Saturday, July 29, 2006

$35 Smackdown

Awesome tasting! We braved the summer heat and the precarious state of the ceiling above Cam's dining room table for a 'boys-only' under $35 smackdown. Being a creative bunch, there was an oddball selection of wines from various countries. While the the overall quality was very high, personal taste led to a diversity of 'rankings'. With this collection of unusual wines we had 3 different first place rankings amongst our five tasters. Well, a winner had to be declared, so here is the final tally:

First: 1997 Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva (Rioja, Spain)
While three first place rankings guaranteed Pramod's wine the grand prize, it also received a last place ranking (from me...). Since my notes were not in line with the group they are not particularly relevant. While I ranked this one last, this was mainly a reflection of the quality of the other wines - I did not hate this wine and I have purchased it on a few occasions. My problem was that the nose was not particularly complex (some subtle earthy smells, some mint, but I found the alcohol smell overpowering) and the taste was nice but somewhat rustic, with no length. Drink now. Would pair well with steak, available locally for $32.25.

Second: 2001 Chateau Montus (Madiran, France)
My Chateau Montus received only one first place ranking (Cosme), but was in the top three for most of the group. The nose was fairly simple, with subtle oak/leater/musk scents. But in the mouth - WHAM! This is powerful - knock you off your chair powerful. Serve it too a guest and they will be speechless for minutes. The finish lasts forever...I can still taste this one. This is not ready - stash it away and open it on its 10th anniversary. I do not recommend this for novices - they will hate it. (WS 91)

Third: 2003 Planeta Syrah (Sicilia, Italy)
Cam's Planeta finished very close behind the wines above. This was the first wine tasted, with such a beautiful, interesting and complex nose - early on I was sure this one would win hands down. According to my notes there was lots going on here - scents of rose, cherry, mint, truffles, cloves, leather - wow. It was very different in the mouth - light bodied and somewhat rustic with no length. Drink this crowd pleaser now.

Fourth: 2001 Chateau Signac Cuvee Terra Amata (Cotes-du-Rhone, France)
Cosme's Chateau Signac was the lowest price wine in the group, but held its own - Cosme ranked it second and I ranked it third. I found the nose to be nice, interesting, with gamey smells, truffle, spices (cloves, nutmeg), toast and 'wet stones'. On the palate I described this wine as full bodied with firm tannins and "Very delicious, interesting, well-balanced". Given these notes I am not sure why I ranked this third? (scores were close). While this tasting was meant to be a 'value-tasting', this wine is clearly a "value amongst values" - local stores now list this at $22.60 (cost was $26.25, price has gone down). This is a steal for the quality. (RP 90)

Fifth: 1999 Kanonkop Pinotage (S. Africa)
I have never tasted a Pinotage, so including this one in a blind tasting threw me for a loop. I have never had anything like this! This was also a controversial wine - three last place scores, one first (me). Since I was the only person ranking this first my views are not reflective of the group - others referred to the nose as "awful", "roadkill", and other un-postable expletives. According to my notes, I found the nose very interesting - aromas of hay, undergrowth (dominant), musk, vanilla, coffee, butter. In my opinion it tasted very nice as well - medium bodied with firm tannins, balanced and "hearty". Long finish, this will likely get better. The other controversy on this wine was price - I see the 2002 is 45 bucks at the local store - Chris swears he bought this for $34 something (nobody believes him).

Dessert: 1998 Chateau Guiraud (Sauternes)
In honour of the host's birthday, we opened a Sauternes for dessert - spectacular - bursting with apricot and pear aromas, very well balanced. Yum.

  1. The ranking of the first to third was very close and could have gone in any direction. I believe all five were of similar quality with personal taste the deciding factor.

  2. There were many big wines here tonight. These need to be decanted. At the end of the night the Cotes-du-Rhone and Pinotage were just opening up, and I think some tasters wanted to change their ratings. You cannot arrive late for a tasting with a bruiser of a wine!

  3. Overall quality was very good - kudos to our group for so carefully selecting such interesting, quality wines - Pinotage, Italian Syrah, Tannat! Very cool.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pizza Wine

I opened two simple wines to go with homemade pizzas:

2001 Nipozzana Riserva Chianti Rufina (Frescobaldi)
2001 Chateau d'Aydie Madiran

While the Nipozzana is an obvious choice (inexpensive, fruity, well structured - a perennial best buy for the price and a PERFECT match for pizza), the Chateau d'Adyie was a little, well, different. After all, who picks a Madiran to go with pizza?

For those of you who have read the posts below, you will see that I am a big fan of Madiran, and more specifically Chateau Montus (both the Cuvee Prestige and the regular). You will also see that Montus has done very well at our tastings (two second places). Even a South American Tannat (see Muy Macho tasting), the grape in Madiran, was a winner. So, while the d'Aydie was not an obvious choice for pizza, it was inevitable I would come up with an excuse to drink it and write about it.

I always think of Tannat as a fantastic steak wine - the big tannins, subtle fruit and gamey aromas complement and enhance a good steak. But pizza? I thought the tannins would complement the tomato sauce well? Anyway, while the Nipozzana was a perfect match the Madiran was a good match.

This was the first time I have tasted the d'Aydie. I bought this wine because I love the Montus so much that I wanted to find a good, but more reasonably priced, Madiran. The d'Aydie clearly displayed the lovely aromas (game, tobacco, undergrowth) of Montus, but was a little less balanced than the Montus, showing a little more acid and a little less fruit and that unbelievable tannin that only Madiran (ok, Barolos have this as well) has.

In summary, for pizza save the $$$ and buy the Nipozzana. For inexpensive Madiran, buy the regular Montus whenever you see it (it always sells out) and sock it away for a night when you have two to four hours for decanting and a lovely steak.

And for those days when you have too much money, buy the Montus Cuvee Prestige, cellar it for a hundred years, decant for four hours...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Steak with Spanish Wine

I am so fond of Bordeaux with steak, that I forget how wonderful some Spanish reds pair with a nice quality, simply prepared steak. For tonight, I brought out two Spanish wines:

2003 Castano Coleccion (Yecla)
2001 Torremilanos Crianza (Ribera del Duero) (Tempranillo)

This was not a good comparison, given the different grapes, but you have to make do with what is ready to go...

The Castano, a blend dominated by Monastrell (aka. Mourvedre, Mataro) with some Cab. Sauv., was younger and fruitier, with stewed fruit and gamey aromas. Very interesting, but a tad rustic. The nose and palate definitely gave away the higher alcohol. I generally love Castano wines (the "Hecula" and simple "Monastrell" are outstanding, and the Dominio Espinal is a great value), but this one was only "good to very good" in my mind. Probably better on its own, without the steak.

The Torremilanos was more tannic and lighter bodied, with good acidity. A classic tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero, this paired very well with the steak. Very powerful, with heavy oak and cherry aromas, it was slightly unbalanced, but that may soften with age.

Overall, tempranillo is a very good match for steak, but I wouldn't say the same for non-tempranillo Spanish wines. Castano is a great house, but maybe not their Coleccion. I will try some more Torremilanos wines before I make up my mind.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Shiraz and Lamb

I love barbeque season - so many new recipes and wine:food matchups to try! After a few successful experiments, I have found Shiraz and BBQ Lamb to be a fabulous combo, and this evening the wine matches were spectatular! To serve with a boneless butterflied leg of lamb (Weber's Big Book of Grilling, pg. 195), I chose the two following wines:

2001 Chateau de Cazeneuve "Le Roc des Mates" Pic Saint-Loup (Languedoc, France)
2000 Elderton Barossa Shiraz (Aussie)

Ok, so I cheated on the Roc des Mates - it was 80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. Close enough. The Roc des Mates (the second Cazeneuve wine I have tasted) was sumptious and well balanced, with boutiful fruit, a good backbone, and velvety tannins. I suspect that this wine, the younger of the two, will get better, but it will be hard to wait! It was the favourite of my wife and our guests, but I was indifferent between it and the Elderton (in fact, it seemed the more 'Aussie' of the two). I highly recommend this wine. I paid approx. C$27, and I just ran out and bought the 2003 vintage.

On the Elderton, I have never been disappointed with the Elderton Shiraz, or any Elderton wine for that matter (the CSM is stunning). This wine was extremely elegant and well balanced, but (surprisingly) not as 'fruit-forward' as the French wine. I found the elegance of this wine made it a better foil for the lamb, while 'the Roc' was a better drinking wine. Note that this Elderton is now peaking, while 'the Roc' still has a few more years to go. I paid approx. C$29. I can't find this anywhere, but I will keep looking...

It should have ended there, but we had a friend drop by for wine after dinner, and we opened two more wines:

2001 Domaine Clavel "Les Garrigues" Coteaux du Languedoc
2000 Santa Duc "Les Garancieres" Gigondas

Overall, I was disappointed with the Gigondas - ratings of that wine are high, and it seemed a little unbalanced to my taste. The tannins were very firm - perhaps they will soften up over time - I will open my other bottle in two years. The Clavel was a great drinking wine, my last bottle of the 'Garrigues'. This is always a well-rated, inexpensive wine and worth seeking out.