Saturday, March 31, 2007

2003 Di Majo Norante Contado

After finishing two bottles of wine for WBW #32 - Regular vs. Reserve (post to follow), we moved on to the "after dinner" wine. I am a big fan of Di Majo Norante, a winery that produces a lineup of wines that seem to perfectly capture the passion and 'rusticity' I seek in an Italian wine. Norante's wines are also excellent values, and a nice change from barbera, sangiovese and corvina - their wines use aglianico, prugnolo and montepulciano grapes, amongst others.

The 2003 Contado uses 100% aglianico grapes from the Molise region of Italy. A deep cherry red, the nose was dominated by tarry, nutty, and tannic aromas, with some background spiciness (cloves), musk, cedar, tobacco, mint and strawberries. Fully-bodied, with a very long finish, the leathery fruit masks the substantial tannin in this wine, which put it slightly off balance. I should have decanted this wine, the Contado should improve with some more bottle time. It was an excellent match for a game of cribbage and lightly salted pretzels. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Cost: C$18 (LCBO)
Great Value!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

2006 Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc

Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo line of wines includes some very fine values, including this evening's Sauvignon Blanc. On this site you will also find reviews of the Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, and A over at Wine in the Peg has reviewed the Malbec.

The 2006 Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc was a pale straw yellow colour, and exhibited attractive melon and citrusy aromas (grapefruit, lemon peel), with some of that trademark Sauv. Blanc 'pis de chat'. On the palate this wine was well balanced, with a nice soft texture counterbalanced by crisp, food friendly acidity. A perfect appertif, patio quaffer, or serious pairing for a simple seafood dish. I have to slap a "Great Value" on this baby.
Score: 15/20
Price: C$10.95 (LCBO)
Great Value!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Down Under in the Great White North

Despite the wide availability of Aussie Shiraz here in North America, our tasting group did not hold our first Aussie Shiraz tasting until last year. That evening featured a sommelier host, so this year's Oz night was our first using our blinded format for formal tastings. Unfortunately, a number of regulars (and devout Aussie wine lovers) were unable to attend, resulting in a very appropriate ratio of four bottles for five tasters.

We experienced dramatic price inflation vs. last years tasting, with the flight of wines as follows (in order of vintage):

1998 Henschke "Hill of Grace"
1998 Evans and Tate Redbrook Vineyard
2001 Elderton Command Shiraz

2003 Penfolds Magill Estate

First Place -1998 Henschke "Hill of Grace": I was shocked, amazed, and thankful that Cosme was willing to share this wine with us. One of Australia's most sought-after Shirazes, it instantly stood out from the crowd. The nose was very spicy and oaky, with more restrained fruitiness vs. the rest of the wines. It also displayed prominent coffee and cocoa aromas and constantly changed over the evening, with every whiff revealing a new, attractive and beguiling aroma. On the palate this wine was all about elegance - harmonius and awe-inspiring, with a restrained fruitiness. This would pair well with food, if you had any money left for food after you purchased the bottle. Drink now. Five first place rankings. 13.7% alcohol
My score: 19/20, cost: Very, very expensive. (RP-97, WS-93)

Second Place - 2001 Elderton Command: I brought the Command, probably the first time I have ever showed up for a tasting with a wine I have previously tasted. The wine first showed it spicy oak, but later showed some floral (violet), cherry, musk, coffee, smoke/flint, and tobacco. Very beautiful, very complex. On the palate it was rich, luxurious, and structured with leather, coffee and chocolate flavours. The finish was was extremely long. Some tasters thought it too fruity and for drinking now, but I disagree - this wine still needs time. Four seconds and one fourth place ranking. 15% alcohol
My score: 18.5/20 (identical to my Sept. 06 score), cost: C$79. (RP-95, WS-96)

Third Place - 1998 Evans and Tate Redbrook: Chris and M-L travelled to the west coast of Oz last year and brought back this wine with them (it is no longer commercially available). It was very different from the rest of the Aussies. A bit stale at first, but with some oxygen it began to show some nice but lighter, subtler aromas - peppery, with some violet, earth, undergrowth, coffee and some vegetal scents. The most 'old world' of the group, it was light-bodied with fresh acidity. Slightly more dilute and less balanced than the previous two wines, it was still great. Drink now. 14.5% alcohol
My score: 17.5/20, cost: C$90.

Fourth Place - 2003 Penfolds Magill Estate: Cam's Penfolds was great wine, but had two challenges to overcome - impressive competition and youth. Easily the fruitiest wine, I described the nose as over-the-top New World sweet, with caramel and nut aromas, a nose that some described as syrupy. On the palate it was fruity and well balanced, with a surprisingly short finish. This was not my style, and I found it a bit flabby. Can be drunk now, but could improve with a few more years in the bottle. 14.5% alcohol
My score: 16/20, cost: C$75. (RP-94, WS-90)

Warm up Wine: I lied about the four bottles - we managed to finish five bottles, as the host graciously served a 2003 Torbreck "The Steading" to prepare our palate for this momentous event. Scents of crushed cherries, leather, vanilla, and ginger. Very smokey, with nice complexity. A bit hot (14% alcohol), it was very soft and elegant on the palate, but rather one-dimensional and uncomplex. Drink now. Score 16.5/20.

Overall, Aussie Shiraz are often criticized as being too fruit forward, but only one or two of these wines really went there. The wines were elegant and complex, and really showed the greatness that Australia has acheived at the high end of the price range. I also believe that three of these wines would pair very well with food.

Given its second place ranking, the Elderton Command probably stands out as the value of the night, given the huge price differential vs. the other top 3 wines.

Next up: Tempranillo, at the end of April.

Friday, March 23, 2007

2000 Chateau Montus Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec

Tomorrow our tasting group will host a big, bad, Aussie Shiraz night, so I had to go with a white wine this evening. Fortunately, my wife chose a filet of sole in a delicate orange sauce to pair with my wine choice.

My love of all things Montus is well documented on this site, so it was reasonable to expect that I might buy their white wine someday. The 2000 Chateau Montus Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec (say that five times fast) is a white wine from the obscure Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh appelation. As far as I can tell, this wine is made from the petit manseng and gros manseng grapes, but information is sketchy.

An attractive bright amber colour, the first scents on the nose were of minerals and oak, but later followed with some green apple, orange, toast, green olives and smoke. Based on my first whiff, I thought this would be a buttery new world chardonnay, but it was definitely not - minerally, with good acidity and great balance, it had a softness that I presume came from its bottle age. While quite high in alcohol, it was not obtrusive, but certainly gave me quite the buzz! To compare it to other whites, I think the closest resemblance might be a Chablis? Anyway, an excellent match for the fish, and a very interesting and attractive "off-the-beaten-path" white.
14.3% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Cost: C$24 (SAQ)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Shopping Trip - New York

Source: Wikipedia

Following my recent detour through the wine shops of Winnipeg, my business travels recently took me to New York City. With just a few minutes between meetings, I managed to steal away and check out some shops recommended by none other than Decanter and Brooklynguy. I even dropped in on a shop near my hotel. Here are some thoughts on those stops:

Beekman Liquors (500 Lex, btw 47th/48th): Located in very close proximity to my hotel, this was a drop in. I saw a sign and it said "WINE", so I really didn't have a choice. Over the years I have dropped in on a number of Manhattan wine shops, and this one seemed very similar - crowded, and packed to the rafters with wine. While the shop was difficult to navigate, the wine consultant was helpful and very knowledgeable. Definitely worth a visit if in the neighbourhood.
Pros: Knowledgeable wine staff, broad/deep selection.
Cons: Crowded, a bit run down, good stuff standing up on a warm shelf.

Crush Wine & Spirits (57th at Lex): Following a complimentary comment in Decanter, I have been meaning to drop in on this shop. A prime retail location, this store is definitely going for a hip, trendy feel, with some Bjork goin' on in the background. No one will ever accuse me of being hip or trendy, but I liked the format. The wines were well organized by grape, but the prices were not always marked and it was hard to read the labels with the bottles on their sides, as esthetics trumped reason. The staff were knowledgeable and helpful, tolerating my detailed inspection of every bottle in the store. A nice range of inexpensive to hedonistic, with a proper cellar at the back for the good stuff. I especially liked that they stocked a number of vintages of the collector items, making it possible to build out a vertical in some cases. Worth a visit!
Pros: A good range of carefully selected wines - top selling labels beside unique selections.
Cons: Hard to read the labels with the bottles on their sides.

Burgundy Wine Co. (26th St. W. btw. 6th and 7th): On a mission for Oregon Pinot Noir, Brooklynguy recommended I stop here. Somewhat out of the way, this was (as you can imagine) a very focused collection of wine - Burgundies, Oregon, and Rhone wines (not sure I see that connection!). Anyway, the guy there made great suggestions and the layout was attractive, with lots of space. While they did not have a cellar per se, the store was dark and the temperature was cool, so they are doing the right thing. The Oregon Pinot selections were rather limited that day, but I managed to walk away with two bottles. Worth a visit!
Pros: Excellent if you like Burgundy, Oregon and Rhone wines.
Cons: Don't go here for wines from elsewhere!

A quick comment on pricing. I did not have a chance to comparison shop, so I cannot tell you who has the best prices. Check the web, or perhaps some New Yorkers will leave some tips for the best prices in Manhattan?

Overall, I would shop at all of these places again, and I was successful in obtaining two bottles of Oregon Pinot - 2004 Cristom Marjorie vineyard.

A notable miss: It was also suggested that I check out Chambers Street Wines, but I will be back in three weeks...


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lounge Lizard

With a long tour through customs and security I thought I would miss my flight. Instead (in classic Laguardia fashion), my flight was delayed and I had a chance to cool my jets in the Maple Leaf Lounge in Montreal. The great thing about the Air Canada lounges is that the booze is free, unlike those cheapskates at the United "Red Carpet" lounges. I tried to resist the freebie plonk, but the delay got longer and longer, and I got thirstier and thirstier...

On offer this evening were two Baron Philippe de Rothschild selections, a Merlot and a Sauvignon Blanc. The Merlot looked like wine, and the first sniff had faint aromas of wine, but to its credit it later improved to show some attractive, but subtle, vegetal, black cherry, earthy and peppery notes. On the palate it was plain, warm, liquid. Not unattractive, just a bit dilute and quite uninspiring - kinda bologna on Wonder bread plain. The temperature was a bit too 'chambre' for my liking.
Score: 12.5/20
Cost: free!

The evening's white wine was a nice surprise. This Sauvignon Blanc showed attractive grapefruit, toasty caramel and fresh cut grass aromas. Dilute, but with refreshing acidity and nice balance, this was a terrific value - one I would happily chug at a wedding or office party. I have to give this a "Great Value" tag (sells for C$12 locally).
Score: 14/20
Cost: free!

The Sauvignon Blanc had a distinct advantage in that it was a better pairing for my freebie suppertime feast of black olives, pickles, cherry tomatoes and a slice of bread.


(PS - Picture from Air Canada)

Monday, March 19, 2007

2005 Viognier Dunnigan Hills EXP

Here in Montreal we don't have too many selections of straight up New World viognier. So when I was in the mood and unable to locate my go-to viognier from Yalumba, I settled for the R.H. Phillips offering. I have had great success with their shiraz in the past, so the white should be ok, right? Wrong.

The 2005 Viognier Dunnigan Hills EXP was a bright gold colour, and the nose was dominated by alcohol. I tried and tried to detect scents beyond that the powerful wave of alcohol, but all I could get was some faint melon and floral aromas. On the palate it had decent acidity, but the alcohol stunned the tongue so that it was difficult to catch the fruitiness. In my opinion, this unbalanced white is best served at a frat party (to get drunk quickly). Useful, perhaps, but definitely not my style of wine. alcohol 14.5%
Score: 11.5/20
Cost: C$19.75

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Bevy of Barbera

Last August the local 'special orders' gang at Courrier Vinicole had a special Italian order. Included in this offering were the usual suspects - Barolos and Barbarescos - but they also had an excellent selection of Barberas and Dolcettos. I find that Barbera and Dolcetto offerings are rather limited, so I took advantage of the offer and ordered 24 bottles of wine.

Unfortunately, my cellar is 'bursting at the seams', with more than 500 bottles residing in a cellar designed for 360 bottles. Needless to say, one must step carefully when entering...

With such a large influx of Barbera, and a limited storage capacity, the evening called for Piedmont, regardless of what was on the menu. To take on this evening's Pork Roast with Mushroom gravy, I had two renowned Piemontese Barberas from the same vintage:

2001 Vietti Barbera d'Asti "La Crena"
2001 Giovanni Corino Barbera d'Alba "Pozzo"

These wines were decanted, and tasted and scored head to head, blinded.

I tasted the Vietti La Crena first. The nose began with very strong oaky, cedary and earthy aromas. With some oxygen the wine turned very nutty - hazelnuts and almonds - backed by prunes and flinty, smokey aromas. Very dry, this medium-bodied wine packed a powerful tannic punch, with a surprising amount of fruit given the limited scents of fruit on the nose. La Crena had a soft mouthfeel, but it was angular and 'rustic'. Passionate and fun, but unrefined, this wine may need some more time to develop.
Score: 16/20
Cost: C$38

The Corino Pozzo smelled fruitier, with a more judicious use of oak. Very strong coffee and berry aromas, with caramel, cloves, plus some meaty and earthy scents. Medium- to full-bodied with big strawberry fruit and very nice balance with the acidity and tannins. Smoother than the La Crena, yet interesting and powerful at the same time. This wine should improve.
Score: 17/20
Cost: C$33

While my notes highlight the differences, the wines were more similar than they were different, converging over the evening - the fruit in the La Crena showed up a little later, while the Pozzo later showed more oak than at the beginning. Very good wines, given the price differential you have to give the nod to the Corino Pozzo.

Look for a future post, "A Dose of Dolcetto", as I conduct the same experiment to whittle down the rest of my Piemontese surplus. Cheers!

Friday, March 16, 2007

2001 Domaine Clavel "Copa Santa"

Despite rather frequent purchases of wine from the Languedoc-Rousillon, I have very few Languedoc posts, and they seem to be limited to Pic Saint-Loup wines. Today's wine comes from the Coteaux du Languedoc appelation. Purchased 2 1/2 years ago, I bought this wine because of the fame of the house and the strength of the vintage, but also because I had enjoyed their less expensive "Les Garrigues" in the past.

For the 2001 Domaine Clavel "Copa Santa", the nose was very grenache. Very spicy (pepper, nutmeg) and musky with a big, black cherry smell, followed by floral and cocoa scents. It developed very nicely over the evening, later showing some rather meaty scents - complex, interesting, evolving.

On the palate the Copa was rich and full-bodied, with gobs of fruit, chocolate, and velvety tannins. Well balanced, but very extracted - this is a modern-styled Languedoc wine. Excellent winemaking, but a bit heavy for our veal cutlets. This wine definitely has the stuffing to go a few more years, and should further soften up.

Score: 17/20
Cost: $24
Grenache, Shiraz

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Shopping Trip - Winnipeg

For those of you who noticed my absence, 8 straight days of travel and/or 18-hour days seriously cuts into my blogging time (it took me a week to write this one...)!

In addition to its interference with the upkeep of my blog, business travel never affords me the opportunity for serious sightseeing, but I frequently have a small window of time to step into the local wine shop and look for hidden treasures.

As evidenced by the paucity of recent posts, I just returned from a visit to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and while there I took advantage of some down time to go with my father-in-law to see something 'novel' (for a Montrealer) - privately run liquor stores. For those of you residing in (or planning a visit to) Winnipeg, here are my general impressions from our tour of some private liquor stores. Note I did not have much time to discuss the selections with the employees, so I won't comment on the level of knowledge.

Fenton's Wine Merchants (at The Forks): Fenton's is centrally located in The Forks, and ideally situated next to a number of specialty food shops, so you can really plan a meal around your wine selections here. I noticed a wide selection of carefully selected (i.e. lots of labels I have never heard of) wines at reasonable prices. Given that the owners have clearly tried to stay away from mainstream labels, you will have to rely on the staff. Locals should go in and get some recommendations and to see if they can deliver.
Pros: Wide selection, nice location and atmosphere.
Cons: They had very little of the fancy stuff, and what they have sits standing up on a warm shelf under spotlights.

Pembina Fine Wines: While residing in a nondescript strip mall, it was a fine store, with an excellent geographic selection and depth in each region. Probably the best all around, with a selection of older vintages and off size bottles.
Pros: Best global variety and with some depth in each region.
Cons: Some wines in the sunny windows, older vintages not stored in a temperature controlled room.

Piazza De Nardi (La Boutique del Vino): This wine store at the Piazza de Nardi is located in a building with a Mediterranean food market. An excellent place to buy Italian. They also have the best set up for wine - no windows and a temperature controlled cellar for better wines.
Pros: Awesome selection of Italian, nice location and proper storage.
Cons: Perhaps a bit light on French wine.

Kenaston Wine Market: Located in a busy strip mall, this is one of my favourites from previous visits in Winnipeg. It has a wide selection, kind of a mix between Fenton's and Pembina. Great collection of staff picks.
Pros: Very wide selection, some store exclusives.
Cons: Storage - the fancy stuff sits next the regular stuff.

DeLuca's: A good, broad selection, if not deep. The only shop with an open bottle for sampling (some Aussie red and white) - for shame (to the others). A lot going on in a little store.
Pros: Nice atmosphere, sampling ongoing.
Cons: Limited selection.

So where would I go if I lived in the 'Peg? I would probably visit all of them on a frequent basis, with DeNardi and Pembina visited more frequently. It pays to watch the prices, as they can vary substantially from store to store, without and specific pattern that I could identify. Thanks to my father-in-law and A over at Wine in the 'Peg for some suggestions.

Notable miss: I hear that a new store, Banville and Jones, is pretty good. Next time...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Return of the Spam Blogger

Well, the arrival of Google has meant some changes for Blogger, including 'spam-prevention robots'. There are obviously a few bugs to be worked out, as this innocent blogger was captured in an electronic dragnet and unable to post for a few days.

For my fellow bloggers, imagine your surprise at seeing this message as you go to post your latest wine thoughts:

"This blog has been locked by Blogger's spam-prevention robots. You will not be able to publish your posts, but you will be able to save them as drafts. Save your post as a draft or click here for more about what's going on and how to get your blog unlocked."

To save you some time, the link above gives this:

"Your blog is locked
Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What's a spam blog?) Since you're an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive. We received your unlock request on March 3, 2007. On behalf of the robots, we apologize for locking your non-spam blog. Please be patient while we take a look at your blog and verify that it is not spam."

I had never heard of a Spam Blog before - apparently they "can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site." While an electronic being may find my posts irrelevant and nonsensical, they most certainly are not repetitive, and they are not filled with links all pointing to the same site.

I am glad that Blogger is apologizing for the robots, and I hope the 'bots (beer drinkers, I presume) do not capture any more innocent wine bloggers.

NOTE: While under detention, Blogger was kind enough to let me keep writing. Please check the site below for some new posts - Cheers!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

2000 Moulin Pey-Labrie

The 2000 Chateau Moulin Pey-Labrie hails from the Canon Fronsac Appelation in Bordeaux, which seems to be gaining in stature as prices for the better-known appelations skyrocket. This wine was a suggestion from Brooklynguy, and I was fortunate to find the 2000 vintage available locally.

Nice scents of raspberry and oak, backed up by attractive vegetal (see Fermentation for a neat discussion) and flinty aromas. Classic Bordeaux. Medium-bodied with velvety tannins, good fruit and harmonius balance. An absolute pleasure to have a Bordeaux as it is hitting its stride, and one that paired so nicely with our roast beast, and a decent price for a well-made, aged, Bordeaux.

Score: 16/20
Cost: $35
Merlot, with some Cab Sauv. and Cab. Franc

Friday, March 02, 2007

2005 Petalos

My first few years of wine buying, collecting, tasting and drinking have been focused on breadth - tasting as many different types of grapes, regions, wineries, and vintages as possible. While I am no stranger to Spain, I have never had a red wine from the region of Bierzo, a wine made from the Mencía grape. How cool is that? I was giddy with anticipation.

For some background, the Spanish government's Wines from Spain website says that Bierzo only acheived its D.O. status in 1985, and in 1988 began making wines exclusively from local grapes. The Mencía grape was brought into the region in the Middle Ages by religious pilgrims, and appears to be related to Cabernet Franc. You can also see the U.S. importer's site for some more information.

The 2005 Pétalos comes from the winery Descendientes de J. Palacios - some of you may recognize the name Palacios of Priorat fame (there is a relationship). A deep, tooth-staining, beautiful purple hue, this wine is obviously in its youth. On the nose this wine was gamey and meaty up front, but a plethora of aromas were liberated as the wine took in the oxygen - flowers, raspberries, earth, truffles, leather and spice, some mint. Gorgeous. On the palate it was medium- to full-bodied, with rich velvety tannins and nice acidity, ripe chocolatey fruit, and good balance. Terribly interesting, like a good Madiran or Pinotage, it seemed both modern and rustic at the same time. I was fascinated by this wine, and I would appreciate any comments on other Bierzo wines others have tasted. I think it will improve, but hard to say - I will wait a year or two before consuming my other bottle.

Score: 16/20
Cost: C$24
Alcohol: 14%
Mencía (grape)