Friday, February 29, 2008

Twelve Under $12: L.A. Cetto Cabernet Sauvignon

Diving blindly into the bargain bin for my Twelve Under $12 series I suppose it was inevitable that I would find a disappointing pour. L.A. Cetto surprised me with a nice Petite Sirah a few weeks back so I decided to try their Cabernet. The 2005 L.A. Cetto Cabernet Sauvignon was a pale cherry red with an interesting nose - chocolatey, jammy fruit, smokey salami, with a pleasant, rustic earthiness - but on the palate the hot, chalky texture delivered a big dose of overripe fruit and little else. Rather flat and uninspiring with unusual flavours, a much weaker effort than the Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon at this price point. To be fair, it tasted better the next day, but only a bit.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 12/20
Price: C$11.80

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Open That Bottle Night 9: 2000 Serpico dei Feudi di San Gregorio

Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) was started by the WSJ's wine couple, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, to encourage wine drinkers everywhere to open that bottle we have been sitting on, waiting for the "perfect" moment that never arrives.

OTBN presents a challenge for me, as I tend to open bottles simply BECAUSE "I haven't had one of those in a while" - every night is OTBN at Joe's! Last year I grabbed a pricey chardonnay from Piedmont and I return once again to quirky, expensive, Italian wine for OTBN 9. Searching through my spreadsheet for a wine I was deliberately avoiding I happened upon tonight's 2000 Serpico Dei Feudi di San Gregorio. After all, who buys obscenely expensive aglianico? And what the heck do you serve it with? The first answer, of course, is obvious...

A dense and foreboding ruby red in the glass, explosively aromatic, a meaty, butcher shop nose with prunes dominate, progressively changing and opening to reveal secrets of rose, sour cherry, plum, cedar, liquorice and a hint of thyme. Very dry and full bodied with wave after wave of velvety tannin and sour cherry cascading across the palate. Beautifully integrated fruit and tannins, incredible balance, with an interesting, rustic edge. Please, send donations...
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 18.5/20
Price: C$80 (SAQ)

...paired very well with rack of lamb marinated in a pistachio pesto, wrapped in pancetta

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2003 Justin Isosceles

A very good friend received some very good news today with positive implications for yours truly. Not wishing to be accused of 'premature celebration', I opted for what I thought would be a 'modest' celebratory pour, the 2003 Justin Isosceles (Paso Robles). A deep, dark cherry red with an overwhelming nose - tobacco, cocoa and blackberries dominate, with currants, cedar, coffee, smoke, almonds and a tarry background. A wall of powerful tannins and fruit spread across the palate - ripe and jammy, with a neat minerality underneath. Despite some stylistic hints of Napa, this was a very different cab from those northern California cab blends. Nicely done, but at this price not so 'modest'. Far too young, this needs more cellar time.
cork. 15% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$75 (LCBO)

Cheers, my friend!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Barolo vs. Barbaresco: Looking For Piemontese Terroir

In stark contrast to my Twelve Under $12 series was a towering wine tasting featuring some of the greatest, and priciest, wines of Piemonte. Our wine group went deep into our cellars to deliver the following, a mind blowing list of wines for Nebbiolo fans:

1996 Gaja Barbaresco
1996 Sandrone Cannubi Boschis
1997 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabajà
1998 Prunotto Barbaresco Bric Turot
1998 Marchesi di Barolo Cannubi
1999 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne
1999 Pio Cesare Barolo
2000 Paitin Barbaresco Sorì Paitin

Just to set the stage, our group's themes have rotated through the world's wine grapes and regions, but with a good basic command of the world's wines I now want to go deeper, really focusing on technique and terroir. With this in mind I "strongly suggested" that our next tasting dive deeper into a specific region, resulting in this high-end nebbiolo tasting to compare and contrast the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Now, before I go into my review I want to highlight that it was extremely difficult to properly assess the wines - with 14 tasters, 10 decanters, 12 different wines (yes, there are eight above, but like all great athletes we needed to "warm up" for the big event and "cool down" afterwards) and 100 glasses (including water glasses) pressed into service, this was more of a wine party than a structured tasting, the assessment further complicated by one ounce pours of wines that needed hours to develop. In that context I reluctantly publish both my scores and the overall ranking by the group - here are my notes:

My two highest scores were for Cosme's 1996 Sandrone (fifth place) and the 2000 Paitin Barbaresco (seventh), both scoring 19/20. Once again, a Sandrone Cannubi Boschis wowed me with extraordinary depth and complexity - first showing a modern-styled nose of creamy cola notes, then bursting forth with classic cedar, musk, truffle, dark earth and rose. So soft and velvety smooth with dry dusty tannins, reserved fruit and seemingly infinite length. I was nearly alone in my praise for the Paitin Barbaresco - musk, leather, nutmeg, flowers and a late developing nutty smell were the olfactory foundation for a complex and beautifully textured wine, the very long finish hinting of many pleasurable years to come.

My next two highest scores were for Ash's Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne (first) and Chris' Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco (eighth), both scoring 18.5/20. The Sandrone Le Vigne was very different, with inky vanilla and spicy nutmeg and cloves, but the highlight was a fine, well structured palate with silky tannins and gorgeous mouthfeel - the crowd favourite by a wide margin. The Cortese Barbaresco was another wine loved by Joe but disliked by the rest of the gang - very tarry on the nose, with nice secondary aromas from aging, hints of cumin, truffle, leather, venison, coffee and prunes. Very elegant, wrapping the palate in soft velvet and a never-ending idea why I was the only one who liked this.

My notes have three wines scoring 17.5/20: Cosme's Gaja Barbaresco (third), Lloyd's Prunotto Barbaresco Bric Turot (second), and my Marchesi di Barolo Cannubi (fourth). My Gaja rating probably stands out given the legend surrounding this estate, but this is the second Gaja Barbaresco that left me kind of flat. More floral on the nose, with musk, pepper, tar and cola notes. Elegant and balanced on the palate, with dry dusty tannins lengthy finish, but a bit thin and "hot". The Prunotto was tarry and flinty, with hints of cola and liquorice, but with less length and complexity vs. the other wines - very smooth and elegant, though. My Marchesi Cannubi was perhaps a touch less polished but more interesting than the two above - meaty prunes, cherry fruit, rose, truffle, leather and an odd industrial note that I couldn't quite place. Edgy, but interesting.

I scored Cam's Pio Cesare Barolo (sixth) last, score: 17/20. Pale cola and vanilla notes, but not much else on the nose. Edgy on the palate, to quote: "modern, simple, easy drinking".


(1) While not quite addressing my personal objective to define more clearly for me the difference between a Barolo and a Barbaresco, it was a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime (I hope not!) flight of wines that paired perfectly with a great group of tasters and a decadent spread of regional cheeses, sausage and foie gras. A terrific evening - many thanks to Cosme and Rebecca.

(2) The quality level was so high that most tasters protested having to rank order their least- to most-favourite wines. These dissident tasters quickly flagged their best and worst, but were sloppy with their middling rankings. As these wines were all very good wines I am not sure that the ranking (or my scores) is helpful.

(3) I ignored a Barbaresco and Barolo that started us off, as well as the two late arrivals - I will add those details (and a photo) as soon as I get those.

(4) I tasted a 1990 Gaja Barbaresco a few years back and I found the 1996 tonight similar - very polished, but lacking the emotion and complexity I look for at this price point. Given that the Gaja sells at multiples of this extremely pricey flight of wine, I fail to see the excitement. This is not a comment against Gaja per se - I loved the Gaja Bruenello recently (I even named Gaja a deity), loved the Gaja Darmagi, but I just can't get my head around the Barbaresco.

(5) I CAN get my head around Luciano Sandrone, everything, love them all - Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Barolos...

(6) For those who need to know, all the wines were sealed with cork and cost 6-15 times that of my $12 cheapos...

Next up, we go back to Burgundy...


Friday, February 22, 2008

Twelve Under $12: 2005 Marques de Marialva Reservera Tinto

A common theme for my Twelve under $12 has been a return to the familiar - random acts of wine buying result in too many bad surprises, so my fear is heightened in the $12 aisle. Tonight's selection follows a familiar path, as I have enjoyed a prior vintage at the recommendation of Malcolm Anderson, the former wine writer for The Gazette.

The red 2005 Marquês de Marialva Reserva comes from Portugal's Bairrada appellation. Light cherry red in the glass, an unexpectedly terrific nose of spicy oak and vanilla, black earth and truffles leapt out of the glass. Simple, crisp and light bodied on the palate with decent fruit - a "Bojo meets Rioja" treat. Probably the best wine I have ever tasted at this price point, and a wine that should pair easily with lighter or heavier meat dishes.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 15.5/20
Price: $10.95 (SAQ)

To quote my wife: "These have been really decent wines this week and there is no point in spending more on everyday wines." 'Nuff said

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Haiku Fan Mail

My father-in-law took issue with my feeble attempt at the Haiku format as I was missing the "kigo", or season word. In response he supplied me with a proper, and very well-written, wine Haiku:

"Poetic wine, so heady!
A cause to Fall? - Spring up
And drink again"

- Kenn

Who knew I married into a family of poets? Cheers, Kenn.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Twelve Under $12: 2006 Carmen Chardonnay

For my "Twelve Under $12" series I once again turned to an old favourite, a 2006 Carmen Chardonnay, and I was not disappointed. Pale gold with notes of lemon, petrol, fresh cut grass and almond extract. Fresh, green, and juicy on the palate, minerally with really nice balance, a terrific example of this varietal. My second $12 success with this winery, it is hard not to like at this price. (typically cheaper elsewhere)
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 14.5/20
Price: C$11.85 (SAQ)

Next up, a gem from Portugal, a disappointment from Mexico, cheap Torrontes and even a Romanian wine...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Twelve Under $12: Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon

Our fourth installment in my "Under $12" series led me to Chile in search of discount Cabernet Sauvignon. Sitting next to the Carmen Chardonnay that I have praised in the past, I thought I'd use that positive experience to lead me to a cheapo New World Cab.

Ruby red in the glass, the 2005 Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon was all wet gravelly and earthy on the nose, some blackberry, and nice green peppery notes with very little oak. Definitely not an oaky/jammy New World cab on the palate, it showed good acidity, coarse tannins and subdued fruit. A short finish, and a bit rough around the edges, but a maybe just a step above the average Vin de Table - nicely done.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 14.5/20
Price: C$11.60 (SAQ)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Twelve Under $12: Codorniu Clasico Brut Cava

I don't deserve to be married working late on Valentine's Day and opening a $12 bottle of bubbly, but the bubbly was good enough to win back her love.

Returning to familiar territory with the Codorniu Clasico Brut (NV), I was impressed once again by this cheap Cava - pale gold with a decent mousse and attractive notes of toasty bread, white flowers, pears, and earthy tropical fruit - a prelude to its crisp, creamy mouthfeel, and smokey-apple flavours. Yes, you can have "champagne-like" flavour every day - bravo!
cork. 11.5% alcohol
Score: 15.5/20
Price: C$12.35 (SAQ)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Vintages Feb 16th Release

It's a pretty good Vintages release for my Ontario friends this Saturday, featuring two of my Top 50 Cellar Picks and some interesting Aussie selections. I would particularly like to highlight the following releases:

While Argentina is best known for Malbec, I absolutely love the Catena Cabernet Sauvignon (2005, #985002, $19.95) - perhaps one of the most structured and interesting cabs I have tasted at this price point. It is also one of my Top 50 Cellar Picks. Decant.

I love a Madiran with a grilled steak, and the regular bottling of Chateau Bouscasse (2003, #743385, $18.55) is a great Madiran at a good price. This interesting, rustic, wine should be given a good decant.

The Castano Hecula, a mourvedre (or monastrell. 2005, #718999, $13.85) from Spain, is a consistently great wine - can I steer you wrong at $14?

Napanook, the second wine of Dominus, is a great California claret (2004, #63065, $39.95), marrying French style with California fruit in an accessible wine that will drink well today (with a good decant) or over the next few years. Another one of Joe's Top 50 Cellar Picks.

I also love the Dominus, and the 2004 Magnum (#63487, $201.95) is a deadly serious wine for long term cellaring. I may pick up a bottle for my daughter, another 2004 vintage.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WBW #42: Just 7 Words, A Wine Haiku

Seeking a challenge beyond the mandatory seven word wine review, I decided that my WBW #42 review should be in Haiku form. My apologies to Haiku enthusiasts everywhere...

Acidic palate
Vegetal cappuccino
A cabernet franc?

Wine: 2006 Podere Castorani Majolica Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 14/20
Price: C$12.35 (SAQ)

Close enough to $12, I call this Twelve under $12 #2.

Many thanks to Andrew of Spitoon and the whole Wine Blogging Wednesday crew.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Twelve Under $12: 2006 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio

For fun, and to learn, it's "Twelve under $12" for the next few weeks. Yep, that's right, Joe is going to one up that "big spender" Dr. Debs and hopefully find a good cheapie or two (or at least some decent cooking wine). Since finding Joe in the 12$ wine aisle is about as likely as finding Joe at a yard sale I really have no idea what I am getting into...

So, why $12? Given the taxes on booze in Montreal I figure this equates to ~US$10-ish everywhere else, which presents a good "Vin de Table" price point and will appeal to those starting to move beyond box wine.

I live by the rule that if someone is offering you a choice of 'white' or 'red', pick the white - at least it will be cold and refreshing. So I begin my foray into the unknown with a neat little white, the 2006 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico. Some faint citrus (orange marmalade) and floral notes from a thin, light-bodied white. Tasty, refreshing, with no rough edges, it falls off the palate so quickly you forget that you just gulped a glass. Chill for a great summer patio quaffer. An honest white that begs the question: "why would anyone buy a 20$ pinot grigio?"
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 13.5/20
Price: C$11.55 (SAQ)

Next up, a cheapo Italian red for WBW. Cheers!

Friday, February 08, 2008

2004 Keller Riesling Trocken

I happen to love German rieslings, but you don't see a lot of them here. I am not sure why, but I think there are a couple of reasons: (1) availability, as the SAQ has limited selections (2) I am never quite sure what meal I should be pairing an off-dry Riesling with, and (3) they tend to be pricey. But when local wine guru Bill Z reviewed some recent German arrivals last summer I picked up a half dozen - this was one of those recommendations.

The 2004 Keller Riesling Trocken (Rheinhessen) was glittering gold in the glass, with a nose of yeast (more like wet bread dough), banana, honey, flint and a faint hint of petrol. Impeccably textured on the palate, crisp and minerally with a nice backdrop of limes, this was one of the only wines I have ever tasted that was good before dinner, paired with the salad, paired with dinner, and was reopened the next day to increased pleasure. Very versatile, nicely made, all at a pretty good price point - the world needs more wine like this.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$22.85 (SAQ)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

2005 Argyros Estate

Despite a promise that the door to my cellar would be unlocked, Marcus showed up at my house for dinner with nearly a half-dozen bottles in tow "just in case". Are my wine selections that bad, or was Marcus ready to go on a bender? Whatever his intentions, it is clear that Marcus never leaves the house unprepared.

Warming up for our evening of Raclette, Marcus offered up a bottle of Greek wine. The 2005 Argyros Estate is a white wine from the Greek appellation (and Island) of Santorini. A truly unique bottle, it is a blend of grapes that I have never tasted before - Asyrtiko, Aidáni Aspro and Athíri. Very pale gold (nearly white the glass), it showed simple notes of flowers, limes and green hay that framed a juicy little white of great balance, nice bitter persistency and tingly acidity. Sipping this refreshing wine nearly transported me to Santorini...Definitely NOT a retsina, and worth seeking out.
Cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: (gift)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Raclette with Marcus: Bordeaux-Inspired Wines

Fellow Montreal blogger Marcus joined my bro-in-law and the rest of my family for a Saturday evening Raclette dinner. As our cheesy raclette also featured grilled strips of fine beef, we opted for red wine, using my last "Raclette Bordelais" as inspiration for tonight's Bordeaux- inspired theme. The wines were decanted around and hour before dinner and tasted blind.

On our left was 2000 Ghiaie Della Furba, a Tuscan blend of cabernet, merlot and shiraz. Tasted here previously (1,2) and one of my top cellar selections, it was a deep dark ruby red - the darkest of the three. Continuing the theme from previous tastings, this juice was spicy, pruney, leathery and earthy with dark berry fruit and some floral notes - easily the most interesting of the three. Dense blackberry fruit and big velvety tannins enveloped the palate for a nice smooth, long finish.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$41 (SAQ)

In the middle was Marcus' 2001 Dorigo Montsclapade, a cabernet (60%)/merlot (40%) blend from the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC in Italy - my first wine from this region. Dark cherry red, the nose lead with oak, tea leaf and black pepper, later showing some pine needle and a hint of prunes. On the palate it was very simple, smooth but unstructured, with mild, velvety tannins. Clean and simple, I thought it was the Canuck wine.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$39.25 (SAQ)

On the right was the 2002 Osoyoos Larose, a merlot-dominated Bordeaux blend. This wine is the product of a joint venture between two large wine producers, Vincor (now part of Constellation Brands) and Groupe Taillan (owners of Gruaud Larose). Ruby red, with complex notes of cedar, plum, stawberry, green pepper, tobacco, basil, flint and a dash of capuccino, it was an ever changing chameleon over the evening. Light bodied and delicate on the palate, delivering a modest finish that teased you with greatness, then disappeared. One of the rare Canadian wines reviewed on this site, it will be interesting to see if this wine survives the integration into the Constellation empire. I thought it was the Italian.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$45

In the end, the Ghiaie was the group's preferred wine, but I must confess that I enjoyed the Osoyoos Larose best with this meal. I continue to believe there is a great future for wine in Canada's Okanagan Valley, and as these vineyards mature we should start to see some truly compelling wines. Based on my experience so far, Merlot will be the grape to lead this region to greatness.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

2003 Chateau des Lumieres Morgon

Ok, so I haven't had a lot of Beaujolais lately. Ok, none. Before this post I had as many entries under the category "Beer" as I did under "Beaujolais". Am I missing something in the humble wines made from gamay? Time to find out.

Actually, tonight's wine was bought for another purpose - it was supposed to be tasted blind vs. a pricey Marcel Lapierre Morgon in my cellar, provide some context. But those two bottles just stood there on the floor of my cellar for months and I just couldn't wait for the perfect Beaujolais "tête-à-tête" any longer.

In the glass the 2003 Château des Lumières (Morgon) by Louis Jadot was obviously not your everyday Bojo. Deep, dark purple in hue with only a slight brick tinge, it was all raspberry and wet, chalky earth on the nose, also showing some dark, unsweetened cocoa - later a bit candied, like a cherry filled chocolate. Even less "everyday Bojo" were the ample, velvety tannins and tremendous depth. Not a lunchtime quaffer, it was a substantial wine with beautiful complexity and poise, but just a touch too chocolatey for my taste as the evening rolled on. Nicely made, it worked well with a roast chicken.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$24.15 (SAQ) - the website says '05, but I bought this '03 recently

Given the rather supportive reviews of Beaujolais here, I am surprised I don't drink it more often...something for my next visit to the shrink.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Another Nebbiolo d'Alba: Joe's Quest for Cheap Barolo

It happens to every wine enthusiast eventually - you fall in love with a wine (or style of wine) that is beyond the budget of mere mortals. Top Burgundies, California Cult Cabs, Bordeaux First Growths, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Vega Sicilia, etc., etc. One day you will have one of these, you will fall in love, and you will want to drink that wine again.

But then the harsh reality that you are not Bill Gates sets in (except for you, Bill, thanks for reading), so you put that flavour into the memory vault and seek out lower priced substitutes. I am smitten with the great, the expensive, Nebbiolos of Barolo and Barbaresco. Time to seek out a cheap alternative.

Tonight I opened a Barolo and a generic Nebbiolo to see if I could get that Barolo high from a Nebbiolo d'Alba, despite the major failure in my last attempt.

There was no doubt that the 1999 Gianfranco Alessandria Barolo was the star tonight - tobacco and flint, white pepper, poeny, hay, and a nice tarry nose to this beauty. Very dry with bing cherry fruit and velvety tannins. So classy, so elegant, and such a nice looong finish. More structured and finessed than the Nebbiolo below. Nice now after a long decant, or sock it away for a few more years.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: $59.95 (LCBO)

So did I find the grail? The 2003 Luciano Sandrone "Valmaggiore" Nebbiolo d'Alba was a great wine - juicy blueberries, damp undergrowth, liquorice, tea, vanilla, tarry/rubbery notes (pleasant tonight, not here) and toasty oak. Surprisingly well balanced for its youth, with a more juicy, up front modern feel, but never letting you forget that those gripping nebbiolo tannins were present.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: $40 est. (gift)

Was this generic Nebbiolo an inexpensive Barolo substitute? Not really - it wasn't cheap, and it lacked the structure and finesse of the Barolo. But it was a fantastic wine, and a fantastic Nebbiolo that might just calm a Barolo fix. Note that I have had a Sandrone Barbera, Dolcetto, and Barolo over the past 18 months - all excellent wines, truly a winery to seek out.

Both wines were decanted nearly 4 hours before dinner, were still drinking nicely throughout the evening, and paired extremely well with a wild boar roast and a bison roast

PS - A confluence of work, family and other issues have kept me away from this site, but not from my wine or my note pad. Stay tuned...