Friday, August 31, 2007

2000 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville


How fitting to end Joe's American Wine Month with Napa's signature grape from Mondavi! Mondavi, the first major winery built after the Prohibition era has, over its 40+ years in existence, grown to be a global force in wine - and a villain of Nossiter's Mondovino.

Ruby red in the glass, the 2000 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) started with cooked fruit and vegetal notes, but later opened up to reveal aromas of roses, blackberries, leather, mint and cloves. On the palate this wine was incredibly smooth, with velvety tannins, lively acidity and subdued fruit that paired very well with steak off the grill. Bordeaux-like, it is the Rodney Dangerfield of the wine world: no respect from American critics for being too French and too American for the likes of Nossiter. Note the alcohol content - more in line with the Gironde than Napa. Nice length, but I suspect it is peaking - drink now.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: A priceless gift from my sister.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

2004 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel

This wine was supposed to participate in my Zinful evening - I wanted to compare this pricier Ravenswood offering to the cheaper Vintners Blend - but three bottles in one evening? I am not a college student anymore! As a result of my delay, Sonadora beat me to the punch on this wine, but I couldn't finish American Wine Month without one more Zin.

The 2004 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel comes from the Sonoma appellation. Bright cherry red, almost purple, this wine was slow to give up its secrets. The nose started all leather and blackberry fruit, very spicy, but later revealed hints of violet, mint, cedar, oak, vanilla and pistachio nuts (?). This was a powerful wine on the palate - big, dry, bitter tannins - what I imagine chewing tobacco to taste like (never tried it) - but the fruit was more modest than the nose led me to believe. Unfortunately, the heat from the alcohol mixed with big tannins made for an awkward wine. While I took Sonadora's suggestion and decanted the wine, I think it will need some cellar time time to sort itself out (but I am not certain of that). From my perspective, save some $ and go for the Vintners Blend Zin - it is ready now, lower in alcohol, and much cheaper.
14.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$29.60 (SAQ)

PS - Note the price above vs. the price Sonadora paid - a tragedy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2004 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay

I really wanted to polish off a top Napa Chardonnay this month, and I was willing to spend top $$ to do so. After the somewhat disappointing (for the price) Beringer earlier this month, despite top ratings, I knew it was time to find a more 'old-school' Napa producer. I went to Chateau Montelena because I was so enthralled with a 1990 Chateau Montelena Cabernet last fall that I was sure the Chardonnay would not disappoint. I was right!

The 2004 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was white gold in the glass, and pure gold on the nose and palate. Minerally and lemony at first, with farm fresh butter right out of the wrapper, it later released pleasing notes of honeysuckle, apple, melon, banana, toast and a hint of oak. On the palate it was crisp and velvety with lemony toast, minerally, and very well balanced. Much more Bourgogne than the Beringer, this probably keeps a few more years in the cellar. I have rarely gulped a bottle of Chardonnay as fast as I did tonight. A nice pairing for grilled Tandoori (mild) shrimp, fresh off the barbie.
13.9% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$45 (SAQ)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Travellin' Wino - Joe's Hotel Tips

Source: Aargon Neon (

My apologies for the silence but I have been away for a few days, travelling with the family - away from the blog, but certainly not "wine-free"!

So, what to do when you and your 'vinuous significant other' go on vacation? What the heck am I talking about? Hotel wine! That white wine in the hotel fridge is, well, awful - a mini "wine-in-a-bag" with a screw top. And the reds? I used to look longingly at the dusty half bottle of red wine, but $35 for a half-bottle of wine? And the prices for room service?

It was time to get smart. As I travel frequently, for business and pleasure, I thought I'd share some tips for dealing with all those long, lonely days away from your cellar.

Joe's Tips for a Great Trip Away from the Safety of Your Own Cellar

Adding to the indignity of living out of a suitcase, hotels seek to stymie your wine enjoyment by filling your room with plastic cups, teasing you with a beer bottle opener but no corkscrew, and leaving those tempting half bottles of wine-like substance lying around - red in the basket, white in the fridge.

Tip #1 - Do NOT open those bottles! Aside from carefully aging on the hotel radiator for the last seven years, that tasty morsel is priced at a 500% markup. Like Apu's hot dogs, these are "strictly ornamental".

Planning your trip:

When travelling by airplane, you have two issues to deal with. First, the inability to stash a bottle in your carry-on demands a purchase at your destination. Try Dr. Vino's wine maps for L.A., Chicago and NYC - I have successfully used these, and I hope he expands the geographic coverage shortly (I offer up my services, Tyler). Also, there is the possibility that you will need a corkscrew at the other end. Call ahead to the hotel and ask if they have corkscrews. If you forget and they don't have one, you can head on over to a dollar store and pick up an old-school corkscrew for a modest price.

A road trip in the car is much easier. You can stash a bottle in your favourite carrying device (one of these works nicely), and you may even have a cooler. There is no need to worry about taking your favourite corkscrew through security, and you can easily bring your travellin' wine goblets (see image to the right, this one comes from MEC, and yes, I do have a pair). Try to keep the bottle in the vehicle (preferably the cooler) to avoid the summer heat.

Wines to buy:

There are four things to think about when buying wine on the road:
  • Sludge: With decanters unlikely to be close at hand (I have not, yet, found a stainless camping decanter), you should steer away from aged, unfiltered wines.
  • Volume: If you are by yourself, are you going to drink a whole bottle? Try a half bottle. And if you are with someone else you may be able to open a full bottle, but chances are you will not finish it right away. Screw-top wines (leave the VacuVin at home...) and an ice bucket are very handy.
  • Temperature: Your hotel may not have a refrigerator, or if it does it is stuffed with little one-ounce bottles of Jack Daniels and may not be of much use. (yes, I have tried to stuff a full size bottle into one of those) An ice bucket and the aforementioned neoprene bag should help moderate the temperature swings.
  • Price: Travel can take unexpected turns, so a half bottle may have to be left behind. This is the time to find the best, inexpensive wines you can find. No need to leave that First Growth for housekeeping!
The perfect travel wine, in my opinion, is unfiltered, screw topped, comes in half-bottle and full-bottle sizes, and is likely to drink well in adverse temperature conditions. While this blog may frequently point towards Europe, the "Hotel Wine Problem" calls for young, new world wines. Recommended bottles:
  • D'Arenberg: the Footbolt Shiraz and D'Arry's Original come in half bottles, screw tops, and are wonderful at a wider range of temperature.
  • Other Aussies: Check here for more inexpensive options, frequently in screw tops.
  • USA: Two Buck Chuck will work in a pinch, but I would rather go for the low end Steltzner or Ravenswood selections. Note that Zin seems to be particularly well suited for this task, and pairs well with the overpriced Doritos.
  • Chile: These wines are cheap, unfiltered, but seem to be avoiding the screw tops for now.
  • Nipozzano Riserva (Chianti Ruffina): Half and full bottles. Excellent wine, year in and year out.
  • La Vielle Ferme (white): Full bottles, but screw top. Very nice.
On this trip we enjoyed a bottle of Yalumba Y Series Merlot over two nights - my favourite of the Y Series wines and rather true to its Merlot origins.

So, does planning my holiday wine consumption classify me as a true wine geek? Yes, definitely. An alcoholic? Not yet... Love to hear your tips for wine in the comfort of your hotel room!
PS - Don't forget to get a hotel with high speed internet - no point in going through all of this trouble if you can't blog the notes. Cheers!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

2003 Cline Small Berry Mourvedre

Keeping with the Rhone Ranger theme, I went for a Mourvedre tonight to pair with some lamb kebabs off the grill. Tonight's wine comes from the Contra Costa County wine appelation, which is located just east of San Francisco. This relatively unknown appellation uses a wide variety of grapes, but is best known for its Rhone varietals.

The dark cherry red 2003 Cline Cellars Small Berry Mourvedre lead with spicy cinnamon and jammy blackberry aromas. Later the nose put on a nice display, with notes of leather, tobacco, violet, vanilla, hazelnut, and a faint scent of rosemary right after it was poured. On the palate it resembled my last experience with this wine: full-bodied with juicy, dark berry fruit, it had firm tannins, mild acidity, and was a bit hot and awkward. A nice pairing and a nice (but pricey) wine.
15% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$39 (LCBO)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2005 Bonterra Viognier

So, a few Joe Firsts here - my first Mendocino wine and my first organically grown wine (at least that I know of). It is also the first Viognier in a while, and sooooo worth the wait.

The 2005 Bonterra Viognier is actually 85% Viognier, with the balance other Rhone varietals (Marsanne 10%, Rousanne 3%) and a touch of Muscat - all organically grown grapes. Greenish-gold in the glass, the wine showed a very attractive nose, starting with hay, green grass and lemon peel, evolving to show some papaya, white flowers, oak, subtle vanilla, and a key-lime pie sort of finish. Bravo! On the palate this medium-bodied white was very well balanced, with an appealing honey (but not sweet) flavour, fresh limes, and a nice lingering aftertaste. It was an excellent match for rigatoni with home made alfredo and fresh summer (organic) vegetables. Note the experts are not big fans of this wine. I disagree - the balance is excellent, and it needs to warm up and air a little to express its complexity - something a power tasting might miss.
13.9% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$23.85 (SAQ)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

1999 Terre Rouge "Noir"

Napa Cab? Check. Santa Barbara Pinot? Check. Zin? Check. Chardonnay? Check. American wine month is progressing as planned, I guess. Rhone Ranger? Hmmm - missed one.

The 1999 Terre Rouge Noir "Grande Année" comes from the Sierra Foothills, and is a blend of grenache (45%), mourvedre (35%) and shiraz (20%). According to the maker this is their flagship wine, and the Grande Année tag is used for the best vintages. A deep ruby red with some brick red at the edges, the nose was terrific - starting with charcuterie and black pepper (hungarian salami?), with violet, blackberry, prunes and coffee grounds filling in later. On the palate the wine was hot at first, with big tannins, big fruit and lively acidity having some trouble coming together - a bit heavy and angular. Still an enjoyable package overall, and I would agree with the winemaker that this wine was a "dead ringer" for a Southern Rhône wine (like this CdP). Drink now.
14.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$35 (SAQ)

PS - for my regular readers I have been back-posting some notes from the past few material, if you will...

Thursday, August 16, 2007


As a wine guy I always feel guilty with these wines...Zinful? After all, serious wine guys aren't supposed to like these, right? But I couldn't go through American Wine Month without a Zin, and I did better than that - I had TWO Zins tonight...

2004 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel (California)
2005 Rancho Zabacho Dancing Bull Zinfandel (California)

I chose these in particular as both are widely available, and the Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel is an all time JoeFavourite. (note-neither were decanted, a deviation from the Joe norm)

The 2004 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel is suprisingly reserved for a winery hell-bent on "No Wimpy Wines". Cherry red in the glass, the attractive bouquet started with dark berry fruit, caramel, and cedar, later developing some meat, leather and cloves. On the palate it was medium- to full-bodied with a nice, smooth, supple texture and very well balanced. Juicy and peppery, this was a fantastic match for some cheeseburgers fresh off the grill. Don't cellar this - drink it now, or bring it to parties and win many friends. Could this really be a Zin at 13.5% alcohol? Great Value!
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$19.80 (SAQ)

The 2005 Rancho Zabacho Dancing Bull has to be one of the most widely available, instantly recognized, California Zins. Cherry red in hue, it was very peppery and very juicy at first, but later showed some blueberry, caramel, apple (?) and an unusual cheesy/fast food smell (it was't the cheeseburger). Slightly harsher and less balanced than the Ravenswood, it was also slightly lighter bodied and showing its alcohol a bit more. Interestingly, it started the evening very, very nice, but disintegrated quickly. My advice: don't decant, don't cellar, and drink fast (with burgers).
14% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: C$15.95 (SAQ)

While both of these wineries are Sonoma-based, they source the grapes from all over the State leading to somewhat differing outcomes. Regardless, these are both great, inexpensive Zin choices, should pair with a variety of foods, and will please budding enophiles while satifying the snobs. I wouldn't criticize anyone for saving a few bucks and going with the Rancho, but I'd rather pony up for that Wimp-Free stuff...

PS- I originally thought of throwing in a third, single-vineyard Zin for a blind tasting, but it's will have to wait

World's Greatest Wine Journalist

Thanks to Sao Anash of the Santa Barbara Independent for this story:

The Web’s Gift to Wine Lovers

I have no way to reach you, so let it be known that there is an extra special bottle in my cellar should your travels ever take you to Montreal.


Monday, August 13, 2007

2005 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay

Ignoring Lenn's advice to go naked, for the second time this month I found myself sipping a very oaky chardonnay.

Shiny gold in colour, the 2005 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay (Napa) had a powerful nose of oak and sulphur/petrol. Otherwise it was appealing but rather simple, with some white flowers, lemon and butter. On the palate this full-bodied Yankee Chard was hearty, luscious, good acidity, with buttery oak, followed by nice green apple and lemon flavours. I found myself wishing for a decanter, as this wine actually seemed to benefit from some air. While I enjoyed the wine, I was rather under-whelmed, especially given the steep price. But don't take my advice, as the experts loved it (now I know why it was so expensive). I suggest some additional cellar time.
14.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$45 (SAQ)

PS - While it seems to be a common criticism that American Chardonnays use too much oak, I can safely say that the most over the top oak I have ever tasted was that French "Les Bruyeres" (from Jura) a few weeks back.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Moueix vs. Spawn of Dominus

Not a B-movie, nor an epic comic book battle, but a blinded showdown of two California clarets - the Ramey Claret and Napanook by Dominus. You see, David Ramey started his career with the Moueix family (Chateau Pétrus) and helped establish Moueix' Dominus Estate. How much of his learning did he take to Ramey Wine Cellars? And how have the Dominus wines fared after losing Mr. Ramey?

Of course, a better comparison would be a multi-year flight of the flagship Dominus wines vs. the Ramey Jericho Canyon, but at last glance my inbox was not filled with offers from David or Christian Moueix to ship a case of their finest. Facing this harsh financial reality, I instead turned to single bottles of the entry-level wines of both estates:

2002 Ramey Claret (Napa Valley)
2003 Napanook (Napa Valley)

The 2002 Ramey Claret was purchased nearly two years ago on a trip to NYC. I can't find the blend for this vintage, but historically this Claret was just above 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, with balance mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Not as aromatic as the Napanook, it took some time for this wine to cough up its secrets - more caramel and ripe fruit at first, later showing rose, blackberry, pepper, leather, mint, undergrowth and a cheese smell that I couldn't quite put my finger on. The higher alcohol content was also quite apparent. On the palate this was a very smooth and elegant wine, but over the evening the firm tannins began to show through. Medium- to full-bodied, it was softer than the Napanook, with nice mouthfeel and texture, but less complex. Enjoyable now, but it may need some more time in the bottle.
14.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: US$41.50

The 2003 Napanook (91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec) was purchased locally. A nice cherry red in the glass, the nose was very complex, starting with cheery violet and rose, then blackberries, and as it evolved over the evening showing black pepper, cedar, coffee, tobacco, pencil shavings, mint, and some attractive green pepper/vegetal notes. Very, very nice. Full-bodied, it started out a bit angular on the palate, but softened over the evening into a complex, but nicely balanced claret with dry, fresh fruit and melt in your mouth tannins. Blinded, all three tasters agreed it was the more Bordeaux-like of the two wines. While it may keep in the cellar, this wine is excellent now.
14% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$39.75 (SAQ), -10%

A few comments. First, both wines were a stunning match for grilled T-bone steaks right off the grill. Second, readers may notice that these wines were tasted here before, unblinded, and on separate occasions (1,2). The scores have now been reversed, and all three tasters preferred the Napanook.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

2005 BV Coastal Estates Sauvignon Blanc

I clearly did not think this American Wine Month thing through, as my spontaneity could be costly. I just realized that the 45-odd bottles in my cellar are rather costly (average price of over C$60), with many selections simply not ready to drink. So I had to go shopping, and I had to go cheap.

Tonight's 2005 BV Coastal Estates Sauvignon Blanc comes from Beaulieu Vineyard's (visited last October) entry level group of wines. One of the oldest and most famous Napa Valley producers, the BV Coastal Estates wines are simply labelled "California", which means the grapes can come from anywhere in the state. The Sauvignon Blanc was pale gold in hue, with simple but pleasing nose of green grass, white grapefruit, papaya and white flowers. Crisp and well balanced, this was a great summer quaffer at a great price.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: C$15 (SAQ)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

2006 Kim Crawford Marlborough Unoaked Chardonnay

The theme for this month's WBW is Naked (i.e. Unoaked) Chardonnay. It is an interesting pendulum in the wine world that has swung from too much oak to none at all. Personally, I am not fussed by 'oaked' or 'unoaked' - these are simply terms like 'dry' and 'off dry' - words to help me determine the ultimate pairing for the wine and not any comment on the quality of the wine. Compare an oaky New World Chardonnay to a oaky Chablis and you will see that the presence or absence of oak is not the defining feature of the wine (although HOW it is used may be...)

But I digress. I like both, if they are well made, and tonight's wine is exactly what I like to see in an unoaked Chardonnay. The 2006 Kim Crawford Marlborough Unoaked Chardonnay aromatic, with lemon toast and pineapple, quite minerally, simple but pleasing. On the palate it was very flavourful, with the fruit expressing itself well, followed by a crisp, bitter, minerally aftertaste. Very well balanced, this is a wine to enjoy today, right now, in all of its naked glory.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$18.95 (SAQ)

I am certain that my selection tonight will be replicated many times over, for the simple reason that I COULDN'T FIND ANY OTHERS! This was truly the only Chardonnay marked unoaked in town. Sadly, a slight deviation from American Wine Month at Joe's.

Thanks, once again, to Lenn - father of WBW and the host of WBW #36. Cheers!

Monday, August 06, 2007

2004 Luna Sangiovese Reserve

For our anniversary I opened up this wine to pair with a simple dish of pasta and meatballs in a homemade tomato sauce, hoping to dress up a simple family dinner on our special day.

The 2004 Luna Sangiovese Reserve was purchased at the winery on my 2006 Napa Tour. Unabashedly American, this is not your Nona's Sangiovese! Bright cherry red, this wine had an exquisite nose of roses and musk, very ripe blackberries and cherries, cedar, leather, coffee grounds and minty tea. While very nice, the palate simply wasn't up to the nose, in my opinion, as sharp acidity and jammy overripe fruit overpowered my palate at first. To be fair, this wine settled down over the evening, with more elegant spicy chocolate and blackberry fruit, but still slightly awkward. Despite its heavyweight alcohol content, this was not as overpowering as you might think. Overall, it was a rather confusing wine that needs a few more years in the cellar to show its real stuff.
15.8% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: US$60 (winery)

As an aside, I try to be style agnostic when I review wines. While this was an excellently crafted wine (my wife raved about it), it may be the first time you hear me say "not my style". Unfair, perhaps, as this wine is way to young. But contrast it to the elegance of the L'Ecole No. 41 wines enjoyed last night, or any Chianti at this price. Try for yourself - I am sure there will be much disagreement with me on this.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Perigee vs. Apogee - Washington State Terroir

A few weeks back the Walla Walla Woman introduced me to the world of wine from Washington State in WBW #34. While shopping for that event I discovered an interesting exercise in Washington State terroir, namely L'Ecole's Perigee and Apogee. L'Ecole No. 41's top Cuvees, these wines use a very similar blend of grapes, and the local shop had both bottlings from the same vintage, at a nearly identical price. For a science guy, this is was a fabulous idea for a controlled experiment in wine terroir.

2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee (Pepper Ridge Vineyard)
(47% Cab Sauv, 45% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 3% Cab Franc)
2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Perigee (Seven Hills Vineyard)
(56% Cab Sauv, 37% Merlot, 7% Cab Franc)

Separated by only 10 miles in the Walla Walla Valley, these two vineyards use (according to the maker) nearly identical viticultural practices. For more details on the two vineyards, see L'Ecole's website (link above).

Apogee is usually associated with celestial orbits, but in this case the marketing folks were obviously seeking to convey a wine reaching great heights. A deep cherry red, the 2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee was more sharp and peppery on the nose, with the alcohol quite noticeable. Scents of violet, raspberry, mint, toast, and a subtle hint of leather were envelopped in an earthy smell, only later showing some cocoa and vanilla. On the palate it was medium-bodied (lighter bodied than the Perigee) and peppery, with nice raspberry fruit and dry leathery tannins. More Bordeaux-like overall, the wine started a bit harsh and unbalanced, but softened over the evening. This wine had a lengthy finish and clearly needs some more time in the cellar. As a group, we felt this wine tasted like a more "Northern-climate" wine - less fruity, more structured.
13.9% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$62 (SAQ)

Perigee, another celestial term, refers to the point in the moon's orbit where it is closest to the center of the earth, so perhaps the marketing folk wish to convey that this is a wine that is "close to the earth"? Similar in hue to the Apogee, the 2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Perigee was very floral on the nose, with a wilder, more leathery aroma. Nice cherry fruit, it evolved nicley over the evening to show some truffles, cloves, pepper, cocoa, almonds and a very nice vegetal aroma. On the palate this was a full-bodied, muscular wine with firm tannins and nice acidity. More luscious than the Apogee, with an oily texture, dark cherry fruit and a hint of mint. A beautiful, substantial wine that demands more cellar time.
13.9% alcohol
Score: 18/20

Price: C$60 (SAQ)

From a terroir perspective, the Seven Hills Vineyard (Perigee) is supposedly warmer, with older vines, higher elevation, an earlier harvest and very little rain, which is conveyed through the wine in a very complex nose and luscious, ripe fruit. The Pepper Ridge Vineyard (Apogee) gets more rain in a cooler vineyard, which leads to a lighter-bodied more peppery and structured wine. Overall, these wines were an absolute pleasure. Their evolution over the evening, and nice tannins and acidity, hint to a wonderful future for these. I predict a re-match in five years.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Dinner at Toqué!

After many years in Montreal we finally visited the highly-regarded restaurant Toqué! to celebrate our wedding anniversary. And in a sign of just how strong this relationship is, my wife provided me a camera to take a picture of the label above, and even lent me a pen to score the wine (yes, that was a score sheet in my pocket...). I dare you to try that on your anniversary!

Facing a rather confusing pairing - Guinea Hen Sausage and Duck Comfit Ravioli for appetizers, scallops and Guinea Hen for the main course - I threw myself at the mercy of sommelier, Pascal, who quickly steered us to the 2004 "Les Bruyères" to pair with all (I was thinking Chablis, so we weren't far off, and he saved me some dough). This wine, a Chardonnay produced by Stephane Tissot in the Arbois region of Jura, is my first encounter with a Jura wine. Rather unlike any Chardonnay you have ever tasted, it was a bold move by Pascal - I am not sure this would have gone over very well with everyone. Probably the first time I have seen a white decanted at a restaurant, it wasn't for show, as this wine had a powerful, pungent aroma that needed some oxygen. Straw yelow, it started with an overpowering scent of petrol and oak, very un-chardonnay. As the oxygen massaged it, the wine threw off scents of lemon peel, almonds and fresh cut grass, with a subtle hint of white flowers. On the palate I wrote medium- to full-bodied, minerally, substantial, with a nice bitter aftertaste. Very unusual, very powerful, this wine needs time in the cellar.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20

Finally, I should congratulate Toqué! A pricey restaurant, but the food was exquisite and the service was outstanding. And they know their customer - they even took me down to visit their cellar, noticing my rather obvious drooling at the glass...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

2003 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia's Vineyard

California's Napa and Sonoma Valleys have historically been the heart of American wine, but it is California's Central Coast Wine Region, and Santa Barbara County in particular, that is now getting the attention of connaisseurs and budding winos. Jolted to stardom by its lead role in the movie Sideways, it is the quality of the wines that has kept this region in the spotlight. (One of my greatest regrets in life was not buying more of that Sea Smoke BEFORE Sideways...sigh)

Santa Barbara's 100-odd wineries produce wines from 21,000 acres of vines, (less than half of Napa's 45,000 acres, itself a smallish wine producing region), and the region is best known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. Like many of California's winegrowing areas, Santa Barbara's wine history goes back two hundred years, but it is really the post-war, post-prohibition years that saw a renaissance, starting in the early 60s. In Santa Barbara there are three official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Santa Barbara County: the Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, and the origin of tonight's wine, the Santa Maria Valley - please visit all of the links above to get more info on this rapidly developing wine region.

Unlike most of my American wine collection, the 2003 Cambria Julia's Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley) was purchased locally, two years ago. Very floral on the nose, with a strong scent of roses and melted dark chocolate, also revealing pepper, nutmeg, strawberries, and a very nice earthy/tarry undertone. Such a gorgeous wine for sniffing, it was almost a shame to gulp it the way we did. On the palate this wine was richly textured and full-bodied, with chocolatey fruit and very nice length. It also had a lively acidity that paired well with tonight's meal. Excellent now, or suitable to stash away for a few more years, this was a beautiful example of a modern, New World Pinot Noir.
13.9% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$42 (SAQ)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Evolution White, 11th Edition

My first "Yanqui" wine of the month is a white from Oregon. Oregon is a rather unusual place to start given the limited production and even smaller export sales - Oregon's 300+ wineries produce just 1.6 million cases of wine each year, and just 24% of that leaves the country. It is interesting to note, however, that Canada accounts for nearly half of those exports (two thirds of it being Pinot Noir). I will confess that if I am looking for an Oregon wine, it is always a Pinot.

While you might think it was the catchy "Evolution" name and label that caught my eye, it was actually an in-store tasting that got me interested. An inexplicable blend of nine grapes (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muller-Thurgau, Semillon, Gewurtz, Muscat, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay), I would never have bought if I hadn't tasted it first.

The Evolution White, 11th Edition (Evolution is produced by the Sokol Blosser Winery) is white gold and very aromatic - the Alsace/Germanic grapes showing their stuff, I suppose. Starting with a powerful dose of white flowers, these were supported by oak, toasty bread, lemon and subtle peach aromas. On the palate this wine was very lemony, with a nice bitter persistency. Slightly effervescent as well. Opened for an evening of takeout Chinese food (Hot & Spicy), the wine paired very nicely with the Shrimp Toast (#26) and Hunan Dumplings (#20), pretty well alongside the Chicken with Crispy Spinach (#39), but paired rather poorly with the Lemon Chicken (#50) and Beef with Broccoli (#61). Nicely done.
12% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$21 (SAQ)

American Wine Month

Source: Joe, Napa Tour 2006

August is American Wine Month at Joe's. No particular reason, I just said so. To balance things out, if you will.

The problem I have in Montreal is availability. According to my stats, America is the fourth largest producer of wine, producing 515 million gallons of the stuff every year while consuming much more. From my perspective, I believe the meagre Montreal selection is more a consequence of supply than demand - Americans drink so much more wine than they make that precious little of the stuff leaves their thirsty clutches.

The end result is that the local selection is lacking, stuck in a perpetual "Chicken and Egg" situation - SAQ (the local wine monopoly) doesn't buy enough, so it's expensive, so nobody buys the stuff, so SAQ doesn't buy can see where that is going.

Fortunately, I get to the U.S. on business frequently enough that I can always tuck away two bottles (the tax-free limit). Last year's Napa adventure also helped stock me up, while this fall's trip to Sonoma should replenish the August carnage.

Attempts at wine date back hundreds of years (encouraged by Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and friend of the vine), but the U.S. wine industry really has its roots in the 1800s. (The Oxford Companion to Wine has a lengthy write up that I don't feel like paraphrasing at his point) Apparently, wine is produced in all 50 states today (someone please explain Alaska), but California is the dominant source, accounting for 90% of U.S. production. Given that stat, my cellar and the local wines on offer demand that this month's adventure stick mainly to California, supplemented by some wines of Oregon and maybe even a Washington State grand finale. For more on other U.S. wine regions, I refer you to Lenn (Long Island) and others.

Speaking of other sites, I can assure you there is no shortage of American wine blogs dedicated to American wine. Perhaps I will address that in a future post. Regardless, I think I will bring a slightly different perspective - that of an importer of American wines, residing halfway between Bordeaux and Napa.

Finally, while I appreciate any wine suggestions, please remember that your "I was in Santa Barbara last week and you really should try ____" suggestion is not very helpful - I cannot find ____ here! However, I will be in Sonoma this October, so winery / resto suggestions will be gratefully accepted (and most likely acted upon).

So, it is only one day into August and I already have two tasting notes ready to go - stay tuned.


PS - A riddle for my American friends: "If Joe is away from the pack, how come he is so knowledgeable about cheese?" (The answer to where Joe really comes from)

2001 Schleret Gewurtztraminer

I love Alsace wines, and the 2001 Charles Schleret Gewurtztraminer did not disappoint. Golden hued and very aromatic, this wine showed a plethora of pleasing aromas – white flowers, vanilla, honey, apricot, lychee, and buttery caramel. Lemon as well. Absolutely stunning. On the palate this off-dry/sweet wine coated the palate with enticing flavours of lemon meringue. Elegant, balanced, heavenly. I have no idea what I served this with, but it didn’t work. My suggestion – don’t serve it with anything. Simply bask in its glory...tied for my highest scoring white wine ever.
14% alcohol
Score: 18/20

Price: C$29.60 (SAQ)