was spectacular. Highly recommended. Not inexpensive, but hey, if you wanted a deal you would probably avoid Napa altogether. For dinner we had a 2003 Swanson Merlot, as recommended by the staff. A wonderful choice! Deep purple, with a nice big nose - black pepper, cherries, oak, tannins. On the palate is was rich and viscous, very well balanced with good length, it will benefit from some bottle aging. My notes proclaim it to be the best merlot of the day. I even scored it 17/20. Apparently a WS90.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sideways "2" - Trip to Napa

My proposed script for Sideways "2" is a much less entertaing sequel, and points towards box office failure. Starring a Blackberry-toting neurotic wine freak, the plot deviates substantially from the original thereafter:
  1. I am not divorced (at least not yet, unless I plan Sideways "3"), and my buddy was not getting married.
  2. We did not drive a convertible, and I did NOT have to rescue his wallet (even though he tried to lose it...).
  3. I am not a huge fan of Pinot Noir and I love a good Merlot.
  4. It was overpriced/overhyped Napa, not quiet little Santa Barbera.
  5. The feature wine was not a dying bottle of Cheval Blanc in a paper cup at a diner, but a BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve at a swank Napa bistro.
With such a weak plot-line, a rewrite may be necessary to save myself the rejection letter from the studios!

Despite my obsession with wine, I have never done much wine travel, so this was, well, freakin' amazing! Over a brutal, mind-numbing, three-day stretch, we visited an astonishing (only to those that don't know me) 14 wineries (in order of appearance):

Gloria Ferrer
Domaine Carneros
Luna Vineyards
Sinskey Vineyards
Clos du Val
Domaine Chandon
Steltzner Vineyards
Beaulieu Vineyards
St. Clement
Opus One
Elyse Winery

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

2003 Napanook, Goin' to Napa

I'm leaving for Napa tomorrow!!!

So, to get in the mood, I thought I'd break open a Napa wine. Tonight's choice was Christian Moueix's 2003 Napanook. This wine is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec thrown in.

What a great way to get in shape for the big event! I was worried that this wine would be too young. It was not, and it did not throw a lot of sediment. While I did decant it, it probably would have been fine right out of the bottle.

On the nose it was subtle, with nice earthy, citrus and strawberry aromas. On the palate it was a veeery well balanced, medium to full bodied, with a nice glycerin texture and ok lenghth. What a delicious take on California Cab - more restrained than a California Cab, but more approachable than a Bordeaux. Excellent with a beef dish - very delicious, and very drinkable now. A definite crowd pleaser.
Score 17/20
Cost C$37 (SAQ)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

2001 Chateau Lascaux "Les Nobles Pierres"

I was at the Manoir Richelieu for a weekend getaway with the family, and we had the opportunity to get a babysitter and enjoy the fine dining at the Restaurant le Charlevoix. The five diners were having a variety of dishes in very unusual preparations (i.e. veal, emu, and beef), so we agonized over the ample wine list over what wine to serve this thirsty crowd.

We settled on Grenache, and the waiter suggested the 2001 Chateau Lascaux from the Languedoc region of Pic St-Loup. I have had wonderful Pic St-Loup wines before, so we took his suggestion. It was a terrific choice - wonderfully fruity like an Aussie Grenache, but still very well structured and well balanced. I highly recommend this wine, and it appears to be available at reasonable prices.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

2000 Terre Rouge Mourvedre

We had a 2000 Terre Rouge Mourvedre with a veal stew tonight. I didn't have my score sheet, but a few comments:
  • I thought this wine would be well past its prime, but not so. Heavy tannins were supported by good fruit. Nice leathery, mushroom and vanilla scents, with some dark fruit.
  • The wine had good length, and hid the high alcohol level well. However, the tannins were still tough - dare I say this could benefit from a few more years? Slightly rustic and unbalanced, perhaps poorly matched with a delicate veal.

Overall, a nice, thick, medium-bodied wine with heavy tannins. I would wait a few more years, but I am not 100% convinced it will improve. I suspect that the heavy tannin inherent in Mourvedre call for a little less oak?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lasagna Night

For lasagna night I went straight to the safety of Tuscany:

2002 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico
2001 Capezzana "Villa di Capezzana" Carmignano

For my notes on the Fonterutoli see my post below, as this wine was just as nice as the last time.
A few months ago I purchased a few bottles of the Capezzana for two reasons: (1) the Ghiaie della Furba (see below) is one of the best wines I have ever had, and (2) WS rated this a 91 and RP an 89. Always on the prowl for a new sangiovese, this sounded like a winner.

On the nose the first sensation was gobs of leather (like sitting in a new Jaguar?), with a very woodsy/undergrowth sort of smell. Very nice and rustic, I also had scents of violet, cedar, pepper, coffee and lots of smoke. Wild and interesting. On the palate the wine was more tannin than fruit at first. While having a nice glycerin feel, the tannins were firm, the acid high, and the wine seemed a bit rustic and unbalanced. However, the wine underwent an amazing transformation tonight, and as the Fonterutoli seemed to get flabby the Capezzana got more elegant and refined. Very interesting. A decent finish, this wine is ready now and should remain nice for a few more years.

Given the rustic style of this wine, I might be cautious in serving it to novice wine drinkers, but the quality is definitely there. It paired very well with a meat lasagna.

Score: 16.5/20
Cost: C$32.50 (SAQ)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Turkey Dinner and Pinot Noir

For Thanksgiving dinner we had the requisite turkey, and I chose to accent this lovely bird with some Californian Pinot Noir. While it was disappointing to clear out the last two decent pinots out of my cellar, they were very nice and a perfect compliment to the bird. The wines were:

2001 Morgan Rosella's Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands) Pinot Noir
2002 Sea Smoke Botella (Santa Rita Hills) Pinot Noir

I have had the Morgan before, in Dec. of 2004, and I made notes to set this wine aside until 2006. Two years later, it was one of my choices this evening. Nice, subtle earthy, woody and leathery aromas, with scents of strawberries, pepper, tea, coffee and almonds. On the palate it was very strawberry, somewhat tart and a little unbalanced, but very rich. Ready now, it would pair well with food. Not as nice as the next wine, and very expensive (it cost me US$42).
Score: 16.5/20 (RP-88, WS-86)

The Sea Smoke Botella was a gorgeous wine. A lovely desert-like smell, with dark cherry, oaky-undergrowth, earthy, leathery, pepper, smoke, cocoa, pencil shavings - there was a lot going on here! Well balanced and very soft on the palate, easy to drink with cherry fruit and a firm acidic structure. Splitting hairs, but the heavy alcohol was somewhat apparent in the background. A very long finish, this was a spectacular, fruit forward, well-made wine, and may improve. Over the evening (4 hours) the nose continued to evolve and show off its fabulous aromas. At US$28, this was a stunning value.
Score: 18/20 (RP-91, WS-91)

Overall, I really like the pairing of Turkey dinner with Pinot. Cheers!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Barolo Tasting at Cosme's - October 2006

For me Barolo is a fall wine – earthy, brooding, I picture a glass of Barolo while pondering a roast beef on a chilly fall day. So it was appropriate that our first autumn tasting was a Barolo tasting, on a chilly Montreal evening. We tasted the following six wines blind, but with one key difference vs. last year's Barolo tasting - we decanted the wines nearly 3 hours before the tasting.

Like last year's Barolo tasting, there was very little was less consensus - four of the six wines received multiple first place rankings. The final tally was as follows:

First - 1997 Parusso Barolo "Piccole Vigne"
Lloyd finally won! After a fairly consistent string of strong finishes, he pulled out the win when he least expected to. Consistency was the key to a very strong first place finish - while the third place Sandrone garnered just as many first place rankings, the Parusso was almost every taster's 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Everyone seemed to like the classic Barolo smell of this wine - I smelled rose, gooseberry, gobs of licorice, with some earthy, sulphur undertones. Very interesting. This full bodied barolo had firm tannins and a long finish, with more subdued fruit vs. some of the others. I found the wine to be somewhat unbalanced, but should get better and would pair very well with food. It was my second place wine. A very classic Barolo, and seems to be the value winner as well (cost approx. C$80). RP-90

Second - 1995 Massolino Barolo "Margheria"
Pramod's Massolino was the oldest wine of the evening. While it had only two first place rankings, it was also consistently a top 3 wine. The nose was very nice, but so subtle it was hard for me to identify the scents - I found some white flowers, strawberries, mushrooms, vanilla and a nice nutty smell. On the palate this medium bodied wine was delicate, very well balanced, (maybe a bit musty?) with some length. According to my notes this one has peaked. My third favourite. Cost C$86.

Third - 2001 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis
Chris/Marie-Lise's Sandrone was very controversial - while garnering three first place scores, it also garnered a number of low scores (Marie-Lise and Chris ranked it 5th and 6th, respectively - hehehe). I was one of those who ranked it first place - Luciano, I praise you and your winemaking! Such stunning beauty entombed in a 750ml glass container! A beautiful nose - beautiful fruit, with scents of cedar and pine, truffles, leather, mint, butter, vanilla, with nice tannins underneath. This very full bodied wine was more viscous than the others, coating the tongue with chocolatey fruit. Very well balanced, harmonius actually, it still retained that hearty, rustic Barolo flavour. A never-ending finish, this wine will get better. Spectacular. Brought back from Italy, it apparently cost 90 Euros. (I found some US web sites listing it for US$140). Such rare magic, so tantalizingly close to perfection, it is worth every cent in my opinion. A WS-96 I think, and a Stephen Tanzer 97.

Fourth - 1998 Fontanafredda Barolo "la Rosa"
This was my contribution to the evening, and chosen for the simple fact that it was the oldest Barolo in my collection. It was also controversial, with a number of first place (i.e. my wife) and last place (i.e. me) rankings. It was my least favourite, as I believe the wine was corked. Musty, with some cherry and rose aromas, it was not very complex in my opinion. I found this wine to be thin, dilute, and acidic, with harsh tannins. It was somewhat unbalanced, but may improve - it would probably have ranked much higher with me if not corked. At least my wife liked it, as I have one more bottle (hopefully not corked). The least expensive at C$66, probably a close second for the value prize. RP 91-93.

Fifth - 1999 Paolo Scavino Barolo
Ratings were pretty consistent for Cam's Scavino. This was a very nice wine, but young and facing some tough competitors. On the nose it was slightly tart, with scents of raspberry, flowers, liquorice, tea, and smoke, maybe with some green pepper scents. On the palate it was a bit rustic, good but not great, I am not sure if this young Barolo will improve. Cost C$92. RP-89

Sixth - 1999 Marchesi di Barolo Cannubi
Bringing up the rear was Cosme. I don't think he has ever come in last, and I would not have expected it at a Barolo tasting! I actually ranked this wine fourth, and my notes were fairly complimentary. The nose was pleasant and very fruity, with scents of cherries and strawberries, mint, cocoa, nice and subtle. On the palate it was full bodied with firm tannins and a long finish, a very classic barolo with a fruity, chocolatey flavour. This young Barolo will improve. It was C$71, but I have a hunch you can get this cheaper - if you can, it is probably a good buy in my opinion. RP-91.


The warmup wine was the 2000 Chateau Bouscasse Vielles Vignes from Madiran. I love Madiran, and I love the Alain Brumont - winemaker for both Chateau Bouscasse and Chateau Montus. A perfect lead in to our tasting!

Age? While not nearly as linear as last year's Barolo tasting, three of the top four wines were also the oldest. The long decant may have improved the ratings for the younger wines slightly, but not much.

Overall a great, but expensive, evening! Time for a Barbaresco night?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

2001 Elderton 'Command' Shiraz

Holy crap, I think I've died and gone to heaven! Un-freakin' believable! I could fill this tasting note with exclamation marks! What a great wine!

I have a few bottles of the 2001 Elderton Command Shiraz from Australia's Barossa valley. I was saving this wine for for a special occasion, and while the special occasion did not manifest itself in the way I had hoped for, I thought this wine should be the special occasion. And it was!

I was totally immersed in this wine's aromas - leading with coffee and cherry scents, and followed by a violet and other white flowers, blackberries, oak, butter and SPICY (pepper, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla). There were so many wonderful scents, and they developed and changed over the evening. I could picture myself in Starbucks with a "tall bold" and a pumpkin scone!

On the palate, this was the most 'viscous' wine I have ever tasted. This soft, thick, heavy, powerful wine coated my mouth with sweet glyerin fruit while big fat tannins pounded on the back of my tongue. "Liquid Gold". The finish was very long, seemingly infinite. While high in alcohol (15%) it was not obtrusive, everything was in good balance. While drinkable now, the tannins should soften up over the next few years. I will wait until 2010 before trying my other bottles.

Overall, this was a spectacular wine that paired very nicely with a roast beef dinner. While not cheap, I doubt you could find many better wines in this price range. This is definitely one of the best wines I have ever tasted.
15% alcohol
Score: 18.5+/20

Cost: C$79

PS-I have yet to have a bad Elderton wine. This winery produces great wines at all price levels! FYI - WS rated 96, RP rated 95

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Matching Ribs, Part 2

A depressing, rain-soaked, Saturday night - at least we had some nice wines! For tonight's ribs, I returned to my comfort zone with a pinot noir, using one of the last Burgundies in my cellar. However, I opened a Bordeaux as a backup due to my horrendous misadventures in buying wines from Burgundy - you can never be too sure...

Tonight's wines:

1999 Maurice Ecard Savigny-les-Beaune "Les Narbontons" (Bourgogne)
2000 Chateau Carsin Cuvee Noir (Bordeaux)

The "Narbontons" was very nice, my best Burgundy experience in a long time. VERY strawberry on the nose, with some citrus, oak, mushroom and leather, perhaps a touch minerally? And it tasted very nice as well - light to medium bodied with firm tannins and fresh acidity, very glycerin-smooth on the tongue, tart but very enjoyable. Seemed to have some life left, but not for too much longer. A great match for food and ribs, a great Burgundy.
Score: 16/20. Cost: C$45

The Carsin was also an enjoyable wine, but less interesting than the last. Nice aromas of raspberry, hay, strong vanilla, and perhaps some nuts? Not as heavily oaked as other Bordeaux, allowing the fruit to come out, but not very complex. On the palate, medium bodied with nice fruit, this was very quaffable. Ready to drink now and probably not getting any better. Also a nice match for food.
Score: 15/20. Cost: C$34

Overall, Pinot Noir and ribs remain a favourite pairing of mine, and M. Ecard has rekindled my interest in Burgundy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

1999 Yalumba "The Menzies"

This wine has a bit of a checkered past here. I bought it because of my success with other Yalumba offerings and some great reviews, but "The Menzies" has not performed particularly well in two of our formal tastings (1,2). On account of this mediocre performance my last bottle was consigned to the back of the cellar, waiting for an opportune time. The opportune time turned out to be a quiet Friday night.

So it was with modest expectations that I opened 1999 Yalumba "The Menzies" (Coonawarra) tonight. What a surprise! The nose was very nice, a classic nose of 'aged cabernet', with lots of bold, terrific scents - violet, strawberry, blackberry, mint, oak, pepper, cocoa, and pencil shavings. I am sure the last time I tasted this wine the dominant theme was prunes. Anyway, the taste did not disappoint either. Medium- to full-bodied, very well structured, well balanced: "Hearty, fruity, yet elegant, nice!" I would say Bordeaux-like with nice length, and may have some potential for improvement?
14% alcohol
Score: 17+/20
Cost C$44

The last time I tasted this wine it was pruney, fruity, and unstructured. So, how do I explain the transformation? Possibilities:
  1. Previous bottles were not stored properly?

  2. It needed more bottle time?

The first seems more likely.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Breaking the Shiraz Habit

Every few months I get together with a old friend in Toronto, and the first order of business is a visit to the wine store. I tend to select an unusual menu of wines, in an attempt to break his Aussie Shiraz habit. It's not a bad habit, per se, more of a rut. He drinks so many wonderful Shirazes, but he is missing other wonderful grapes and regions. Fortunately, he's ok with my experiment, and I have not been totally unsuccessful - he now likes a good Argentinian Malbec for a change!

Tonight's experiment featured two oddities (Italian wines are not odd, but these choices were not mainstream Italian):

2000 Allegrini "La Grola", C$30
2004 Elio Altare Barbera D'Alba, C$27

I have had the "La Grola" on a few occasions, and I always found it to be a wonderful wine for the price. I scored it a little lower on the nose - while pleasant, there were very few scents and those present were fleeting - blueberries and vanilla were all I caught this evening. However, the taste was excellent - full bodied with very nice fruit and structure, soft tannins with a hearty feel and a nice long finish. This wine should continue to improve, but is easy drinking now. Score: 16/20.

The Barbera was a more unusual selection, as I have not had many in my life and I have never tasted any of Altare's wines (famous for his Barolos). Dark purple with a fantastic wild and gamey nose, this wine was bursting with interesting aromas: Violet, citrus, raspberries, earth/undergrowth, leather, smoke - fabulous! On the palate the wine started out very acidic, powerfully tannic and a little off balance - a disappointment vs. the nose. A funny thing happened over the evening, and as this wine got more air it developed wonderfully - I am not sure my score captures how nicely this wine became with more air time. Definitely needs some more time in the cellar, and should improve. Score: 16/20.

Both wines were an excellent match for Domino's pizza.

To be fair, we decanted the La Grola and drank the Barbera out of the bottle - a little unfair to the young Piemonte upstart.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

2002 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico

This is one of my favourite Chiantis, and a regular in my cellar. After many (MANY) failed adventures into inexpensive Chianti, I think I have found a winery with a consistent, reasonably priced, Chianti.

The 2002 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico was very aromatic, lovely, rustic, smokey. Scents of dark cherries, blackberries, backed up by wild earth and leather smells, liquorice and cloves, and almonds!? In summary, spicy with lots of interesting smells and very nice fruit.

The taste was equal to the smell - medium bodied with good fruit, firm tannins and fresh acidity, this Chianti had good balance, a tad rustic in a nice Chianti Classico sort of way. Well made, with great length, this wine will probably get better and soften with age, but is ready now after a good decant. Great with food, seek this out.
Score: 16.5/20
Cost: C$25

PS-while 2002 was a bad vintage for the region, Fonterutoli did not release its high-end "Castello" wine, so the estate's best grapes went into the pedestrian Chianti Classico. I have had the 2001 (a better vintage), and the 2002 is equal to that fine wine.