Sunday, January 27, 2008

Syrah/Shiraz: Unti vs. Kilikanoon

Tasting California's "Rhone Rangers" I have been thinking that these Syrah/Shiraz (and blends) are much more "French" than their Aussie cousins. Not stylistically, but there is something different and just couldn't put my finger on it. In search of answers, I paired two good examples (blind) from California and Australia with a roast leg of lamb:

The 2004 Unti Syrah (Dry Creek Valley) was bought at the winery in October, a visit suggested by knowledgeable locals. Deep purple in the glass, it smelled of grape jelly on first pour, evolving over the evening into more Rhone-like cheese and charcuterie notes. More reserved than the Aussie below (but a touch hotter), elegantly delivering a supple dose of fine tannins and fruit that lingered long enough to suggest a few more years in the cellar.
cork. 14.8% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: US$26 (winery)

The 2004 Kilikanoon "Killerman's Run" Shiraz (South Australia) was a deep cherry red with great aromatics. More meaty and leathery than the Unti, with fresh blackberries, black pepper, liquorice and walnuts intertwined. Well made but predictable on the palate, with a full dose of soft, luscious, vanilla fruit and dense tannins. A long finish, this wine should be put away for a few years.
screw top. 15% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$22.95 (SAQ)

Despite the more apparent alcohol, the Unti showed a more elegant "French" touch and paired better with the meal. The higher score for the Kilikanoon reflects more depth and complexity, with the alcohol being less up front, but I found it didn't match up to the dinner as well.

When in Sonoma I recall someone mentioning that the Syrah clones in California are the same as those in the Rhone, unlike Australia. I have not verified that - anybody out there know the answer?

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Thought I'd post this photo of champagne corks from our recent tasting. Notice how the '88 Vintage cork (far right) has shrunk considerably, the '98 Vintage corks (just to the left) are a touch thicker, and the Brut NV corks are standard champagne corks. I never knew champagne corks shrunk so dramatically over a time (see the discussion here) ...

Such dramatic shrinkage could lead to a flat wine. Fortunately for us that was not the case - the 1988 was the best of the night!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Guest Blogger: Aussie night in Canada

Tonight I welcome my good friend Lloyd, who is taking a load off my liver once again. I take Lloyd's Oz recommendations seriously - Lloyd was instrumental in building the Aussie corner of my cellar, which I believe is an enviable selection of 60-odd Oz collectibles. Here's a pair of recommendations that he (suspiciously) did not inform me of...

I’m an unabashed fan of Australian wines, and the two wines I opened for dinner with some good friends recently were a microcosm of what’s so good about Australia. Texas-Mesquite-rubbed chickens were on the grill with whole-roasted peppers and brown rice on the side, so I picked a GSM and a Shiraz for my Oz-oriented crowd, and didn’t miss with either.

The 2005 Kaesler Stonehorse GSM was spicy and full-bodied; not in-your-face, but hardly shy. It was an interesting match for hummus and spiced nuts, and gently oozed fruit and sweet chocolate that got better and better as cocktail hour stretched to 2+. Pepper on the nose and fine tannins seemed more Rhone than Barossa, but the sheer extract and good concentration of this one are decidedly Barossa. The alcohol is well-hidden behind the broad wall of fruit in here. Dark chocolate and cherry dominate with an interesting acidity and good length. This was a nice GSM at any price, but at under C$20, this represents a considerable value.

Of note, this is the first ever wine for me that was better the second day than the first. I’ve read and heard about this phenomenon it before, but thought it one of those urban myths. For the Stonehorse GSM, it’s the truth. A second bottle we opened but didn’t finish was notably smoother and rounder and slightly more concentrated and balanced after 24 hrs back under its screwtop. Clarissa did say she thought it was a bit too sweet on day two. The Stonehorse is widely available at the SAQ, and should be picked up at any sale for just over $20, a great value.
screwtop. 15.5% alcohol
Score: 17.25/20
Price: C$23.20 (less 10%)

The 2004 Turkey Flat Vineyards Shiraz Barossa was an incredibly pleasant surprise. The oak and licorice nose remind me of a favourite of mine (and Joe’s), the Elderton Command, but with a bit less concentration and aromatics. Coffee, cassis and plum round out the great nose that got better and better as the night went on. Full-bodied, round and broad – a mouthful of soft and wonderfully balanced red fruit and some blueberry and plum lead to a very long finish with some spice and very fine tannins that speak to potential for real longevity and improvement. Not quite the finesse of the Command, but impressive nonetheless at C$51 with a long life ahead of it. This was probably a bit early, but I bought a number of these and was too curious to wait.

This was the winner of the night and there was nothing left of the two bottles to test for next-day potential. The ’04 and ’05 Turkey Flat are available at SAQ and LCBO, and should be on the shopping list (especially for any upcoming sales). This wine was a great match for the rubbed chickens, but really came out (3 hrs+ post-decant) for the 85% dark chocolate for dessert.
cork. 15% alcohol
Score: 18.25/20
Price: C$51 (less 10%)

Together, these wines speak to the great combination of good Aussie wines – great taste, distinctive personalities, good-to-great value, early drink-ability with ageing potential and, in the spirit of most things Australian, good fun without taking itself too seriously!

Monday, January 21, 2008

2001 Villa Cafaggio Cortaccio at Toucheh

I met with Lloyd, a great friend and occasional "guest blogger", at a favourite local resto, Toucheh. To match the Persian/Italian-styled fare he brought an Italian wine, the 2001 Villa Cafaggio Cortaccio IGT, a wine made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark, inky red, it burst forth with violets and sweet sausage, supported by blackberry, prune, liquorice, cedar, cloves and flint. Full-bodied and bone-dry on the palate, with nice sour cherry fruit, velvety tannins and very fine balance, it was eerily reminiscent of the "La Gioia" I enjoyed recently. Beautiful, complex, with a nice lingering finish, it paired nicely with my chami kebab, and Lloyd says "fanatastic complement for a light eggplant parmigiana." Good now after a decant, or better in a few years.
cork. ~14% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: ~C$65 (SAQ)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Retaste: 2003 Chateau Les Pins (Blanc)

Marcus and I had a great wine tasting in November, but one of the bottles was corked. I finally got around to returning it - here is the note for you, Marcus:

Deep golden in hue, the 2003 Chateau Les Pins (blanc) was very perfumey on the nose - lavender and white flowers, papaya and limes, and a heavy dose of oak. Soft and luscious, but a bit off-balance (high alcohol, low acid) on the palate. Nice, bitter, citrus peel finish with good persistency. At its prime, drink now.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: $21.45 (SAQ)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Joe Cooks! Spanish Wine and Paella

Over the objections of my wife I got a Paella pan and a Spanish cookbook for Christmas. Trying it out for the first time, I went for a (nearly) classically styled Valencian Paella. To pair with this creation I pushed for a white but my wife was kind enough to let me use her kitchen, so I relented and poured some Riojas for dinner.

The 2000 Sierra Cantabria Coleccion Privada was a spectacular Rioja, and one of the best wines I tasted over the holidays. Ruby red with a tinge of brick in the glass, it regaled us with a gorgeous, perfumey nose - violet, rose and lavender, cooked berries, leather and musk, cloves, allspice, tobacco, smokey figs - an olfactory delight. The palate? Harmonious - dry velvety tannins and crisp acidity combine with crisp cherry fruit and a nice, soft texture and a long finish to deliver near perfection. In its prime, but this could be cellared for a few more years. A terrific value - yes, even at this price.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 18.5/20
Price: C$45 (SAQ)

On another night the 2001 Finca Allende "Vina Olvido" (Rioja) could have been a star, but that's show biz. Cherry red in the glass, it presented an attractive but uncomplex nose of smoke, milk chocolate, and prunes. But don't let that discourage you, as it tasted great. Juicy, spicy and elegant with nice, crisp acidity and modest fruit. Aging very well (I have had a few bottles over the years), but now is the time to enjoy this bottle.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$36 (Opimian)

And the paella? Well, let's just say that Joe needs to cook more and drink less - I used a store-bought chicken stock that was WAY too salty. The crowd reached for their water more than they reached for the wine...(a first in my house)

Monday, January 14, 2008


On Saturday I previewed our first-ever romp through Champagne. Funny, I can't say that our group thought it was the "best" tasting, but it was probably the most "fun"... could it be all those bubbles? The wines were as follows (in order of service, unblinded):

NV Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut
1998 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon
1988 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin "Rare Vintage"
1998 Pol Roger Brut Rosé
NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé
NV Bruno Paillard Rosé Première Cuvée

The favourite of the evening was Lloyd's 1988 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin "Rare Vintage", a gift to Lloyd. Twenty year old champagne? Yes! Very nice, and showing great complexity on the nose from the time in the bottle, but still fresh and vibrant on the palate. Creamy caramel, with notes of pear, grapefruit, earthy - smokey and minerally as well. Soft tiny bubbles, harmonious on the palate, a stunning wine - even more so considering that it is available online in the U.S. for ~US$70-80. Bravo!
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 19/20
Price: C$109 (LCBO)

While it was my fourth place, the group ranked Pramod's 1998 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon second place. Shiny gold in the glass with a nice, fine mousse, it was rather simple on the nose - toast/yeasty/smokey, some limes, lemon rind and white flowers. Minerally and focused, a competent effort but emotionally bland in my opinion. I find it hard to believe Pramod got it for this price - at Costco?!
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: US$120 (Costco)

The top rose and the third favourite (Joe's second favourite) was Chris' NV Bruno Paillard Rosé Première Cuvée. Light salmon-coloured with a very fine mousse, it was perfumey and sublime - rose petals, lime and cherry/kirsch aromas. Harmonious, with a soft mousse and a nice touch of fruit, it was a beautifully textured, seductive champagne. Tough to find, but worth the catch.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$77 (SAQ)

Cam's 1998 Pol Roger Brut Rosé edged out my wine for fourth place. A light pink - the deepest pink of the three rosés - it was gooseberries, minerals, tar, and some floral notes. The palate was minerally, toasty, and more aggressive, with larger bubbles than the rest. Nicely done and a great wine on any other night. Cam was suspicious of the very large display - given the QPR he was right to be suspicious.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$91 (SAQ)

Once again, Joe places near the bottom of the pack, as my NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé failed to impress this tough crowd. A pale salmon hue in the glass, it was pine woodsy at first, later lemon-lime, raspberry, yeast and liquorice - toasty but not buttery. Minerally, focused and beautiful - a "manly" pink wine.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price C$84.95 (LCBO)

Last to show up for the tasting, and last in the rankings, was Cosme's NV Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut. Pale gold in the glass, showing apples, hay, green grass and toast on the nose. Green and crisp with a mousse that was not quite up to the others. A nice champagne, but why bother with so many other great champs around? Hard to believe this was from the same house as the 1988 above.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$66 (SAQ)

While the rankings may give the illusion of a close race it was really a case of the top three, and then the rest. Hats off to the smaller producer, Paillard, for the best Rose, and the 1998 Veuve Clicquot for a balanced, complex champagne for a tremendous price. And chalk up another win for Lloyd - Joe is going to have to get serious now...

Next up - Cosme tasks us to compare Barolo and Barbaresco blind, next month...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Preview: Our First Champagne Tasting

Champagne! The word dances off the tongue...light, airy and magical, capturing the essence of the region. It is this magic that our tasting group hopes to capture tonight at our first ever Champagne tasting.

Despite the legendary name and its status as the spiritual home of sparkling wine, Champagne accounts for less than 10% of worldwide sparkling wine production. The region covers 34,000 hectares in the north of France, with approximately 29,000 hectares under vine. When you consider that the 34,000 ha number includes area covered by homes, roads and schools, it is obvious that virtually all of the suitable land is under vine (a topic addressed here).

There are three major grapes in Champagne: Pinot Noir (~38%), Pinot Meunier (~35%) and Chardonnay (~27%). According to The Oxford Companion to Wine there is also some Petit Meslier, but I don't have any stats on that one. Most of the wine is a blend of grapes and different vintages, with 80% of the wine being non-vintage (NV). Vintage champage comes from particularly good years, on average 4 or 5 times per decade. Most champagne is a white wine, but there are also rosés (generally made by adding still red wine), "blanc de blancs" (white, but only Chardonnay) and "blanc de noirs" (white champagne from the black grapes). There are also limited quantities of still red, white and rosés. Champagne is the only major wine region in France with just one appellation, and the only appellation where producers are permitted to omit "appellation d'origine contrôlée" (or AOC) from the label.

Approximately 70% of production comes from the 7 big champagne houses, with the balance coming from growers and co-ops. (see Brooklynguy for great comments and reviews of "grower" champagne). There are nearly 20,000 growers in Champagne, with the vast majority (~14,000) selling their grapes to the big houses. It is interesting to note that 2/3rd of champagne is sold in France. For those of us residing outside of France over 90% of champagne comes from the major brands, but within France the grower and co-op champagne accounts for 50% of sales.

What will make tonight's tasting interesting is that no one in our group seriously collects or tastes champagne on a regular basis - I bet half the group doesn't even like the stuff! (all in the quest for knowledge...) Combine limited cellar selections with a competitive spirit and I expect we'll see some last minute shopping, likely to be focused on the global houses (whites and rosés). While Neil has made a strong case for "grower champagne", with a limited selection available on short notice I doubt any of these will make an appearance - Neil and I will have a rematch someday...

Unfortunately, I don't know how we are going to blind the event, and given our lack of knowledge I think we will stick to an unblinded format, as per our first large white tasting last September. Stay tuned for the results!

PS - my brief stop in Champagne last summer...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Guest Blogger: Super-sized Disappointment

Once again I welcome my good friend Lloyd, who shares a "super-sized disappointment". While a corked bottle is a disappointment that all of us have experienced, sometimes it is more heartbreaking than others...

The 1996 Chateau La Gaffeliere, St. Emilion Grand Cru (Magnum) represented many firsts for me. My first magnum; my first wine over $100, and my first Bordeaux bought to age. I didn’t even own a standup cellar in 1999 when I paid a scary C$120 for what I was then told would be a very special wine after 2005. If only.

On an occasion for a group I hosted in November, I finally decided to open it. I stood it up for 48 hrs, brought it gently to room temperature and brought the cork out perfectly. But it never quite went away as the dreaded taint filled my nostrils. I was in denial for the first hour. “It’ll blow off”, I explained patiently to Clarissa as she twisted her nose at her glass, “St. Emilions with 10+ years do this all the time, you know.” But it didn’t, and all the emotions went through my head. I had so much invested in this bottle, which had seen me through 2 wives, 3 homes and 4 cellars (holding prominent places in each one), and that I had considered opening so many times (but always waited for that special occasion).

I’m hardly a cork-taint-virgin. I’ve opened my share of corkers, at home and about. I’ve been somewhat lucky, though, falling way under the 10% of cork-enclosed bottles that’s supposed to be the average. But this was a Magnum, my first. Sorry, am I whining? Well maybe the biggest part of the disappointment was the obviously great wine underneath. Vanilla, nuts (almond?) and red fruit – strawberry and cherry – come blazing through on the palate, which was medium bodied and classically balanced. Nice wood and a bit of mushroom or truffle that was too close the cork to accurately discriminate, but it was there. Such potential.

Many of us have wines tucked away for that special occasion, and memories of great wines that have as much or more to do with the company and the occasion than the wine itself. My Gaffeliere was probably a good reminder of the emotive potential of the juice we love so dearly. Clarissa keeps telling me you need the bad to really appreciate the good…and we know she’s always right…
Score: Corked
Price : C$119.95 (SAQ), Magnum

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reserva Wine Club - A New Wine Club for Canada

Today Canada's major loyalty program, Aeroplan, announced a new wine club called the Reserva Wine Club. Exclusive to Aeroplan members, those who join will have "access" (i.e. you are "allowed" to purchase) to a specially selected mixed case of six bottles every two months. These wines will be chosen by an expert tasting panel and will not be available in Canadian stores otherwise. Members will also receive Tidings Magazine, get a joining bonus, and earn miles on their purchases.

At first glance I thought Opimian, The Wine Society of Canada (Canada's only wine club) might be dismayed at this turn of events. But the inclusion of Tidings Magazine and the logistics for picking up the wine reek of Opimian involvement...?

Regardless, the question comes to mind: Why join the Reserva Wine Club when you can join Opimian? The Opimian Select program offers mixed cases pre-selected for you, and you can order from their regular catalogue as well (I will discuss Opimian in greater detail at a future date, but this write-up may help). It would seem that the key differences are that the annual membership fee for Reserva is slightly lower and you collect Aeroplan miles on your purchases. Beyond that, it is impossible to say who has the better wines - both seem to have equally obscure providers.

So the wine club concept is coming to Canada in a splashier way vs. the rather low-key promotion of the Opimian Society. I have to think the growing interest in wine and the Aeroplan demographic will make Reserva a hit, but I am not sure how a mixed case of cheap wine sits with this blogger. From my perspective, if you are looking to randomly try pre-selected wines in this price range, this could be a way to get you out of your zone - and collect Aeroplan miles to boot. But for me, I don't need the help with the miles or getting out of my zone so I think I'll pass (for now...).

PS - for my friends outside of Canada a wine club not a novel concept, but because of various regulations up here (and a rather small domestic industry) the wine club concept remains an oddity. I'm hoping we see more of it.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

1998 Clarendon Hills Grenache Clarendon Vineyard

I can't say I hate Grenache like my friend Lyle, but I am certainly not as "into" the grape as I used to be. However, I have a few special bottles of grenache and I wanted to open it as a treat for my father-in-law, a grenache-lover. This wine, from (arguably) Australia's best maker of grenache, was not a disappointment.

The 1998 Clarendon Hills Old Vine Grenache (Clarendon Vineyard) was garnet red, almost brick-red in the glass, visually showing signs of its age. The nose began with almond extract and a gravelly/minerally structure, cheese (pecorino with truffles), spring flowers, cherries, mint, leather, and copious spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and liquorice). Coffee and some prunes as well, an olfactory delight! On the palate it was rich, velvety tannin and crisp berry fruit, with a nice lengthy finish and not showing the 15% alcohol as much as one might expect. Much less dense and fruity than my most recent Clarendon grenache. Classy, flavourful, this could be the best pure grenache around.
cork. 15% alcohol
Score: 18.5/20
Price: C$47.70 (SAQ)

and enjoyed at one of our formal tastings)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Reflections on 2007

I don't wish to review a "Best of 2007" today - far too many great wines in 2007 and "Best" must be in context. Nor do I have 2008 resolutions to share, although you can be certain that I have made some (Hint: Germany). But I want to let you in on a secret - Joe's Wine is NOT a collection of tasting notes.

While it may look like I am emptying my wine cellar to give you some wine recommendations, that is not the case. Joe's Wine is a cleverly crafted wine "home school" for a guy with lots of wine and no time to take a course. (ok, maybe clever is a stretch...)

So I buy something I have never tasted. I drink it. Then I stash it away to see what it will taste like in a few years. Or I blind it to compare: Does price make a difference? Terroir? Vintage? What pairs well, and what doesn't? Which tasters are more reliable and in tune with my palate? Is the wine changing, or is my palate changing? And I read, lots.

Study, study, study. (If only I was so committed in College) All the while I take copious notes, and more often than not I share those with you. This is my personal wine journal, and I hope you enjoy reading.

So please do not consider my posts as wine recommedations (although I am thrilled when one of you pick up a great bottle I recommended). I recognize that the price point of many of these wines and the aging requirements limit my audience and most of you won't bother. But what I do hope is that you get out of that darn rut and try something new, drink blind, explore. One of my greatest acheivements has been getting my good friend (and Shiraz-oholic) Eden to enjoy some Monastrell, Malbec and Tannat, sending him on a new journey.

Yes, I know I wrote about why I blog in a previous post, but in the end if you all stopped reading I would still be writing because it is the only way I learn.

So what brings Joe to such an introspective moment? I am not drinking tonight, but I thought this podcast by Tim at Winecast (an hour long "state of wineblogging" Alder, Debs and Gabriella & Ryan) was food for thought.

All the best in 2008 - Cheers!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2004 Kilikanoon Watervale Riesling Mort's Block

I have only tried a few New World rieslings, so when Edward was talking about an Aussie riesling I asked for a few recommendations. Of the four Oz rieslings on the local liquor monopoly website, the Kilikanoon was his recommendation.

The 2004 Kilikanoon Watervale Riesling Mort's Block comes from Australia's Clare Valley. Shiny pale gold in the glass, the nose was more petrol and minerals than I recall with other New World rieslings, also showing attractive notes of white flowers, lime, white grapefruit and honey. On the palate it was crisp, elegant and refreshing with a minerally/steely focus. The best New World riesling I have ever had, and perhaps amongst the best rieslings I have ever had. A great match for a mixed selection of sushi and sashimi. Thanks Ed!
screw top. 12% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$24.70 (SAQ)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

G.H. Martel "Cuvée Romance" NV

For New Year's Eve the missus and I opened a bottle of Martel's Cuvée Romance, a wine that we picked up at the winery last summer. A visually stunning bottle, but I didn't bring this back in my checked baggage for looks!

The Martel Cuvee Romance Brut NV was green apple and a lemon croissant, later smelling like bread dough. Yeasty and toasty, with a nice soft mousse. Crisp and refreshing with subtle flavours, almost prosecco-like. Uncomplex, but elegant and absolutely delicious. A great value!
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: ~20 Euros (winery)

PS - according to the winery only 40% of their wine leaves the country so this wine may be hard to find.