Monday, July 30, 2007

2005 Marc Bredif Vouvray "Riche"

Amazing how a single word changes everything. Two weeks ago I tasted the 2004 Marc Brédif Vouvray, a lovely ever-so-slightly off-dry Chenin Blanc. I nearly walked past tonight's bottle (identical label to the 2004) until I noticed the word "Riche" - and from the celebrated 2005 Vintage, no less.

Well, the label is where the similarity ends. The 2005 Marc Brédif Vouvray 'Riche' sported a white gold hue, with a beguiling nose of apples, pears, lemon and vanilla. On the palate this was, um, "Riche"? VERY off-dry (ok, sweet), but with nice underlying acidity and oily, full-bodied, tongue-coating fruit. Decent balance, but with a slightly odd, bitter, aftertaste. Not a bad pairing with crab claws off the grill (yes, we do have a stove), but perhaps a better match for Chicken à l'Orange?
12.8% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$20.60 (SAQ, which just lowered the price...)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Wines of Southwest France - Part Two

Source: Wikipedia

In my first piece on the wines of South West France, I commented on the general characteristics of the wines of South West France. The inevitable question is, who cares?

We have a multitude of choices for wine from France - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc and the Rhone. Beyond that there is a world of wine from California, Spain, Italy, Chile, Argentina, South we really need to 'discover' a new wine region?

In my mind, the case for the wines of South West France is simple - great wines you never heard of, at "never heard of that before" prices, with charming rusticity and flavours that can be unlike anything other wine. A workout for the palate and the cerebrum, while sparing you the pain in the wallet. A generalization, perhaps, but let's discuss in more detail:

Do you like Bordeaux? Find it expensive? How about some high quality wines from the Bordeaux satellites like Bergerac, or related AOCs (i.e. Bergerac, Bergerac Sec, Côtes de Bergerac, Buzet, Monbazillac). The reds and whites use the same Bordeaux grapes, and in ancient times were labelled Bordeaux. I am quite intrigued by the sweet whites of Monbazillac, a pocket-friendly alternative to Sauternes. (I bought a nice 750mL bottle the other day for C$22 - try and do that in Sauternes/Barsac! Notes to come.)

Do you like Argentine Malbec? Argentine Malbec is all the rage these days, it seems, replacing Aussie Shiraz as the go-to cheap red. But the Malbec-based wines of Cahors take on a more rustic and food friendly air (1,2). Learn a few makers and enjoy!

Looking for a break from the Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc rut? The South West produces buckets of inexpensive whites. From bargain-priced Côtes de Gascogne quaffers to the intriguing Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and delicious Jurançon (dry and sweet wines), all made from the local petit manseng, gros manseng and petit courbu grapes.

Off the wall different? Try a Fronton made from the grape Negrette, or an 'ancient' wine from Gaillac. More on these in future tastings.

And finally, my absolute favourite reason for looking at the wines of South West France:

Looking for a big, powerful, tannic wine that ages beautifully and pairs very well with hunks of meat off the grill? Rarely found elsewhere in the world, save Uruguay, the tannat grape produces wines that are rustic and burly with haunting aromas. The best of Madiran (3,4,5,4,5) (also see Béarn, Saint-Mont, Irouléguy) develop a very complex nose, and when the tannins soften you get a burst of flavour that is, well, remarkable. I may get some flak for saying this, but I think of Nebbiolo when I think of a well made tannat - both exude a complex, gamey nose, with fat tannins and ample acidity that takes time to settle down. An awesome, mind-blowing, top Madiran will hit you with a cost in line with a better Cru Bourgeois, but there are some value priced picks as well. A compelling reason to go and buy yourself a cellar.

For the next part of this series I will taste a few of the wines, recommend some winemakers (at a range of prices, I hope), and provide some vintage, cellaring, pairing and other tips. Hope it works for you!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stoopid Bordeaux

The only thing "Stoopid" about last night's Bordeaux tasting was the cover charge. At our last tasting, some of the gang decided that we should go whole hog and raid our cellars for our best bottles. With a focus on the Left Bank, the group delivered an unbelievable flight of Bordeaux for a blind review of six amazing wines:

1985 Château Margaux (Margaux, Premier Grand Cru)
1989 Château Margaux (Margaux, Premier Grand Cru)
1995 Château Palmer (Margaux, Third Growth)
1999 Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognan, Premier Grand Cru)
2001 Château Kirwan (Margaux, Third Growth)
2003 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac, Second Growth)

I am going to break with tradition here a little bit and review the wines by age, elders first. Usually, after one of our grand tastings a winner is declared (before unblinding) and I discuss the wines in rank order. But facing the best flight of wines we have ever poured, the judges were constantly changing their scores and rankings, and some protested at having to rank order such beautiful wines. I think we can safely say: (1) these were all amazing wines, and 2) our indecisiveness makes the ranking less meaningful. On to the wines...

If I had a vision for a two decade old First Growth, the 1985 Chateau Margaux was everything I expected. Slightly musty right out of the bottle, the nose started with cooked fruit, later developing a pronounced chocolate, truffles, mint and roses. But the taste was the real highlight - despite nearly 22 years inside a decrepit bottle (see picture above), the wine was barely showing its age. Dry, medium- to full-bodied, and extremely elegant, this aging (but still powerful) wine is in its prime. When forced to choose, the panel rated this #1 (Joe #3).
12.5% alcohol
JoeScore: 18.5/20 (RP94, WS90)

The 1989 Chateau Margaux also had an impact on the group, ranking second only to its older sibling. This makes my notes less relelvant, as I ranked this one dead last - the only one in the group to do so. From my perspective, I found the nose less compelling - very spicy, later softening to reveal some berries and pencil shavings. On the palate I found this wine lighter-bodied and slightly off balance, with sharp tannins and lively acidity making this a very different wine from the 1985. A never-ending finish, I suspect it needs more time to pull together.
12.5% alcohol
JoeScore: 17.5/20
(RP89, WS96)

The 1995 Chateau Palmer was my contribution. I have always wanted to try a Palmer and the employee at Binny's suggested this vintage based on his recent tasting of the wine. The nose on this wine was amongst the best of the evening. Constantly evolving, it smelled very young at first, later opening up to show violets, musk, leather, cloves, pepper, coffee and summer berries. Very nice, but the palate was more modest - lighter-bodied than I was expecting and thinner than many of the others. Drinking very well now, it could probably benefit from a few more years in the cellar. Ranked fourth by me and the group.
12.5% alcohol
JoeScore: 18/20
(RP90, WS94)

The 1999 Haut Brion generated a lot of buzz, with everyone constantly talking about "contestant number four". The nose was spectacular - violets and roses, musk and leather, cocoa, truffle, mint, oak and wet stones. Rich, beautiful velvety tannins, it was balanced but not yet fully together. An extremely long finish, this wine is soooo not ready, vinuous infanticide. My second favourite and third favourite of the panel.
13% alcohol
JoeScore: 18.5/20 (RP93, WS91)

The 2001 Kirwan was a competent wine. Alone, it would have garnered raves, but in the company of three first growths and a second growth it seemed rather ordinary. Oh, but to keep such company and still retain your composure! The nose started off very nicely, with everyone at the table complimenting this wine. Violets, roses, dark berries, and some wilder notes - meaty, earthy, and oaky. But the palate did not deliver, with a ligher-bodied wine and harsher tannins that threw the whole thing slightly off balance vs. its peers. A nice wine, but this needs more time in the cellar. Ranked last by the group, but my fifth place.
13% alcohol
JoeScore: 17.5/20 (RP90, WS90)

The 2003 Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande was controversial from the first smell. A powerful nose of caramel and jammy fruit, with violets, mint and toast, it stood out like a sore thumb in this Margaux-heavy grouping. While the group hated the nose, I simply found it different and only slightly less appealing than some of the others. And while the gang could not get over their dislike of the nose, I found this wine to be extremely elegant and poised. Rich and nutty, with dry tannins and bright fruit, this wine had a very long finish. Surprisingly accessible now, this will probably improve over time. My first place - I was the only one on the panel to do so (overall 5th place ranking).
13% alcohol
JoeScore: 18.5/20 (RP95, WS93)


Thanks to everyone for such a tremendous set of wines. I especially want to thank the hosts, Lloyd and Clarissa, for their hospitality (and the 1985 Chateau Margaux). I especially liked the chilled strips of lightly-cooked Filet Mignon - an excellent pairing for this flight.

I have to say I find myself a bit depressed after this tasting. Not skilled in psychoanalysis, I can only speculate as to the cause. Perhaps it was the recogntion that I will never, ever, have such a wonderful flight of wines in my life? Maybe it was the haunting, ever-changing aromas that still have me second guessing my views over a day later? Or maybe it was my very non-consensus view of the flight, especially the Pichon Longueville? Whatever it was, I will not be able to get this tasting out of my mind for some time.

Would I actually buy one of these? The 1999 Haut Brion is probably the wine that stood out with having such potential I would stick a bottle away, and I would certainly love to try the Picon again in 10 years...


Friday, July 27, 2007

2004 Chateau de Cazeneuve 'Les Calcaires'

I love reds of Pic St-Loup (1,2,3), and always have a few in my cellar. While not officially its own Appellation d’origine contrôlée (Pic St-Loup is part of the Coteaux du Languedoc AOC), it has been seeking AOC status, with the winemakers putting Pic St-Loup in a prominent location on the label in the interim. From my experience, it would appear that this is a unique terroir deserving of its own AOC, but I will leave that decision to the government authorities.

The 2004 Chateau de Cazeneuve 'Les Calcaires' is syrah-dominated red (60%), with some mourvèdre (30%) and carignan (10%) added to the blend. Bright cherry red in the glass, this was a very aromatic wine - meaty pepper and creme caramel were followed by roses, fresh strawberries, leather and smoke. Crisp acidity and firm tannins, this full-bodied red was juicy, elegant and well-balanced. Could improve in the cellar, but why wait? A great match for wild boar steaks off the grill. Great value!
13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$20 (SAQ)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Good Grape: Six Blogs that Focus on Reviews

I looked at my StatCounter today and noticed a bunch of hits coming from Good Grape. Jeff just posted a list of six blogs "...focused more exclusively on reviews" that are earning his attention. I am flattered that Jeff mentioned yours truly, but I am even more excited that he has pointed me in the direction of five other blogs (you are all on my list, now):

The Corkdork - Wine and Food Musing
Purple Liquid: a wine and food diary
Rockss and Fruit
The Wine Chicks

So, the question remains: will Joe wilt under the pressure, or does his liver have the stamina to go the distance? A question for the ages, as I happily much on pizza and sip a glass of 2003 Ramitello.

Many thanks to Jeff, the creator of Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto. Like Jeff, I also swapped the golf clubs for wine, and it has been infinitely more helpful in business. I don't have much to give you, Jeff, but a special link on the right and a promise that if business takes you Montreal, I have something special waiting for you.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

SAQ Sale!


I just got this email from the local SAQ Signature store:

10 %
$100 ET PLUS
* Les titulaires de permis ne peuvent participer à cette promotion

For my Montreal friends, this means it is time to re-stock your cellars. Here are few quick JoePicks to lighten your wallet. I have checked to make sure these are available in decent quantity, but you should check the SAQ website for the store nearest you.

Modest Price (<$15):
2005 Cabernet-sauvignon Casillero del Diablo Concha y Toro (Chile)
2005 Syrah Les Jamelles (vin de pays d'oc)
2006 Chardonnay Carmen (Chile)

Premium Price ($15-30):
2003 Chateau Hanteillan (Bordeaux)
2005 Domaine de la Garrelière Cendrillon (Touraine)
2005 Pio Cesare Gavi
2000 Château Bouscassé (Madiran)
2004 Castello Nipozzano Riserva Frescobaldi (Chianti Rufina)
2000 Meerlust Rubicon Stellenbosch (S. Africa) (limited, but worth seeking out)

Line of Credit Price ($$$)
2000 Château Bouscassé Vieilles Vignes (Madiran)
2003 San Vincente (Rioja)

By no means exhaustive, I wish you happy shopping, and don't forget to check Dok Weingolb, The Caveman and Méchant Raisin for some other SAQ picks.


PS - I will confess that I have my eye on some wines that I cannot disclose due to limited availability - sorry!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Loire Whites: A Pouilly Fume and an Anjou

With two wines from Chinon (1,2), a Vouvray and now a Pouilly Fume and an Anjou, it seems like July is turning into Loire Valley month. It didn't start this way - perhaps it was the trip to France, or some subtle ribbing from my fellow bloggers - but it has been a great journey (new theme next month...). Tonight, I wanted to try two very different Loire whites to put everything in context - a Chenin from Anjou and a Sauvignon Blanc from Pouilly Fume.

I really liked the 2006 Pascal Jolivet Pouilly Fume. Pale gold with a slight 'emerald' tinge, the wine showed nice white grapefruit, toasty bread, wet stones and some peach on the nose. Interesting, pleasing, but it was the taste that really got me excited. Dry, with lively acidity, this light- to medium-bodied white was extremely well balanced, crisp and elegant with minerally flavours, I found this to be a beautiful, classic example of a great French Sauvignon Blanc. Made me wonder - what's the fuss with New Zealand?
12.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$27 (SAQ)

The 2004 Chateau de Fesles Chenin Sec "La Chapelle" is a white from Anjou by Bernard Germain. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the alcohol on the label! Pale gold in hue, this was a very aromatic wine. Fresh (Pink Lady) apple, orange, peach, nutmeg, and some buttery/oaky aromas on the nose. It was very hard to detect the very high alcohol in this one. Tasting of honey and oranges, this was a dry white with light acidity. A robust and full-bodied white, it was atypical - very New World/modern - but bold and well-balanced. It overpowered a lightly cooked sole, it would probably pair better with poultry. Not exactly classic, but wonderfully delicious.
14.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$25.55 (SAQ)

I found that my wife and I gulped the Sauvingon with dinner, but sipped the apple-buttery Chenin after.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Loire Red Redo: 2004 Clos de la Dioterie

In a vain attempt to save Homer Simpson the indignity of having my face pasted upon his admirable likeness, I thought one last dive into the cellar for a Cab Franc from the Loire was in order. With last week's disappointment I had nothing to lose, and I thought an unscheduled steak off the grill called for Cabernet.

The 2004 Charles Joguet Clos de la Dioterie (Chinon) is my second assault in a week on that untamed barbarian bastion of red wine, the Loire Valley. Deep dark purple in colour, freshly decanted this wine displayed a beautiful nose of blueberry jam. Warming up, it evolved more complexity, with flinty, leathery, earthy and attractive vegetal aromas. Some spice, nutmeg and cinnamon as well - very nice. The deep colouring was misleading, as the palate was light-medium bodied, with nice (but not overpowering) tannins. Very elegant, with crisp acidity and nice tannins, it made me think of gamay (Cru Beaujolais) for some strange reason. Well balanced with a decent finish, this is good right now, or could age for a few more years. An excellent wine, made to measure for a grilled steak in a mild wine vinegar/mustard seed marinade. This week's experience was much more gratifying, and we happily gulped the whole bottle.
12.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$33 (SAQ)

Dangerously close to a coveted 18+ JoeScore, this wine may yet save the JoeMan from a vindictive wine villain seeking to unveil his secret identity. Victory is mine!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Wines of Southwest France - Part One

source: The Wine/Enology - Grape Chemistry Group (part of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech)

I never sought to be "that guy in Montreal who likes those wines from the South West of France". But my writing about Madiran and other South West wines seems to generated some interest. With a growing love for the treasures on offer here, I hope this mini-series will generate some interest in a relatively unknown French wine region, and perhaps you will pass on some great wine suggestions.

In some ways, it is not surprising that the region is overlooked. An agglomeration of unique appellations spread over a wide area of the south of France (excluding Bordeaux), there is no unifying river geography or grape like the Cab/Merlot of Bordeaux or the Pinot Noir/Chardonnay of Burgundy. Wines of the South West use a dizzying array of grapes, and in many cases the grapes are virtually unheard of outside this region. How often do you hear someone step up to the bar and ask for a Tannat, Mauzac, Negrette, Gros Manseng, or Courbu? Exactly.

On top of this unavoidable confusion for consumers, the wines can be powerful and rustic, somewhat distant from today's New World fruit bombs. Throw in the crappiest web site in France to represent this region, and you can see the problems.

My first experience with this region was probably an inexpensive Cahors, but my first "Holy Crap!" moment was a 1998 Chateau Montus Cuvee Prestige, which I tasted blind. At that time I had never heard of Madiran before, but to taste it blind in the presence of some of the world's greatest and be floored - that is probably one of my most memorable wine experiences.

In this series I hope to give you a taste for a region that often gets short shrift in the wine books (I even had trouble researching this!). Remember - confusion breeds opportunity!

Today I will begin with a quick review of the diverse set of appellations, with a focus on the major ones you are likely to see in the export market. Future posts will describe the grapes, the wines, provide some recommended producers and buying tips, links ot my peers who like these wines, and perhaps even a few tasting notes. Cheers!

South West France Wine Appellations

Those wines most likely to find their way out of France, and likely the best quality wines, come from Bergerac, Cahors, Fronton, Gaillac, Jurançon, and Madiran.

Bergerac / Côtes de Bergerac / Buzet / Monbazillac - I lumped these together as they are most Bordeaux-like. In fact, Bergerac and Buzet are both up river of Bordeaux, and before the AOC system wines from these areas were able to use Bordeaux on their labels. Reds are Cab/Merlot and dry whites are Sauvignon blanc and Semillon, while the sweet whites are mainly Semillon (i.e. Monbazillac and Cotes de Bergerac Moelleux).

Cahors - Further up river from Bordeaux, Cahors is (after Bergerac) the second largest winemaking region in South West France. While Malbec is celebrated as Argentina's grape, I consider Cahors its home. Originally an important grape in Bordeaux, plantings are in decline, while Malbec remains dominant in Cahors wines. Sometimes referred to as Auxerrois or Cot, appellation rules require at least 70% Auxerrois, with Tannat and Merlot typically the balance. Of note, Argentina has some 50,000 acres of Malbec planted - five times the total vineyard area of Cahors!

Fronton - A smallish region, and perhaps more difficult to find, this region is notable for reds dominated by the grape Negrette, which must be 50-70% of the blend. This is a grape unique to this appellation, and something Dok Weingolb is fond of (I have never tried these, yet...). A small amount of whites are produced here as well.

Gaillac - While not very famous today, this region is amongst the oldest winemaking regions in France, potentially pre-dating the arrival of the Romans. Situated southeast of Cahors, this region uses a unique set of traditional grapes. For the reds, Duras, Braucol (Fer Sauvadou), and Syrah are the principal grape varieties. For the whites, the Mauzac and Le Loin de l’oeil are the key grapes.

Jurançon / Jurançon sec - Just across the border from Spain, Jurançon was one of France's first appellations. The region has been famous for centuries for its ageworthy sweet and dry (sec) white wines, made from the local varietals petit manseng, gros manseng and petit courbu. Gros manseng is the main varietal and used for making the dry wines, while petit manseng is key for the sweet wines.

Madiran / Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh - The red wines of Madiran are made from the grape Tannat, with some Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Fer rounding out the blend. Powerful and tannic, these are true 'vins de garde'. The whites, using the Pacherenc AOC, are also very intriguing.

Other, difficult to find, Southwest Appellations / VDQS:

Béarn (Madiran-like reds & whites), Côtes de Duras (similar to Bergerac), Côtes de Saint-Mont (Madiran), Côtes du Marmandais (similar to Bergerac), Haut-Motravel (stickies), Irouléguy (Madiran-like), Marcillac, Montravel (similar to Bergerac whites), Pécharmant (similar to Bergerac) and Saussignac (stickies). Also Côtes du Brulhois VDQS (Bordeaux and Tannat style), Tursan VDQS (Tannat), Vins d'Entraygues et du Fel VDQS, Vins d'Estaing VDQS.

Vin de Pays

We won't explore the dozen-odd Vin de Pays regions in the South West in great detail, but perhaps a special look at the whites of the Côtes de Gascogne is in order. Brooklynguy recently raved about one of these, and Robert Parker has referred to these as France's greatest white wine value - "These are wines to buy by the case...". 'Nuff said.

Stay tuned for more...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Italian Jackpot

In an impromptu show of excess, three friends dropped by 'for a glass of wine' after the kids went to bed. The 'glass' turned into a full-blown blinded tasting of Italy's greatest:

1998 Gaja "Sugarille" Brunello di Montalcino
1999 Castelgiocondo (Frescobaldi) Brunello di Montalcino
2001 Tignanello (Antinori)

Actually, this tasting was not so 'accidental'. I had a devious plan, which my friends were only too happy to indulge. First, I always wanted to taste a sangiovese-based Super Tuscan blind vs. a Brunello. Are the best grapes below the mountain really that inferior? My second objective in constructing this flight was to compare a lower-priced upstart (the Castelgiocondo) Brunello with high ratings vs. a more established great house (Gaja) with slightly lower. Two lesser objectives (clearing out my cellar and drinking some good wines) were also met.

For those of you who know the Tuscan greats, this was an all-star line up (i.e expensive, rare). Blinded, the wines were taken from my cellar and decanted 2 1/2 hours before the first sip, and we finished scoring nearly four hours after opening the bottles. These were three awesome wines, and I think the group had trouble rank ordering these wines - they were all winners. The group was also successful in picking out the Tig from the Brunellos, but the differences were much less than anticipated. Here are the results:

The group favourite was the 2001 Tignanello, one of Antinori's 'Super-Tuscan' wines. A blend dominated by Sangiovese (85%), with the remaining 15% being Cab Sauv and Cab Franc. The wine was a dark cherry red in the glass with some purple at the edge. Very aromatic, with haunting leathery tobacco notes, pepper, smoke and dark berry fruit. On the palate is was rustic and intense at the same time, with firm powerful tannins coming together in a very elegant and balanced wine. An extremely long finish (I lost count over a minute), this is a 'vin de garde' and should show even better in a few years (but it is not a crime to enjoy this now, after a good decant). My second choice...
13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20

The second choice of the group was 1998 Gaja Sugarille, but this was my favourite of the evening. Brunellos are 100% Sangiovese (the Sangiovese Grosso clone is used in Montalcino). It was also the most expensive wine of the evening, by a fairly wide margin, like most Gaja wines. A deep cherry red in the glass, the nose led off with kirsch, creme caramel and mint, but was rather silent for a few hours, opening much later than the others to show more classic leathery and spice undertones. On the palate it was luscious, with velvety tannins, chocolate and cherries, and a very long finish. Stunning, this old man of the flight actually needs a few years. This was a classic expression of a great Brunello.
14% alcohol
Score: 18.5/20

While the 1999 Castelgiocondo was the third choice this evening, the gap between it and the other, pricier wines was rather small. Bright cherry red in the glass, of note was a very slight musty smell on the cork and the wine. Despite that, over the evening the wine still revealed beautiful floral notes, berries, almonds, vanilla, cooked fruit and a delicious meaty smell. On the palate the wine was extrememly soft and elegant, silky with powerful tannins. Full bodied with a never-ending finish, this would probably need a few more years of cellaring. I am amazed at how well it showed with that slight mustiness, and I look forward to retasting another. Also note that this wine was very comparable to the other two, but a fraction of the cost. Can I use Value and Brunello in the same sentence? While I am not publishing my score given the problem with the bottle, it was on par with the Tig, in my opinion.
14% alcohol

1) A well made sangiovese-based Super Tuscan is a glorious thing, and the quality and style are similar to those of a well-made Brunello.
2) A better stored bottle of Castelgiocondo should be a stunning value.
3) Gaja is a god.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

2004 Domaine de la Perriere Vielles Vignes

I pride myself on vinuous diversity, tasting and collecting wines made from a plethora of grapes, using multiple winemaking styles, selling at all price points, coming from every region around the world:

"I believe every wine has a perfect time, place, food pairing, and friend to share it with." - Joe

But I have avoided Loire wines over the years. That is actually not true, as I have had great experiences with Loire WHITE wines - glorious Sancerre, Vouvray, Pouilly-Fume, Muscadet. But I was stung by a vile Loire red years ago and I have not touched one since.

The wine writers seem to be equally suspicious. While I could pull together many quotes, the great Jancis Robinson (a writer I find more old world in her preferences) said of Loire reds; "In the old days reds in two years out of three were thin, weedy and tart..." While it is no longer "the old days", it seems to me that Loire winemakers continue their battle with Mother Nature in this northerly wine-growing region, desperately trying to get their vines to ripen.

In the Loire, red wines make up 26% of production, and Cabernet Franc is the principal red wine grape. The AOC of Chinon is famous for its reds, so I thought that my tentative return to Loire reds should start here.

The 2004 Domaine de la Perrière was in some ways both a disappointment and vindication. Light purple in colour, the nose was quite interesting - vegetal, earthy and woodsy with scents of cocoa powder, pepper and gooseberries. The rest could simply quote Jancis above. Very dry, light bodied and minerally with some black cherry fruit, the sharp acidity was overwhelming, putting everything off balance. It worked a bit better with the lamb kebabs, slicing through the grease, and the wine softened ever so slightly over the evening. It was tasted both cool, right out of the bottle, and warm after a long decant, with similar notes.
12.5% alcohol
Score: 14/20
Price: C$19.55 (SAQ)

Perhaps I am the beer swilling lout at the back of the opera house and I just "don't get it". Or perhaps the terroir is speaking to us, like a cheap 70s horror flick, saying "Get Out! You cannot fully ripen here..."

Regardless, I never give up on a grape or region. I will retreat to the Gironde, lick my wounds, and re-plan my assault on the grape Breton.

Monday, July 16, 2007

2006 Chateau Taillefer Lafon

So, how did Joe turn a family event into a wine tasting? While out berry picking we drove by a suspicious-looking, modern-styled building in the farm district of Laval with a modest sign: "Chateau Taillefer Lafon". The rows of vines out back could mean only one thing - leave it to Joe to find a winery in suburban Montreal (pop. 3 million)!

I left the car idling and ran into the winery, figuring I could quickly buy two bottles and run back to the car. The tasting room host would have none of that, and made me taste his entire line of wine - white (unoaked), white (oaked), vendange tardive (late harvest) and ice wine. I successfully avoided the rose and the red, despite his hospitality and enthusiasm, as I am terrified of Northern Reds. After 5-10 minutes in the tasting room, I returned to the car with two bottles to face a scowling family - you know, they could be more supportive of Daddy's hobby.

Tasted at home, the 2006 Chateau Taillefer Lafon Cuvee Premium (unoaked) was a pale straw yellow. It was Fruitopia on the nose, with scents of fresh pink grapefruit, pineapple and pear - mouthwatering. On the palate this light-bodied, viscous wine was slightly off-dry with nice balance and good acidity, but somewhat dilute. Very competent, well-priced, and I wonder how the wines will improve as the vines mature... Worth a visit - my other purchase was their Ice Wine.
11.5% alcohol
Score: 14/20
Price: $14.75

So, to my Montreal readers, especially those in the Laval area, stop by the winery on your way back from the nursery and pick up a bottle of estate-bottled St-Laurence Valley wine. The tasting room is opulent, the hosts are gracious, the wines are very competent, and the location - well it doesn't get much closer than this. Cheers!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Berry Picking

We went for our annual raspberry picking with the kids today. A bumper crop, with lots of juicy red berry fruit. It looks like the cool, damp weather has been very kind to the berry farmers. The baskets of ripe, freshly-picked berries reminded me of Pinot Noir...

After the berry picking, we went for a nature hike, where wild blackberries were ripening on the bush. Note the lone dark berry hidden in the upper right corner - the kids devoured the rest. Wishing for a Cabernet Sauvignon...

So how did Joe turn a family event into a wine tasting? Stay tuned...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bordeaux Catch Up: Chateaux Corbin and Hanteillan

Occasionally my fellow bloggers guide me to a wine. For some strange reason, these always seem to be Bordeaux .... Regardless, I love to try a wine suggested by my fellow bloggers, and with Steak on the grill tonight a fine Bordeaux seemed very appropriate.

Back in April Tyler (Dr. Vino) asked me to pass on my thoughts of the 2001 Chateau Corbin (you can see his post for more detail on the property and notes on other vintages). I was intrigued by his post, as I find right bank wines , especially those wines from Pomerol and St-Emilion, to be very expensive, and the local pricing on this wine was much more reasonable than most St-Emilion wines carrying the Grand Cru classification. This ruby red wine is mainly Merlot (80%), with the balance Cab Franc. On the nose it showed lovely scents of caramel, violet and rose, leather, coffee, and some ripe cherry fruit. On the palate this was an extremely elegant wine - dry, medium bodied, with nice blackerry fruit and velvety tannins. With a rather long finish, this wine needs some more time in the cellar, but is very drinkable now and an excellent pairing with a steak. My wife even commented that, unlike many Bordeaux wines this was a great wine for sipping before dinner (she loved this wine). Definitely.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$41 (SAQ)

Alongside the Corbin I served a left bank Bordeaux suggested by Dok Weingolb, the 2003 Chateau Hanteillan. (I think I am Dok's guinea pig, as he has not yet tried this one but made some vague reference to Michel Phaneuf, a local wine critic.) Ruby red in colour, this Haut Medoc has a very high percentage of Merlot (50%) blended with Cab Sauv (45%) and Petit Verdot. The nose started very spicy, with strong scents of liquorice and pepper, followed by some violet, oak, cherry and smoke. Very nice, but slightly less complex and interesting than the Corbin. On the palate this was a big, tannic wine - dry, minerally, with nice dark cherry fruit and a long finish. Not as polished as the Corbin, but this was in good part related to age. An excellent match for steak, and a very good value - buy a few bottles for the cellar.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$20 (SAQ)

On the Corbin, my wife commented that the wine had a scent of garlic on the nose, which neither I nor Cam could detect. We later found that, indeed, a chunk of garlic had fallen in her glass. A terrific nose, but terrible eyesight...

To correctly put the Hanteillan discussion with the Dok in context, Dok asked me to compare the Hanteillan to a Croix des Sablons in response to my post from France. This is not a fair comparison, given the Paris setting of the Sablons. Fair to say that the Sablons is more drinkable today.

2005 Hugel Gentil

While I drink Alsace whites quite frequently, they are such a go-to white wine for me that I often forget to take notes. This Hugel is one example of that - always around the house, rarely blogged.

The 2005 Hugel Gentil is a blend of five Alsatian grape varieties: gewurztraminer, tokay pinot gris, riesling, muscat et sylvaner. Straw yellow in colour, with lemon, apple, green melon and white flowers on the nose. Light bodied and woodsy on the palate, with fresh acidity and very nice balance. Perhaps a bit too light for a veal in a light mushroom sauce, but still very nice.
12.5% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: C$15.95 (SAQ)

I have not (yet) written a Great Values piece on Alsace, but I certainly think this wine (and the entire stable of Hugel's entry-level wines) would qualify - inexpensive, and consistently well made from vintage to vintage.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

2004 Marc Bredif Vouvray

I promised more whites and more Loire wines, so tonight's post deals with both. In the New World, the Loire Valley wines are more of a curiousity. Surprising, as the Loire is France's third largest producer of wine and its leading producer of white wines. (It is also France's leading producer of AOC sparkling wines - who knew?) But here is the key statistic - only 20% of production is exported, with 40% shipped to the U.K. and 20% sent to Belgium (mussels?). This leaves only 8% of Loire wine ever having a chance to make it to North America. Once you slice the numbers some more, I am pretty sure it is all ending up in Brooklynguy's cellar.

Oh, the sommeliers know them, but it seems to me that consumers over here have not yet taken to them. Perhaps this is due to the complexity - its 63 Appelations (AOCs) produce reds, whites, roses and sparklers from a wide variety of grapes - Chenin Blanc (Pineau de la Loire), Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (Auvernat), Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and a number of other varieties.

When faced with such a dizzying array of combinations, I have tried to focus on knowing a few appelations (Loire for Dummies):

Vouvray (Chenin Blanc)
red Chinon (Cabernet Franc)
white Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc)
Pouilly Fume (Sauvignon Blanc)
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (Muscadet)

With that info and the names of a few good winemarkers, you are all set to dive into Loire wines.

Tonight's Loire white 2004 Marc Brédif Vouvray. It is obviously not a difficult wine to find, as I see some of my fellow bloggers have posted on this one as well. I haven't had a Vouvray in a little while, and it seemed the perfect pairing for tonights' shrimp linguine in a simple, lemon-based sauce. Pale gold in hue with a lovely minerally nose, it showed scents of apricot, banana and fresh cut grass. It was slightly off dry and minerally, almost chalky, on the palate. Medium bodied with flavours of banana, it was very elegant with nice balance and great acidity. Drink now - an excellent summer white and a great pairing with the shrimp.
12% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$20 (SAQ)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

WBW #35: Passionate Spain

Think back to when you were a child. Your favourite food may have been hot dogs or Kraft dinner, you probably drank apple juice or milk, and you probably loved Mars or Snickers bars.

Then you got older.

You started buying specialty sausages with vegetables and curry. You started trying Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Mexican and Moroccan dishes. Instead of apple juice you may be drinking Pomegranate and Mango Juice, or San Pellegrino instead of Milk. You munch on Lindt chocolates instead of a Snickers. As you have matured your tastes changed, and many of you became more adventurous.

And so it is with wine. As my vinuous tastes have evolved, the 10$ rack has become less and less appealing to me. I value complexity over volume, flavour over alcohol - give me a half bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape and keep your box of Aussie Shiraz! It is not snobbery - I don't look down on Vin de Table (there are numerous reviews on this site), but I use VdT as a tool (like that Snickers in the vending machine). I just plain seek more from a wine than I used to.

So where the heck am I going with this? Michele and Kevin have graciously agreed to host WBW#35, focusing on Spanish wine, preferably under US$10. Despite my comments above, I was very excited by this tasting. Why? Because my most successful wines in this price range have all been Spanish. Michele and Kevin are on to something, and value conscious consumers should take note.
I decided to blog the 2005 Torres Sangre de Toro tonight, but not because of the cute little bull dangling from the neck of the bottle (I love that little guy...). This was my one of my early favourites when I first 'got into' wine. It seems so long ago that this was my go-to, can't-lose wine. So many fantastic wine memories standing between me and my last bottle of Sangre de Toro - how would it show?

Ruby red port in hue, I remembered this Grenache blend from Catalunya as being a more deep, dense, purple - "Bull's Blood", as per the label. Very little on the nose - alcohol, coffee grounds, vague scents of dark berries. On the palate it was simple and light-bodied, with some blackberry fruit and good acidity, but somewhat unbalanced due to the noticeable alcohol. No length, and not showing typical Grenache scents and flavours. Slightly different from my memory (a big, powerfully fruity wine), it seems to have been finessed, softened, for the 2005 vintage. Overall, a competent Vin de Table, but nothing more. A good match for spaghetti and meat sauce, and a pretty good value.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 13/20
Price: C$12.60 (US$12, tax in)

Epilogue: Unfortunately, this vintage of Sangre de Toro did not highlight the potential for greatness that exists in inexpensive Spanish wine. Check out my Spanish Great Values piece (especially the Castano Hecula or Dominio Espinal) for some good houses/labels, or see my review of the Campobarro Tempranillo here.

Thanks to Lenn for organizing WBW, and check out the My Wine Education site for Michele and Kevin's summary of other WBW finds in inexpensive Spanish wine. Cheers!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Wine at Harrod's: 2004 Harrod's Cotes du Rhone Red

Our last evening in Europe found us once again avoiding rain indoors. We couldn't go to London without stopping at Harrod's, and I couldn't visit Harrod's without reviewing the store brand wine! After letting our kids run amok in the Harrod's toy department, it was time to turn them loose in one of Harrod's dining areas.

The Harrod's venue that was open and best suited for our group was Mo's Diner, an eatery inspired by an American 50s-era diner. Staring at the wine list, I realized my red wine choices were Harrod's Claret, Harrod's Bourgogne, and a Harrod's Cotes-du-Rhone. In my experience a bad Rhone wine is infinitely more palatable than a bad Bordeaux or Bourgogne, so with some apprehension I gave the Cotes du Rhone a nod and ordered a steak sandwich. After all, how bad could it be? It has Harrod's on the label...

From the expression on the waiter's face and the confusion in getting my wine order in, I gather the average Mo's Diner customer is not an oenophile. But he ultimately overcame the shock and brought me the right bottle with a hansome Harrod's label. The 2004 Harrod's Cotes-du-Rhone Red is bottled for Harrod's by Domaine de l'Espigouette, with the label describing the wine as a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre. A classic Cotes du Rhone - dark cherry red with appealing scents of plums, pepper and spice, vanilla, and earthy aromas. On the palate it was also a solid wine - good tannins, juicy fruit and slightly nutty with good balance. Overall, a very competent wine. Obviously not available here in the Americas, but I have seen the Espigouette label - perhaps it could be worth a shot.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20

Well, that's the end of my European Vacation. Next stop, Sonoma, Fall 2007. Cheers!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Gold in London - 2001 Ruffino Riserva Ducale 'Oro'

I thought Champagne would be my last post from Europe, as I was under the impression that London would not offer up any blog material. However, our two dinners offered some interesting wines, so I chaned my mind and took some notes.

Arriving on the Eurostar from Lille, we dropped off our bags and went for a lengthy walking tour of London. As a result we faced a very late dinner with tired children, so we decided to go to an Italian restaurant (kids, pasta) near our hotel. The resto, Concordia, was a reasonably-priced good quality Italian resto with a decent wine list, and 'kid-friendly' for those of you who care...

With our vacation fast drawing to a close, I was feeling in a celebratory mood, and went for the 2001 Ruffino Riserva Ducale 'Oro', a Chianti Classico (85% Sangiovese, 15% Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) from the well regarded 2001 vintage, and a wine that I have enjoyed in previous vintages. The waiter seemed thrilled with my selection, and promptly removed the wine glasses on the table and returned with proper Chianti-styled glasses. A nice deep ruby red, this Tuscan showed a beautiful spicy nose of pepper and cloves, new leather, blueberries - rustic, gamey, complex and interesting. Equally interesting on the palate, with rich, juicy blackberry fruit, but slightly off balance due to the high acidity and tannins. A substantial wine with a very long finish, I scored it just shy of an outstanding score, but I have little doubt that it will probably merit one in a few years.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Brief Visit to Champagne!

Well, I had to squeeze at least one 'wine day' into this trip, and the three-star Gothic cathedral in Reims was the hook. Okay, there was no hook, the family obliged me on this one.

The original plan was a quick tour of the cathedral, a stop at one or two cellars in Reims and then a quick tour through the vineyards in Epernay. As one might see from a map, this was an ambitious day trip from Lille, especially with three young kids, but that′s what those mini DVD players are for!

We arrived in Reims before noon, parked the car, and walked up to the cathedral. Rather impressive, this 13th century cathedral was the historical place for the coronation of French kings. However, despite a beautiful cathedral and millions of bottles of pricey Champagne just below street level, the city had a tired feel to it - not at all quaint like Lille, Honfleur, Bayeux or Bruges - and in that sense I was somewhat disappointed at first. But the trip was about wine, so we went to two wineries for a tasting, and to pick something up to bring back home.

Piper Heidsieck
The Rick Steeves guide refers to the tour of the Piper Heidsieck cellars as "cheesey" and "Disneyesque". Hmmm...Disney, children...daddy and the kids having fun at a winery together...this might work!
I can safely say this tour was the only wine tour my kids will ever enjoy (before the age of 18, of course). Descending into the caves, you pass a small display of ancient Champagne-making equipment, cross a bridge over blinking blue Champagne bottles (I am not joking), and arrive at a round, white 'vehicle'. The vehicle takes you on a tour of the cave, stopping and turning to face displays that light up when you arrive (a la Disney), and then going on to the next stop, all the while discussing in very vague terms the making of Chamagne. You even get to travel through a fictitious set of Casablanca (no really, I am not joking) with a statue of Bogart sipping Piper. The kids absolutely loved it, and I learned nothing about the making of Champagne.

At the end you arrive in a posh room showing movie stars, and then take a lift up to the very red velvet tasting room, where your pre-purchased flight of Champagnes is awaiting for your pleasure on a pre-printed tasting note sheet (hooray, no more travel brochures for scoring!). This is where the tour gets serious!

I paid up for a slightly better flight of wines - they were fantastic:

To the left was the Piper Heidsieck Brut Divin, a "Blanc de blancs" (i.e. 100% Chardonnay). Pale yellow in hue, with a greenish tinge (they say 'emerald'), this bubbly delivered tiny bubbles and a nice mousse. On the nose it was almost creamy, with scents of gingerbread, lemon, white flowers and nuts. On the palate it had a beautiful, soft mousse - elegant, with nice structure and good persistency. Very nice, and a bottle came home with me.
Score: 18/20
Price: €33.30

Next was the basic Piper Heidsieck Brut Non Vintage. It appears to be a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but it is a white wine. Sparkling, pale gold in colour, the mousse did not appear as fine as the previous. It displayed yeast/toasty aromas with some mint and fresh cut grass. On the palate it was ever so slightly sweet, with lemon and nice fizz, light-bodied, simple and refreshing.
Score: 16.5/20
Price: €28 (est)

On the right was the Piper Heidsieck Rose Sauvage, a pink bubbly. A lovely nose of black currant, plum, and jammy toast. On the palate it had nice mousse and a kind of kir/grenadine and orange flavour with very nice balance. Refreshing and substantial, this is a wine is not just for sipping - it could pair very well with a meal. A bottle of this also made the trip back to Montreal.
Score: 17.5/20
Price: €31.20

G.H. Martel & Co.

Martel was the exact opposite of Piper Heidsieck - quiet, homey, and tucked away in a corner near Tattinger and Heidsieck, it has the aura of a family run business (although I believe it is part of a larger conglomerate). Tastings are free (with a purchase) and the hostess went out of her way to serve me a wide array champagnes, asking me a number of questions to choose a flight that she thought both my wife and I would like. Note that the winery uses a lot of Pinot Noir in its bottlings, leading to rather substantial wines - don't look (generally) for lightweight quaffers here.

Overall, Martel's bottlings were a slight notch below Piper, in my opinion, but the prices are so much better that it is really worth a stop (I bought two bottles here). Moreover, 60% of their production never leaves the country, so you pretty much have to buy it in France.

My notes were short (no show for the kids...): the Martel Cuvee Romance, 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, showed a nose of butter and caramel with some lemon notes. Light and refreshing, this was a great deal at €19 (Score: 17/20) and the attractive bottle would make a nice gift - a bottle came home with me. The 2000 Martel Vintage Champagne, 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, was excellent - vanilla, almonds, caramel and toast on the nose, powerful, nice persistency and mousse. Nice price for a Vintage Champagne at €20.50 (brought a bottle home), Score: 17.5/20. The 1990 Cazanove Brut Millésimé, is one of Martel's other labels, and is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot. A very nice mousse with scents of lemon peel and brioche, nice persistency. Nice (Score: 17/20), but less impressive than the 2000 Martel, and it costed €26. Get the 2000, in my opinion. I also tasted the Rose and Demi-Sec, but I preferred the Cuvee Romance at a similar price.

My only criticism of this winery (Champagne house) is the dizzying array of labels - they should really focus their product line a bit, in my opinion.

In the end, the passage of time and the long trip back to Lille required us to cancel a tour through Epernay (home of Moet & Chandon), so tantalizingly close...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Adventures in the North of France

After two nights on the Normandy coast (and a quick stop in Honfleur), we left to spend a few days with friends in Lille.

Our friends they were kind enough to book a babystter and make a reservation at a local wine bar called La Part des Anges. Located in beautiful Old Lille, this bar features a very nice selection of wines by the glass (all French, I recall) and a mid-priced menu of bistro fare. Despite my protests and numerous caveats, the group asked me to play sommelier and pair their dishes with a wine from the menu. Armed with little more than the appelation (I didn′t recognize the winemakers), I think I put everyone on the right track, and can now claim to have been a sommelier - if only for a few, brief, unpaid minutes.

To start we cleansed our palates with a Pierre Legras Champagne (Brut N.V.) - refreshing, slightly off dry, but rather uncomplex (14/20). I had a melon and prosciutto salad for an appetizer, which I paired with a 2005 Muscat Sec by the Vignerons de St. Paul - melon and white flowers, dry (but not bone dry), with some lemon and fresh acidity - a nice pairing (16/20). For dinner I ordered the Rognons d'Agneau, which I thought would pair very well with a Madiran. The 2005 Latreille Sounac had classic smoke, tobacco, and leather aromas with big tannins, dark cherry fruit and nice balance. Decent length and well made, an accessible Madiran (unlike those monsters from Montus!), 15.5/20. Overall, a nice restaurant, but a bit smokey at the bar out front. Great list of wines for those who wish to explore, and the location in old Lille made for a very nice evening.

This was an unplanned stop, as Belgium was never on our itinerary, but it was so close to Lille that a day trip was in order. There is nothing vinuous about Bruges - this is Belgium, and Belgium means beer. After a tour (on foot, and by boat) through this gorgeous medeival town, I stopped for some Moules et Frites (mussels and fries), which was washed down by the local beer called Brugse Zot - apparently a world medal winner in its class. I agree - an excellent pint, which I had the chance to compare to some other Belgian beers (but not my all-time favourite, Chimay - a rematch is in order), and this was the best. It may be hard to find, but definitely worth the effort for any beer types out there. A very beautiful town, and a must see - even if you do not care for Belgian styled beer.