Sunday, April 29, 2007

Spanish Inquisition

Last night our tasting group met for a second take on Spanish tempranillo. Our last tempranillo night was nearly 3 years ago, and our group has changed dramatically over the years, so this was guaranteed to be a very different evening. Or was it? Two of the feature wines were the winners from three years ago...

But I digress. It was an evening of intense debate for our ten tasters, as we pondered the following six wines, both in relation to each other and in relation to the broader world of wine. On paper it was a stellar lineup:

1998 Remirez de Ganuza (Rioja)
1998 Campillo Reserva (Rioja)
1999 San Vicente Crianza (Rioja)
2001 Torre Muga (Rioja)
2001 La Vina de Andres Romeo (Rioja)

2003 Camp Eliseo (Toro)

In the end, there can only be one winner, and while three of the six wines garnered a first place ranking, it was Pramod's 2001 La Vina de Andres Roméo that was the clear crowd favourite. Six tasters named this their favourite and two rated it second (it also received a fourth and a fifth place ranking). I thought it was spectacular - powerful tobacco and spice at first, it settled down over the evening to reveal roses, strawberry, oak, musk, leather, and smokey/tarry aromas. Very dry and rich with firm, velvety tannins, this powerful wine had a very lengthy finish. This was a beautiful, classic, Rioja that is years from being ready to drink. (RP-96, WS-93)
Score: 18/20
Price: $$$

The Second and Third place wines of the evening were very close, but it was Cosme's 1999 San Vicente that took the runner-up prize - only one first place, but consistently in everyone's top 3. This wine also tied for first 3 years ago at our last tempranillo tasting. On the nose it was also dominated by tar and tobacco scents, with jammy fruit and hint of green pepper. Very attractive, but it was the drinkability that scored this wine so high. Probably the most 'ready' of the evening, it was light-medium bodied, crisp, with velvety tannins, beautiful balance and a long finish. Ready to drink now, but may keep for a few years. Note that San Vicente, is owned by the same company that makes the excellent Sierra Cantabria line of Rioja wines, as well as the famous Numanthia from the region of Toro. (RP-92, WS-85)
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$55 (est)

The third place wine was Lloyd's 1998 Remirez de Ganuza. More controversial than the first two, this wine generated first and last place rankings - impressive, considering one of the other wines was corked (another subject of debate). Brick red in colour, the wine displayed an attractive nose of tobacco, pepper, leather, mint and blueberry jam. Light-medium bodied with firm tannins and a long finish, this wine was elegant and well balanced with spicy fruit. Ready now, but could improve with some more bottle age. (RP-95, WS-86)
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$68

Fourth place was Chris' 1998 Campillo Reserva. With his cellar in boxes, he bought this wine on the way to the tasting, and given its modest price it can be called a winner of sorts. I described the nose as fruity and more modern, with smoke, tar, rose, vanilla, pepper, and cherry/blueberry aromas. On the palate it displayed a more modern-style of winemaking versus than the other Riojas - smooth, rich and balanced with a good dose of tannins. Another long finish, this wine will need some time. (RP-88)
Score: 17/20
Price: C$29

In fifth place was Cam's very oddball 2003 Campo Eliseo. The only Toro amongst a sea of Rioja, this wine stood out like a sore thumb. The hand of Michel Rolland was very apparent in a modern-styled, fruit-forward wine. Scents of blueberry jam and butterscotch, it smelled like dessert. On the palate it was rich, thick, tarry and leathery with substantial tannins. It needs time. (RP-90, WS-92)
Score: 16/20
Price: C$66

Yes, I was in last place. My 2001 Torre Muga was corked, although even that assertion was contested. I did not even score it (I was blinded). No point in scoring a corked wine). Disappointing, given the high ratings for this one (RP-95, WS-90). It will be retasted someday.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 1999 Hacienda Monasterio. This was also a winner at our last tempranillo tasting, and I gave it a good review here. We opened this to finish the night, and many thought this to be amongst the best of the evening. A steal at $38.

Overall, this was a rather controversial tasting. You can see that the Wine Spectator and Parker ratings are all over the map on these, and the relative rankings of the wines by our group were also very diverse. There was even a healthy debate as to whether any of these wines merited those types of scores. I think for many last night, they just didn't like the Spanish styled wines, but I disagree on the quality call - some of these were excellent wines.

With last night's controversy, set against the phenomenal wines that have come out at our last few tastings, I think it will be sometime before we do a Spanish tasting again.

Many thanks to the host and hostess - the spread of Spanish cheeses and the Spanish ham were excellent. And congrats to Lloyd, Pramod and Cosme - you all ranked your own wine first.

Bordeaux up next, I think. Cheers!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

2002 Yalumba "Hand Picked" Shiraz + Viognier

In my Aussie values piece I recommended Yalumba was one my five favourite Oz wineries for consistent good value wines. While tonight's wine comes from the pricier "Hand Picked" series, it still offers another example of the great values coming out of this house.

The 2002 Yalumba "Hand Picked" Shiraz + Viognier (91% Shiraz, the rest Viognier) comes from Australia's Barossa Valley, famous worldwide for its Shiraz. This wine was a deep, dense, tooth-staining purple in colour, with substantial sediment in the bottle after a decant. An explosion of beautiful aromas burst from the glass, evolving and changing throughout the evening - tobacco at first, with violet and blackberries, earth, mint, musk and leather, pepper, vanilla and butter, smoke and flint, even some almonds - life is good! On the palate it was full-bodied with leathery fruit and firm tannins, very well balanced, engaging. While unapologetically New World in style, it was surprisingly less flamboyant than I had expected, ever so slightly rustic. A stunning match for some spicy lamb kebabs fresh off the barbie. Drink now, but should be good for a few more years.
14.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20

Price: C$40 (LCBO)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

2004 Sandrone Dolcetto D'Alba

Following on my Barbera comments I give you a dose of Dolcetto. Dolcetto is often the poor brother of Piedmont, with Barolo, Barbaresco and even Barbera usually in the spotlight. I always think of Dolcetto as being cheap and uninteresting, but that was not the case tonight.

The 2004 Sandrone Dolcetto D'Alba was a light cherry red, with a robust and complex nose - surprising for a Dolcetto. It started very earthy, showing oak, musk, cloves, vanilla, and leather aromas, with a faint hint of green pepper, nice cherry fruit and spring flowers. Very nice! On the palate this Dolcetto was equally interesting - medium-bodied with firm, dry tannins, good acidity and a very long finish. Ready now, or to be enjoyed over the next few years. A tad rustic, just the way I like my Italian wines! A great match for store bought veal canneloni in a homemade tomato sauce.
13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$22 (SAQ, Courrier Vinicole)

PS - I had a 2001 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis last year, and it was stunning.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

2002 Castel Montplaisir

A tip of the hat to Marcus for locating this inexpensive wine from Cahors.

The 2002 Castel Montplaisir by Alain-Dominique Perrin (Chateau Lagrezette) comes from the French A.O.C. of Cahors, a region dominated by the Malbec (or Auxerrois) grape - a grape that has made its fame in Argentina. It was a deep cherry red, almost purple in colour. The nose was leather and prunes at first, later showing coffee, berries (blackberry/cherry), mint, pepper, and a delightful gamey smell. On the palate it was leathery cherries in a balanced package with a rustic edge. Slightly tart, likely due to the weak 2002 vintage, with a short finish that says "Drink Now!".
alcohol 13%
Score: 15/20
Price: C$13.30 (SAQ)

Monday, April 23, 2007

2003 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spatlese

With my limited experience tasting German wines, I offer a few tips to the uninitiated:

1) Do not randomly try German wines off the shelf if you are looking for a dry, white wine. They are frequently 'off dry', that is slightly sweet. While it is amusing to watch your dinner guests react to them, I would hardly consider the 'What the hell was that?' look a 'success'. Make sure they are 'into' off dry wines...

2)Remember the word 'Trocken' - while the off dry wines are delicious, they may not always be a perfect pairing for your meals. Make sure you have a good pairing in mind for an off dry German (or Alsatian, Austrian, Canadian, etc.) white.

I will admit that German wine is a bit of a mystery for me, due to the limited availability here in Montreal. Moreover, I have note yet identified a few good houses, and the label terminology is not at the tip of my tongue. A project for this summer, perhaps.

Anyway, while I thought an Alsace white would be just the thing for tonight's dinner, my wife decided a German Spatlese was in order. The 2003 Schloss Lieser Niederberg-Helden Riesling Spatlese, Qualitatswein mit Pradikat, hails from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (MSR) region of Germany, a region famous for its white wines. Pale straw yellow in colour with a hint of bubbles, the candy apple and pineapple scents give way to lemons, earth, toast, and some faint, signature Riesling petrol. On the palate it was off-dry and crisp at the same time, balanced and smooth. Delicious on its own, it also paired decently with a BBQ pork chop covered in some homemade applesauce - have you had your desert for dinner today? Yum. Ready now, or over the next few years.
9% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$30

PS - my apologies to my German readers for not having all of the accents in the right places.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lobster Tails with Champagne Vanilla Sauce

No need to worry - Joe's wine is not going 'foodie', this post is only about wine. (For foodie types, the recipe came from the spectacular "Weber's Big Book of Grilling" - Spring weather has finally arrived in Montreal!)

A key ingredient in the champagne vanilla sauce is brut champagne, and tonight a Prosecco Brut filled in nicely. While the first 250mL of the Carpene Malvolti N.V. Prosecco di Conegliano Cuvee Brut was used for the sauce, the last 500mL served as an excellent apéritif for our dinner guests. Straw yellow with a fine mousse, it was rather simple on the nose, all lemons and toast. On the palate it was a great refresher - dry, light-bodied, with fresh acidity, a velvety texture and very nice balance. Very pleasing, and at this price a great excuse to drink more bubbly.
11% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: C$16 (est., gift)

Of course, those of you reading carefully saw that the bubbles were the apéritif - what to serve with a BBQ Lobster Tail slathered in butter? Well, a buttery chardonnay, of course. Make that two.

We started with the 2006 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay. Golden in colour, this was rather simple on the nose - oaky, butter, with some melon, and noticeable alcohol. Refreshing, but rather bland, it paired well with the lobster, but I think was overshadowed by the next wine.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 13.5/20
Price: C$16

Next was the 2005 Carmen Reserve Chardonnay. Lighter in colour than the previous wine, the label describes this wine as 50% oak fermented, whereas the Koonunga appears to be exclusively oak aged. More complex on the nose, with lemon, melon and some banana, with only a hint of oak. Medium-bodied, this elegant and well-balanced wine paired very well with the lobster. Despite the same level of alcohol as the last wine it was not as noticeable, and increased acidity gave it better balance and persistency. Very enjoyable, but I scored it the same as the 'regular' (i.e. cheaper) Carmen chardonnay I tasted in January. Hmm - time for a rematch, regular vs. 'Reserve', stay tuned.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 15.5/20
Price: C$15

NOTE: I was loathe to break open a real Champagne for the butter sauce (see Doktor Weingolb and the NY Times for discussions on cheap wine and cooking)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

2001 Arbios Cabernet Sauvignon

Sometimes wines can be so technically correct, yet leave you kind of ho-hum. That summarizes the 2001 Arbios Cabernet Sauvignon, which hails from the Alexander Valley appelation in Sonoma, California.

Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC one year ago on the recommendation of the wine consultant, this wine was a beautiful, deep cherry red. On the nose it resembled many of the cabs I tasted in Napa last fall - fruity, vegetal, with lots of blackberry, pepper and liquorice, supported by some floral, mint, and butterscotch/vanilla aromas - at first rather simple, but giving up secrets throughout the evening. Oaky, with velvety tannins, this was a very smooth, juicy, and balanced wine. A big, powerful New World cab that still has a few years left, and may improve.

Overall, don't let the first line fool you - this is a smooth, well-made wine, but may not resonate with those who seek old world wines.
14.2% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: US$32.50 (Sherry-Lehmann)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blog Tag?

Apparently I have been 'tagged' by Sonadora at Wannabe Wino. You can see her site, Wine Outlook or Winehiker for a more detailed discussion of this tagging business.

This is my first tag, and from what I can gather it is an evolved form of the chain letter. Essentially, a fellow blogger has demanded that I answer the question: "Why do I blog?", and then tag five other bloggers.

A good question. I certainly did not set out to blog. Joe's Wine was meant to be a private site for our tasting group - a repository for the notes I would normally email after our 'grand tastings'. To date these 25 tastings have reviewed (in a competitive, blinded, panel-of-judges format) perhaps 200 of the world's best wines, properly aged and in their prime (generally). As this database grew, I decided to make it public (May 2006), and once the site was set up...well, I just kept going.

So, Why do I blog? While these 'tags' seem to take a top five format, I only have four answers to the question:

Wine! This is my hobby, my passion, my only diversion outside of work and my family. I drink wine, I read about wine, I collect wine, and I now have an outlet for discussing wine. I don't care who you are, if you want to talk wine then I want to talk to you!

Posterity! Nearly every day I have a glass of something. Joe's Wine is now a log of almost everything I taste, so when I go to my cellar to grab something I know when I last had that wine and what it tasted like. I can follow the aging, recall the pairings. Very useful.

You Read! I have received great comments from friends and strangers, alike, and I hope that somewhere along the way I have helped you to find a great bottle (or avoid and awful one). My StatCounter tells me that, in the last 24 hours, I have had visitors from all over the U.S. and Canada, as well as the U.K, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Russia, Greece, Belgium, and the geographic coverage since I started is even broader. That is awesome.

I Learn! I have received excellent wine suggestions, pairing ideas, restaurant and wine shop recommendations, and even recipes. I have found multiple links that keep me up with industry news, and seen great debates about all things vinuous. Thanks to all!

As for fame and fortune - nope. I don't have time for that kind of effort, and I don't believe this hobby could ever replace my day job - I can't write about wine if I can't afford wine!

Thanks for the tag, Sonadora. Cheers!

PS - Consider yourself 'tagged':
Doktor Weingolb
Wino Sapien
Erin and Michelle at Grape Juice

Sunday, April 15, 2007

2006 Alamos Viognier

I mentioned Alamos in my Argentinian Values piece, but this was my first taste of their viognier. Pale straw yellow in colour with modest, but pleasing, aromas - lemon, red delicious, melon, and toast. On the palate it was crisp, effervescent, minerally, and very refreshing. Nicely balanced, with a restrained use of oak for a new world white. An excellent pairing with a lightly breaded filet of sole and wild rice. alcohol 13.5%
Score: 14/20
Price: C$16 (SAQ)

This was a much nicer new world example of viognier than the EXP Viognier I tasted recently, and a better value as well.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

2001 Domaine de Villaine Mercurey "Les Montots"

Burgundies are rather rare on my site, given the rather poor price:quality ratio for the most part, but the quality part of that equation is hard to ignore. Tonight, while pondering what to serve with a pork tenderloin, I realized that tonight's Bourgogne has been sitting in my cellar for three years - time for a corkscrew, I say.

The 2001 Domaine A. et P. de Villaine Mercurey Les Montots boasted one of the nicest bouquets I have ever put my nose into - fresh strawberries and meaty aromas are supported by summer flowers, mushrooms, leather, musk, butter, and nuts. Stunning! On the palate is was light to medium bodied, crisp and well balanced, with modest fruit and a light tannin backbone. Smooth, with a very, very long finish, this wine can be enjoyed today or cellared for a few more years. A perfect match for pork tenderloin in a mushroom sauce. alcohol 12.5%
Price: C$33 (SAQ)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spanish Oddities

I have Spain on the mind, as our tasting group will hit the Iberian peninsula on April 28th. But the 28th will focus on the tempranillo grape, so I decided to go for some 'atypical' (i.e. not from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat, Toro) Spanish wines this evening. In that vein, the following two wines were chosen to pair with a hearty veal stew:

2001 Marques de Grinon Summa Varietalis (Castilla La Mancha)
2000 Capcanes Costers del Gravet (Montsant)

The 2001 Summa Varietalis by Marqués de Griñón is a blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot from the Castilla La Mancha y Madrid region of Spain. A bright cherry red, the nose was gorgeous and complex. Strong vanilla and meaty scents were followed by black cherries, tobacco, leather, and subtle vegetal notes. Mmmm.... On the palate this wine was very smooth, with velvety tannins, big fruit and a soft, silky mouthfeel. A modern styled wine, it was soooo smooth, and so interesting. Ready now, but the Summa has the stuffing to keep for a few more years. I bought this on special order - I hope I can find it again. alcohol 14%
Score: 18/20
Price: C$37 (Opimian)

The 2000 Costers del Gravet is one of my favourite Spanish discoveries of all time. This blend of cabernet sauvignon, garnacha (grenache) and cariñena (carignan) was very different from the Summa. It was a lighter, brick red colour, and starting to express some of the plummy aromas that come with age. Very chocolatey on the nose, and supported by scents of strawberries, spring flowers, oak, and woodsy/undergrowth aromas. On the palate the Costers was drier and more tannic, with a very long finish. While this wine should improve with some more time in the cellar, it is very elegant and very well structured today. With a good, tannic, bite, this wine screams "BBQ Steak"! alcohol 14%
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$28 (SAQ FYI-the 2001 is $3 less, but I think the 2000 is better)

A most satisfying evening of wine, and both wines paired very well with a veal stew. While not cheap, these Spanish gems were fantastic wines for the price. Cheers!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

WBW #32 - Montus vs. Montus

I will be travelling this week, so I had to post early.

This week's Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by Billy of The Wine Cask Blog, hit on a great theme - Regular vs. Reserve wines. Are we getting our money's worth?

WBW #32 called for: same winery, same vintage, different price point. To narrow my potential choices, I worked with an additional restraint - with my cellar bursting at the seams, I had to use something on hand. Diving into my trusty excel spreadsheet, I discovered three potential combos:

- 2001 Chateau Lagrezette vs. the pricey "Cuvee Dame Honneur"
- 2003 Domain Grand Veneur vs. the "Cuvee des Generations"
- 2001 Montus vs. the Cuvee Prestige

In the end, I decided the Montus option was less expensive than the Lagrezette option, and the Grand Veneur was just not ready.

To make this a true test, the wines were decanted an hour before I began scoring and tasted blind.

The plain vanilla 2001 Chateau Montus was started extremely well - on the nose it was wild and gamey, and backed up by leather, musk, cloves, cocoa, vanilla, with a hint of clover. Divine! Well balanced, rich, and chocolatey with velvety tannins. Ready now, but may yet improve with some more bottle age. This was an elegant with a VERY long finish. (Blind, I scored it a half point below my December review).
Score: 18/20
Price: C$32

A 1998 Cuvee Prestige was my first exposure to this esteemed Madiran house, and it has obviously had an impact on me. The 2001 Chateau Montus Cuvee Prestige was from a better vintage, so I had high hopes that this wine would trounce the basic Montus offering. On the nose the wines were very similar, both with gamey, earthy, cocoa aromas, with the Prestige also showing a more smokey and nutty nose. A tossup so far. The first taste of this wine was awkward and very tannic. It softened over the course of the evening, showing a similar richness and complexity to the regular Cuvee, but remained tannic and off balance. I scored it a half point below the basic Montus, but as it opened over the evening I noted that there is something about this wine that screams "come back in a few years!". I predict a future showdown...
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$54

There was food, of course, and both of these wines were harmoniously matched to our first barbequed steak of the season.

So, to answer Billy's question, the answer is no - the pricier Cuvee Prestige was not worth the extra C$22 today. But I think the Prestige has some secrets yet to be revealed, so a future rematch is inevitable.

Note: For a different take on Montus, have a look at Nilay's review of the basic 2001 Montus.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

2005 Tardieu-Laurent "Les Grands Augustins"

I remember "Les Grands Augustins" as one of my first wine purchases for my first attempt at a "Cellar". Long gone, it has been many years since I had another bottle. I recall paying close to C$20 for the wine, so when I saw the SAQ offering at C$15.95, I had to try it again.

Les Grands Augustins, from the famous Rhone house of Tardieu-Laurent, is their low end Vin de Pays from the Languedoc. The 2005 Tardieu-Laurent "Les Grands Augustins" has an earthy nose, with a strong scent of pepper, smoke and dark cherries. Well balanced, but uncomplex, this is an easy drinking wine that is ready now. An excellent wine for a nice price, this would pair well with BBQ lamb. alcohol 13.5%
Score: 15/20
Price: C$16
Great Value!

Monday, April 02, 2007

April Fools' Reply

Yesterday's April Fools' review nearly caused a friend to buy a case of Yellow Tail and two regular visitors to remove their links to my site! In response:

Eden - Would I ever steer you wrong?
Sheena - Please don't remove me from your favourites...
Erin - I don't know how you got your response in before I pulled the gag, but I hope you have recovered from the shock...


Sunday, April 01, 2007

2003 Trimbach Riesling Reserve

Alsace whites are amongst my favourite wines, and certainly my favourite white wines. The price-to-quality can be exceptional, and these wines pair very well with food. As a bonus, the labels are easy to understand, and you need only to remember a few good houses - Trimabach, Hugel, and Pierre Sparr jump to mind.

The 2003 Trimbach Riesling Reserve is (or was) a great wine. Pale gold in colour, with a complexity on the nose I rarely encounter in a white - trademark petrol scents are followed by lemon/lime, green apple, white flowers and freshly cut grass. Enchanting! On the palate this dry Riesling was very well balanced with nice acidity and effervescence in the mouth. A great match for sausages, this could pair well with some simple seafood dishes as well. One of my favourite whites, I will hunt you down! 12.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Cost: C$23 (SAQ)