Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Unfortunately, it's Wednesday and I will go bankrupt if I make ever day an OTBN night, so cheaper is better. One can obviously find those rare under $20 gems (see Debs for one example) by surfing the web, reading the journals or asking the shopkeep, but I have one strategy that seems to work reasonably well - when you find a wine you like, figure out if they have a lower-end 'entry-level' wine. And that is how I ended up with tonight's wine.
The 2003 Moulin Lagrezette is the entry level wine (or so it would appear, as they offer a wide range of wines) of this Chateau, and I bought it because I love the Chateau Lagrezette. Dark fruit, leather, cloves, and vanilla on the nose - attractive. More new world than old world, it had good balance, nice fruit and was very quaffable, but only mildly interesting. Probably a good party wine, and reasonably priced. Drink now.
Malbec, with some Merlot
PS - a blind tasting vs. the Grand Vin is in the works
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
The 2001 McWilliam's Shiraz is not foreign to this corner of the web, as it was one of the wines in our Shiraz tasting one year ago. I did not remember that when the barter offer came, but it is nice to know that our distinguished group of tasters rated this first amongst a good group of 'off-the-beaten-path' Aussie wines. Obviously unfiltered, I think they crushed the grapes inside the bottle, as the sediment was substantial - decant first. It showed a beautiful purple in the glass, with some brick red at the edge. Exhibiting scents of blackberries, prunes, spices and undergrowth, it was complex and interesting, but showing some minty/alcohol aromas. On the palate this was more restrained than most Aussie Shiraz and nicely balanced. It appears to be in fine drinking form, and I doubt it will improve with extensive bottle aging. A nice catch.
Cost: $25 (est.)
Saturday, February 24, 2007
This wine is not just a famous, overpriced, Italian white. It is also the wine that began my journey into wine, so it has a special place in my heart. In Spring of 2002 I was on a business trip in Europe, and one evening in Lugano, Switzerland, I was having dinner at an Italian restaurant on Lake Lugano. Based on what we were having that evening, the sommelier suggested an Italian white, the Gaja Rossj-Bass (2001, I believe). At that time I had NO knowledge of wine, so my travelling companions quickly agreed to the suggestion. To quote: "A Peeedmont Chardonnayyy, can you believe that? A Peeedmont Chardonnay!" (in a Western Canadian drawl). The wine, the dinner, and the view over Lake Lugano were spectacular, and all worked perfectly together. From that time forward, I was hooked on Italian wine, Switzerland, and Gaja...
A year and a half ago one of those who accompanied me on the Switzerland trip was retiring from his job. I knew he was a wine nut, so I thought this rare wine would make an ideal gift. I bought two bottles (not easy to find), but the lone bottle for me just sat in my cellar, waiting for an appropriate occasion. As I usually turn to reds for celebratory wine, I was worried that the Rossj-Bass would sit in my cellar, waiting for a special occasion that never came. A perfect selection for OTBN 8!
Gaja is one of Italy's most famous winemakers, and Rossj-Bass is one of their signature whites. The 2004 Rossj-Bass is predominantly chardonnay, with some sauvignon blanc mixed in. It was a deep golden yellow colour, with an amazing, complex nose - lemon, orange, apple, and caramelized pear, oak, truffle, butter, tobacco, toasted bread and some earthy scents. Sublime! (a wine that has definitely seen some oak!) On the palate the wine was rich and luxurious, very flavourful. Medium bodied and well-balanced, the wine had good persistency but light acidity. While weighing in at 14%, the alcohol was not dominant on the nose or palate. Rather California Chardonnay in style, it was very nice winemakeing, but it was not a dry, crisp Chablis. An excellent match for an orange/rosemary roast chicken. Score: 17.5/20. A terrible value at C$53, but...mmmmm.
With guests over we could not finish the evening with just one wine, so I stayed in Piedmont and opened a 2005 Pio Cesare Gavi, a white wine from this famous Barolo house. This wine was made using Cortese grapes from the Gavi region in Northern Italy. Aside from the price, the two wines were very different. Crisp and citrussy on the on the nose, this wine seemed kinda sauvignon blanc meets pinot gris. Lemon and peach with lovely balance, light and crisp, a terrific appertif or a match for a variety of white fish. Score: 16/20, price C$19. I think I have to call this one a "great value".
While scoring is subjective, at the very least you should be able to see from my blog that, for the most part, I love all wines, with a wide variety of grapes, regions, styles and price ranges represented. I am not stuck on one style or grape or price point - I believe every wine has a perfect time, place, food pairing, and friend to share it with.
As a background, the following describes how I taste my wines and what I believe the scores mean.
How the wines are tasted:
In our Formal Tastings, these wines were decanted and tasted blind, unless otherwise noted. For my everyday tasting notes the wines are decanted (except Pinot Noir, whites, bubbles, and some inexpensive reds) and tasted - unblinded - in a standard INAO glass.
What the score is supposed to mean:
I reviewed my scores over the past year, and I would broadly use them as follows:
- 20: Perfection, haven't found that yet, or if I have I am not yet ready to use this number.
- 18 to 19.5: The world's greatest wines, with unbelievable depth and complexity, exceptional balance, and lots of aromas and flavours to ponder. (~10% of my scores)
- 16 to 17.5: Excellent wines, balanced and interesting. This is probably a range to find some great values. (~70% of my scores)
- 14 to 15.5: Good everyday wines, generally interesting or balanced, but not both. Don't overpay for these. (~20% of my scores)
- 12 to 13.5: Reasonable "Vin de Table"
- <12: Liquids, with varying semblance to real wine. Likely available in a large format container, and may feature at a wedding. May be suitable for mixing with other beverages.
The most important caveat is that I am unblinded when I score. As a science guy, this is not ideal, as we all bring a bias to that bottle of wine. Thus, I like our Formal Tastings are a truer test of a wine vs. my palate.
Another key caveat - should you think a 15.5 point Pinot is worse than a 17 point Syrah? I would be cautious in comparing scores from unlike grapes, and maybe even from different regions.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The night that Dot and John have chosen for OTBN is always the last Saturday of February, so the eighth edition of OTBN will be this Saturday, February 24th. And with OTBN 8 is coming fast, I having been poring over the spreadsheet, checking the figures, and trying to find that perfect something for this special evening.
I have decided that my choice should be a wine that:
- Has been in my cellar nearly since inception,
- I repeatedly find excuses for not opening it because "it is too special", and
- A bottle with some age on it.
So far, the only thing in my cellar that fits this profile is the 1998 Marchesi di Barolo Barolo "Cannubi". I have stood it up, just in case, but my backup plan involves a Piemontese Chardonnay...we'll see how it goes.
For those of you who haven't read it, Dot and John write a terrific wine column. While the WSJ online is protected (subscribers only), links and other reprints can be found on the web.
Thanks to the gals at Grape Juice for reminding me of this important event!
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I bought the 2004 Quail's Gate Limited Release at the winery last summer. While the winery touted a medal at some sort of contest, what I really liked was the taste. It has been many months since I last tasted this wine, and it was just as I remembered. A nice earthy, mushroomy nose, with strawberries, vanilla and green nuts. Clean, fresh. On the palate it was well balanced with good strawberry acidity, a soft mouthfeel, and good persistency. This wine is ready to drink - a good match for a pork tenderloin with a mild fruit curry sauce. A nice take on Pinot, more French/Oregonian than Californian. Score 15.5/20. At C$25, a good value for a Pinot.
(With Brooklynguy on a quest for value-priced Pinot Noir, I dedicate this post to that Grail Quest)
One final comment: Doktor Weingolb raised the issue of alcohol the other day with my post on a Chateauneuf du Pape. Despite weighing in at 14.5% alcohol, the Quail's Gate was balanced, and alcohol did not dominate the nose and palate the way the alcohol (14%) in that CdP did.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Chateau Bouscasse and Chateau Montus are both owned by Alain Brumont, and these wines are probably the stars of the appelation. Both Chateaux make an upscale wine (Bouscasse Vielles Vignes and Montus Cuvee Prestige - one of my all time favourite wines), but tonight's wine is the least expensive of Brumont's offerings.
The 2000 Bouscasse was a nice ruby red, that started with earthy, spicy, meaty scents, as well as some blackberries. Dry, velvety tannins and spicy fruit coated the tongue. Awkward at first, a few hours in the decanter softened this wine up nicely. Likely a terrific pairing with steak, it worked very well tonight with a Domino's Meat Lovers pizza.
While above my C$20 "Value" limit, it is so close and so good that I had to add the value tag below.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Once again, California, Italy and France would square off in an unblinded manner for a small group of three tasters. We began the night with three wines of the "Merlot-dominant" variety:
1990 Chateau Clinet (Pomerol)
1997 Beringer Howell Mountain Bancroft Ranch Private Reserve (Napa)
2000 Tenuta Santa Maria Decima Aurea (Veneto)
However, it was quickly noted by my two partners that I contributed none of the wines above, so I tossed in the:
1999 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta (Chile)
Of course, this is not Merlot dominant, but hey - I was under pressure to deliver, and I thought this was good enough. And so it was, or so they all were (in order of age).
The 1990 Chateau Clinet is legendary estate in the tiny Pomerol region of Bordeaux. While I have not yet found stats for this specific wine, the vineyard itself is 80% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc and 5% Cab Sauv, so this wine is probably a blend in similar proportions. My first word to describe the nose was "haunting". While still cool, it exhibited subtle floral perfume aromas. Warming up it started to show some smokey/flinty scents, followed by musk, leather, pepper, tea and vegetal scents, later revealing the tell-tale plummy/pruney scents of a wine with some age. This development and complexity was entirely missed at our Extreme Tasting in November, where each taster had a 2 oz. pour in a noisy restaurant. Despite nearly 17 years in the bottle, on the palate this wine was not showing its age. "Harmonius" is the quote from my notes - medium bodied with fresh acidity and VELVETY tannins, smokey and minerally, very nice length. Ready now, it will continue to evolve in coming years. Four hours of sipping and savouring this wine is one of my top 5 wine moments...Score: 19/20, price: obscene.
The 1997 Beringer Howell Mtn Bancroft Ranch Merlot is considered one of the top Napa bottlings of Merlot, so it was terribly interesting to compare side by side to a legendary Pomerol. While cool it exhibited cocoa scents, but citrus, mint, oak, vanilla and liquorice scents appeared over the evening. On the palate it was rich and chocolatey, with a tannic whallop that was still somewhat harsh. Very lengthy, this wine struck me as one that is still early in its youth. In contrast to the Clinet, which seemed to pick up the pace over the evening, the Beringer went flabby. How could oxygen have such a differential impact on these two wines? Fascinating - I loved it early, but kept cutting the score over the evening. Score: 17.5/20, price: expensive.
The 1999 Clos Apalta is one of the more famous Chilean bottlings, with a trail of good media coverage. Officially, this wine was not Merlot dominant - 35% Carmenere, 30% Merlot, 22% Cab Sauv and 13% Malbec - but it was an interesting addition to the flight. Like the Clinet, this was an ever evolving wine. Scents of dry cherries, supported by minty, earthy, leathery, spicey (cloves) and cocoa undertones. Full bodied with firm, dry tannins, silky on the tongue. Very long finish. The earthiness (likely the Carmenere) made me think of single malt scotch. I should've left this in the cellar for a few more years. Score: 17.5/20, Cost: C$65.
Cam experimented with the 2000 Decima Aurea Merlot. It is rather difficult to find reviews for this wine, and the Spectator 85 pts rating did not sound promising (given the competition above), so we had low expectations. We were very wrong. Like the Clinet, this wine got better and better over the evening, releasing tantalizing new aromas - "chameleon" was the note on my score sheet. A very strong scent of truffles was followed at various points by violet, plums, mint, leather, vanilla and liquorice. On the palate it was rich and full bodied, but unbalanced vs. its peer group above. Very 'rustic' and interesting. This is a wine I am seriously considering adding to my cellar, as this should benefit from a few more years in the bottle. Score: 16.5/20, Cost: C$55.
Overall, the wines were fantastic, and a great way to spend a Friday night.
Invevitably, someone has read this far and just done the calculation: 4 /3 = 1.33 bottles per taster. No comment. Gatorade, followed by coffee, is my "morning after" ritual.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
According to the maker, this wine is 65% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 15% Syrah, with the balance Cinsault and others. Ruby red, the wine was beginning to show some age with some brick red at the rim. Still cool from the cellar, the first nose was that of field flowers and strawberries. As it warmed up to room temperature there were strong earthy, minty, and vegetal aromas, as well as some truffles, smoke and nutty scents. Very promising. On the palate it was very dry, and despite the wine's age it was still showing big tannins. Strawberries and chocolate, it was a nice Valentine's treat. A very long finish with good fruit, tannins and acidity, I am sure this wine still has a few more years to go. However, the alcohol was very noticeable, throwing the wine off balance, and I don't believe extra bottle time will help with that. A perfect match for the food and the event. I have to disagree with Parker's assessment (93).
Price: At $67, it was a great wine, but not a great value. Try the Grand Veneur or Vieux Lazaret, at much lower prices.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
The Jacob's Creek Sparkling Rose (NV) was only slightly pink, with a nice nose of buttered toast and a hint of strawberries. On the palate it had soft bubbles with a nice, dry cherry flavour. Uncomplex, but extremely quaffable, I was very impressed by the balance given the very low price. While bubbly afficianados would probably scoff at the 'mousse' and complexity of this wine, I thought it to be a perfect foil for a low-fat Fettucine Alfredo (complimented by some home-made fried Calamari). And at this price, you don't need a special occasion. Score 14/20, Cost C$13.85.
I bought this wine because of the good experience I had with the Jacob's Creek white bubbly. This wine could replace the Codorniu Brut as my favourite cheap bubbles, and encourage more frequent consumption of this celebratory wine.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
To compare old world vs. new world Malbec, I grabbed the following from my cellar:
2001 Chateau Lagrezette (Cahors)
2004 Clos des Andes (Mendoza)
The Lagrezette was the elder, with the extra bottle age a distinct edge. While mainly Malbec, this wine also has some Merlot (and Tannat in some vintages). Despite its age, it was a deep purple colour in the glass. On the nose the wine had an awesome creme caramel nose, with blueberries, leather, and some meaty and vegetal scents. Pleasing and complex. On the palate this wine was blackberries and leather with dry, velvety tannins. Extremely well balanced, this wine wine had nice length - ready now, but should also keep for a few more years. Overall, a gem of a wine, in its prime.
Cost: C$24 (SAQ)
The Clos des Andes is a product of Bodegas Poesia. While I have had many Argentinian Malbecs in the past, tonight was my first experience with this estate. The label claims 100% Malbec, but some internet searches say otherwise, so we can say it (like the Lagrezette) is predominantly Malbec. The nose was floral (violet), followed by coffee and chocolate - very peppery as well. On the palate, this youngster was still awkward, showing rich chocolately fruity and powerful, harsh, tannins. While the tannins should settle down over time (they definitely softened over the evening), it was definitely a more "New World" style of wine - great winemaking, but bigger fruit. A nice wine, I will wait a few years before opening my other bottles.
Cost: C$27 (LCBO)
Overall, a very nice evening of Malbec, with two quality products. Age and elegance won out, with all three tasters giving the nod to the "Old World" selection.
Friday, February 09, 2007
One of those wines was tonight's 2004 Margrain Pinot Noir, which hails from the Martinborough (Wairarapa) region. My friend and I really liked this wine, so I bought two bottles. Nice ruby red in colour, with an attractive 'summer fruit' nose. Scents of cherry, mint, vanilla, and musk, with some earthy undertones, this was a pleasing, but uncomplicated, nose. On the palate this wine was terrific - extremely well balanced, with nice acidity and cherry fruit, good persistency and gentle tannins. More 'old world' than 'new world' in style, it was a very nice example of Pinot Noir, and it paired very nicely with a Pork Tenderloin in a Dijon Sour Cream sauce.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Price: C$29 (SAQ)
PS - After we finished this bottle, it was off to Tasmania for a 2005 Ninth Island Pinot Noir - not as balanced as the Margrain, but a terrific nose and nice crisp acidity - a great value at C$21.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
The RVF is my only magazine subscription at present, for a couple of reasons:
- It's coverage of the French wine industry is unparalleled, and it also provides an interesting counterpoint to the Anglo-centric Wine Spectator and the like.
- I live in Quebec, and the local liquor monopoly has a strong interest in French wines. As a result, I can actually buy some of the things they review (not always the case here with Spectator, for example).
- As a Montreal 'immigrant', my high school French could use some work. The RVF is also my French tutor!
This month's RVF cover story hits on a good topic - Bordeaux "Seconds vins des crus classes". With Bordeaux prices skyrocketing, you either go new world or seek out more obscure Bordeaux wineries. Unfortunately, the second wines of the major Chateaux are also experiencing serious price appreciation . In their review of the 2004s, the only "second vin" that comes close to good value for the money appears to be the "Reserve de Leoville Barton". Other wines that seem to be highly rated and reasonably priced include the "Chateau Moulin-Riche" (Leoville-Poyferre), "Chateau Haut-Bages Averous" (Lynch-Bages), and "Duluc de Branaire-Ducru". In my experience, second wines are not the place to find the values - lesser known wineries that focus on quality are your best bet (check out my cellar choices here).
I expect that most of my readers are English-speaking North Americans, so pitching a French wine rag may be futile, but for those of you looking for a change of pace pick up a French dictionary for $6 bucks, stop by the international magazine shop, and enjoy a change of pace in your wine reading. Cheers!
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Sierra Cantabria is an excellent house, and 2001 was a great year for the region, so I had pretty high expectations for the 2001 Sierra Cantabria Cuvee Especial. The wine did not disappoint. The nose starts very spicy (pepper, cloves), oaky with some vanilla, followed by blackberry, and musky/smokey scents. Very complex, very interesting.
On the palate, it was light to medium bodied with good acidity and firm tannins backed up by nice, but not overpowering, fruit. This wine is ready now, but could definitely be cellared for a few more years. A surprisingly good match for the raclette, and a favourite with steak. While not a steal, it was terrific value for the quality.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Cost: C$29 (SAQ)
Friday, February 02, 2007
Carmen: The Chardonnay is crisp, not buttery, and a terrific value at close to C$10. I have seen good reviews for their Cabernet reserve as well.
Casillero del Diablo: Part of the Concha y Toro family, the Casillero del Diablo line of wines are spectacular values - I have had the Cabernet (awesome), Carmenere, and Sauvignon Blanc, and all represent great values for the $$$.
Cousino Macul: A winery that always gets great value reviews from the media, I like their Antiguas Reservas Cabernet and Merlot.
Errazuriz: The Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet is a great value and widely available, and I have heard good things about the resto of their wines.