Saturday, January 31, 2009

2002 Chateau de Chambrun

The Lalande-de-Pomerol appellation is overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, Pomerol. Even Wikipedia has an empty page for the appellation, meriting a simple footnote in the Pomerol entry: "The next-door and slightly larger "satellite" appellation of Lalande-de-Pomerol produces similar but simpler wines, which are less long lived and more affordable."

While this may be true, the wines of Chateau de Chambrun are considered to be amongst the stars of this appellation, and are neither simple nor "affordable"...

Welcoming green tannins and cedary tobacco notes on the nose of the 2002 Château de Chambrun (Lalande-de-Pomerol), later releasing rose petal and bing cherry notes, some fresh earthy/flinty aromas, basil and vegetal notes as well. Nicely textured on the palate, but the firm tannins, fresh acidity and light fruit don't fully come together - a touch austere, maybe how Bordeaux used to be (or a reflection of the '02 vintage)...
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: ~C$77 (Opimian)

PS - first tasted here in the early days of Joe's Wine.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It gives me great joy...

In August I announced my final push for membership in the Century Club, a glorious organization devoted to obscure wine varietals. I just received a scroll announcing my membership - it will be framed and placed in an appropriately important place in my home.

Cheers to all of my fellow Wine Century Club members!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2004 Chateau St. Thomas

A fellow Montrealer, Fadi, connects with me once in a while. Recently, in response to my post on the Chateau Kefraya "Comte de M", he suggested another pricey Lebanese wine:

The 2004 Chateau St. Thomas starts with leathery, black earth and ripe, dark cherries (rather characteristic for the Lebanese wines I have tasted), but remained closed for some time. A healthy dose of oxygen liberated some additional aromas later that evening: gamey meat, violets and fresh cut wild flowers, some compote and pencil shavings - very compelling. Heavy on the palate at first, very dense dark fruit with nice, green tannins and very long finish that hints at further development (but drinking well now). One sentence? Kinda like someone poured a ripe vintage Northern Rhone into my Bordeaux. Those "medals" adorning the bottle seem well-deserved -very impressive, thanks Fadi.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$24.20 (SAQ)

Endnote: my wife has a four point rating system for wine:

(1) "Oh, I don't like this"
(2) No comment
(3) "Yes" (when prompted "do you like this?"), and
(4) "Oooooh, I LIKE this..." (unprompted)

Based on this we have a four-pointer tonight.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stockin' the New Cellar: Joe's Top 50 Cellar Picks

(photo: inside the Steltzner cellars)

I prefer not to "recycle" old posts, but once a year I like to update my Top 50 Cellar Picks: cellar-worthy reds priced from C$20-40. The rationale is detailed in my original post below, with this update of a top page on my site is to reflect new successes, as well as disappointments with previous picks.

Here's the original post (1/22/07) followed by my updated picks:

For Christmas, my good friend Eden received from his (perfect) wife some wine racks to start collecting. To put this new storage to work, he requested my "Top 50" list of wines, priced from C$20- C$40, for cellaring. Fifty wines is very ambitious, but I'll take stab at it! Sorry for the lenghty post...

In considering this request, I had to work within the following parameters:
  • Red wine only - He does not drink white wine (philistine!), so no need to bother there.

  • Cellar worthy - They should be wines that may benefit with age, or at least have a few years of cellaring in them.

  • Availability - These should not be rare/difficult to find offerings.

  • Vintages - A winery that seems to perform reasonably well over a variety of vintage conditions.

  • Balance - While he has a clear preference for Aussie Shiraz, I felt he needed to expand the collection to cover some old world wines as well.

  • Previously tasted - No recommendations from books, just stuff I know.

Here were my suggestions, grouped by region:

With Bordeaux prices rocketing, it is not the easiest region for "values", but I have a few ideas in the target price range:

  1. Chateau Pibran (Pauillac) - Classic Bordeaux, good year in and year out.
  2. Chateau Croix-Mouton (Superieur) - by Jean-Phillipe Janoueix, the name was changed to "Croix-Mouton" (from "Mouton") due to a legal dispute with the 'other' Mouton in Bordeaux...
  3. Chateau Potensac (Medoc) - Another classic Bordeaux
  4. Chateau Clarke (Cru Bourgeois) - Probably a touch more modern as of late, but nicely made.
  5. Chateau Pipeau (St-Emilion) - Is it possible to get a good St-Emilion in this price range? Yes!

The Rhone is host to numerous great values, and an excellent way to draw my friend out of the safety of Australia and into the "Old World". Here are just a few:

  1. Chateau Signac "Cuvee Terra Amata" (Cotes du Rhone) - Big, brawny modern-styled Rhone, a great value
  2. Domaine du Vieux Lazaret (Chateauneuf du Pape) - At the high end of the assigned price range, but a tremendous CdP that shames some at twice the price.

While the wines of the Southwest are not widely known, the following estates appear widely available and make compelling, age-worthy wines:

  1. Chateau Montus (Madiran) - Tremendous, age-worthy wines made from the Tannat grape by the talented Alain Brumont
  2. Chateau Bouscasse/Vielles Vignes (Madiran) - More Tannat, Alain Brumont
  3. Chateau Lagrezette (Cahors) - A French take on Malbec, various cuvees exist, very nice and age-worthy.

I could probably fill the list with Languedoc-Rousillon wines, but here is a sampling. I especially like the wines of Pic St-Loup:

  1. Chateau Lancyre "Grande Cuvee" (Pic St-Loup) - Well made Grenache/Syrah
  2. Chateau Cazeneuve "Le Roc des Mates" (Pic St-Loup) - Deep, rich and complex

I dove into the Loire this past year, and found two wines that fit the theme:

  1. Charles Joguet "Clos du Chene Vert" (Chinon) - beautiful expression of Cab Franc
  2. Charles Joguet "Clos de la Dioterie" (Chinon) - beautiful expression of Cab Franc

The reds of Burgundy are difficult to fit into this post, mainly due to "availability" (and hefty prices), but here are a few. I don't do the region justice - check out Brooklynguy for a deeper dive into Burgundy.

  1. A et P de Villaine "Les Montots" (Mercurey) - perhaps a touch more challenging to locate than most on this list, but can be found and is a nice price for good Burgundy
  2. Nicolas Potel Santenay Vielles Vignes - a lovely Burgundy at this price point

Broadly speaking, Spain is filled with values, but the key is consistent availability. I would point to:

  1. Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva (Rioja) - Great steak wine
  2. Hacienda Monasterio Crianza (Ribera del Duero) - You must try this, fantastic
  3. Sierra Cantabria (Rioja) - Multiple cuvees, all excellent values
  4. Muga (Rioja) - Very nice take on Rioja and widely available
  5. Quinta da Quietud (Toro) - Availability may be a challenge, but a must have

I couldn't possible forget about Italy. I could probably find 50 wines easily that would be great for the cellar, but pricing can sometimes be high. Here are a few selections:

  1. Clerico "Trevigne" Barbera D'Alba (Piedmont) - Surprising complexity for Barbera
  2. Fonterutoli Chianti Classico (Tuscany) - Great consistency across vintages, ageworthy
  3. Castello Banfi "Colvecchio" (Tuscany) - A Tuscan Syrah? Absolutely.
  4. Capezzana "Ghiaie Della Furba" - A super "Super Tuscan" at a more reasonable price point
  5. Belguardo Poggio Bronzone (Morellino di Scansano) - Nice consistency
  6. Di Majo Norante "Don Luigi" (Molise) - How many ways can I express my love for this wine? Simply awesome - if this list were rank order I would consider it near the top.
  7. Taurino "Notarpanaro" (Puglia) - Obscure grape (negroamaro) from an obscure region, excellent wine.
  8. Planeta Syrah (Sicily) - From Sicily. A nice, but different, take on Syrah.
  9. Allegrini "Palazzo della Torre" (Veneto) - Complex, interesting, balanced, reat value
  10. Allegrini "La Grola" (Veneto) - Ditto

Australia seems to be a go-to region for great values. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Penfold’s Bin 389 - Cab/Shiraz, while not cheap it fits in the range. A classic.
  2. Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon - my only Margaret River selection, very Bordeaux like, aging well.
  3. D'Arenberg "The Lauging Magpie" - A compelling wine for the price, nice year to year consistency.
  4. Elderton Barossa Shiraz - An excellent wine, seeking a more restrained "French" take on Aussie shiraz
  5. Rosemount GSM - I would have put the D'Arenberg Ironstone Pressings here, but the price is above my $40 limit...a nice GSM and widely available
  6. Greg Norman Cabernet Merlot - This has the stuffing to put away for a few years.
  7. Yalumba "The Signature" Cabernet Shiraz - Consistently good, with aging potential.

Chile should be a good source of inexpensive reds, but I haven't tasted that many. Here are two:

  1. Montes Alpha Merlot - This would blow Miles away...
  2. Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre (Cab or Merlot) - powerful, complex New World takes on Bordeaux

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Argentina:

  1. Altos Las Hormigas Reserva - Widely available, very nice
  2. Catena Cabernet Sauvignon - The regular cuvee is an excellent, structured take on this grape
  3. Norton Privada - Prices have moved up from below $20 to above $20, but still a great wine

Two South Africans, including a Pinotage:

  1. Kanonkop Pinotage - meant for aging, very interesting wine, not for everyone
  2. Meerlust Rubicon - a classically styled Claret, with a hint of S. Africa

Unfortunately, a lot of the U.S. wines I could recommend are not widely available or come in outside the necessary price range. Here are a few California selections:

  1. Napanook - Excellent second wine from the maker of Dominus
  2. Ramey Claret - Nice Claret.
  3. Justin Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - Good value
  4. Cline Small Berry Mourvedre - Different, should age nicely
  5. Unti Syrah - Terrific Syrah at this price point


This post is not definitive, and I (and my friend) would love to hear any other suggestions you may have that fit the parameters above.


Monday, January 19, 2009

An Eclectic Flight of Wines and an Impromptu Tasting

My good friend Cosme suggested a Friday night get-together for a bottle of wine, but some frantic, last-minute, Blackberry Messenger exchanges led to a less intimate affair with about half of my wine group and four great bottles - a formal tasting without formality! How fun is that?

Last minute the gang scraped together a wonderfully eclectic set of wines:

1997 Drei Doná Tenuta la Palazza Graf Noir
2003 l'Ecole no. 41 Perigee
2003 Chateau Bernadotte
2006 Bouchard Pere et Fils Le Corton

I won't declare a "winner" tonight - my scores were nearly identical and these weren't really comparable, but here are some notes on a great evening of wine:

My 2003 l'Ecole no. 41 Perigee was first featured here in August of 2007 during American Wine Month. Definitely the softest, jammiest, wine of the evening, a wonderful nose of smokey currants, leather and violets, flinty cherries, cocoa and grenadine with some vegetal notes in the background. A big, heavy wine on the palate, earthy and minerally...definitely that ripe fruit I tasted 18 months ago, but a half point lower this time around. Score: 17.5/20

You can count on Lloyd to bring something aged and intriguing, so tonight's 1997 Drei Doná Tenuta la Palazza Graf Noir (55% Sangiovese, 30% Uva Longanesi, and Cabernet Franc) was par for the course. Musty on the nose, like the rind of brie cheese, it took a long time to open up but that patience was rewarded with some truffle-y mushroom, vegetal and floral notes. A joyous, velvety texture on the palate with great balance, a very long finish and decent acidity, but a bit too heavy with the oak for my taste. Blinded I thought aged Bordeaux at first, but with further development and some nudging from Lloyd I guessed Super Tuscan - who would have guessed "Super Emilia-Romagna"? Score: 17.5/20

And you can count on Cosme to bring a Burgundy. The nose of the 2006 Bouchard Père et Fils Le Corton Grand Cru was subtle, but the spicy (musk and cloves) and oaky notes dominate, some fresh rasberries, vanilla and leather supporting. Soft, smooth and luscious with good minerality, modest acidity and a decent finish - not as tightly wound as I like my Burgundies, but I suspect this would be a crowd pleaser. Hard to believe this is the same wine as the 2002 I raved about. My take? This is closed down and needs a few years in the cellar. Score: 17/20.

My apologies to Chris, but his 2003 Chateau Bernadotte arrived freezing cold out of the cellar so we set it aside for a while - by the time we got to it I was done taking notes! From memory it was reminiscent of my comments on the 2003 Vintage in Bordeaux - very drinkable today, with classic dense, woodsy tannins and ripe fruit.

It is really hard to compare and contrast such different wines, but what I can say is that the Graf Noir generated the most enthusiasm and conversation (how often do you drink Uva Longanesi?). I loved it, but I was a bit put off by the heavy oak (same for Le Corton). But these comments are secondary to the thrill of sharing some odd wines and wonderful companionship - sometimes the best tastings are unplanned and unstructured!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cloud 9 Liquors

A recent business flight routed me through Calgary, where I noticed that the Cloud 9 Liquor & Wine Store has reopened. Now there is nothing novel about a Duty Free shop in an Airport, but Cloud 9 is not a Duty Free shop - it is a shop for Canadians to engage in a little "inter-provincial tax arbitrage".

You see Alberta is Canada's oil province, and its lower taxes (and no government-run liquor monopoly) are evident in lower wine and spirits prices, for the most part. Calgarians laugh at me, saying Cloud 9 is way more expensive than other local shops, but they miss the point - with prices for many products up to 20% lower than those at home, out-of-province travelers don't have time to drive around town for an extra 5%.

Cloud 9 used to exist just behind the check in (but before security) and proudly advertised its prices vs. those for BC Liquors and LCBO. But then the 2006 terrorist plot ended air travelers' ability to carry-on wine (which really pissed me off) and Cloud 9 closed.

Now I haven't been to Calgary in a long time, so I don't know when it reopened, but it has reopend behind security. That's right - check your bags, clear security, pick up a Starbucks and do a little liquor shopping. And since you are past security you can carry it onto the plane.

Does Cloud 9 have a dizzying array of wine? No, but it is pretty good. Is it always cheaper than SAQ or LCBO? No, not always. But there are many deals to be had (especially single-malt scotch).

I couldn't pick up a bottle this time as I was on an outbound flight with a short connection, but I do recommend that out-of-province travelers waiting for a flight in Calgary stop by and pick up a bargain.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chile vs. Australia: 2002 Elderton Ashmead and Don Melchor

I love blinded wine tastings when they are most like a scientific experiment, controlling as many variables as possible for a deep palate-learning experience. Tonight we have two New World Cabernets with the same amount of age (2002 Southern Hemisphere), but separated by the vast Pacific. A perfect experiment would have the same winemaker on both wines, but tonight terroir and wine making blend together to create different results:

It is no secret that I love Elderton's wines, but most of those have been Shiraz. Tonight we tasted their high-end Cabernet Sauvignon offering, the 2002 Elderton Ashmead. An absolutely gorgeous nose - leafy tobacco, violet and blackberries at first, then some earthiness, wet stones, toasty oak and a wallop of Barossa fruit - some nice evolution over the evening. A palate of ripe, juicy fruit, terrific balance, and a lengthy finish, a well-made, classic New World cab. Smoother, softer and fruitier than the Chilean below, you could drink this now but I will keep my other bottle for a few more years.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$69 (LCBO)

One of Chile's most celebrated wines is Concha y Toro's Don Melchor. The first whiff of the 2002 Don Melchor hit me with a powerful dose of ripe, dark, peppery fruit (blackberry and cassis), which I thought Aussie, but that blew off to reveal a green, funky, earthiness and some raw, gamey meat and classic violet notes. Spicy and fresh, I loved the velvety texture and meatiness that emerged over the evening, as well as the more restrained use of oak, but it was a touch more awkward on the palate than the Ashmead. But that awkwardness was sorting itself out over the evening and I wonder if these scores will reverse in a few years...
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$44.78 (SAQ)

Scores can be misleading, and although the depth and complexity of the Ashmead gave a slightly higher score I preferred the Chilean with a bacon-wrapped filet mignon. Now some might take issue with the very material $20 price difference, but that is misleading as the Don Melchor routinely commands higher prices these days (in line with the Ashmead).

Blinded, the three tasters had no trouble picking which was Aussie and which was Chilean, as the initial fruitiness of the Chilean dissipated and the peppery fruit of the Ashmead screamed Barossa.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tyrrell's Brokenback Shiraz 2005 (Syncro Tasting)

Amongst wine bloggers Ed is probably the closest to my views and ideas about wine. Perhaps as science guys we both take an objective, calculating approach to our passions, but it is our quest to just plain taste more and challenge our palates that makes us of similar minds. Ed would be a perfect tasting buddy but for the 18,000 kilometres separating us...

With parallel minds we decided once again to taste the same wine and share notes. But despite sharing with Ed the sacred spreadsheet that details my cellar contents, we were unable to locate an identical wine in both of our caves, so we had to go shopping for tonight's "synchronized tasting":

The 2005 Tyrrell's Brokenback Shiraz hails from Australia's Hunter Valley. Meaty cherries, damp moss, leather and violets - and some late appearing spearmint, hay and truffles on the nose - missing those big peppery notes of a Barossa Shiraz. Crisp, fresh and noticeably lighter-bodied than a Barossa shiraz, some roughness around the edges disappearing over the evening. A nice, minerally texture but a modest finish, this food-friendly Shiraz is ready now. If this wine is representative of the region I will have to drink more Hunter Valley Shiraz.
Screwcap. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: $24.20 (SAQ)

Ed's Notes Here, note the very different labels

PS - (1) I would never, ever, spit a wine (ok, almost never). (2) I shook it all right, to the rhythmic sounds of the Soul Cellar...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Joe's Wine Moves to Toronto (Almost)

Source: Wikipedia

Montreal is a great wine town, with a love of food and wine that is unequaled in North America. We Quebecois each consume 20 litres per year of the stuff, (not quite up to European standards, but a respectable clip) and in North America it is the only major city I know of where wine with lunch is a common, acceptable practice.

Our love of wine is untainted by the presence of a local wine industry, so while there is a strong French influence in our wine culture we taste and enjoy most of the world's wines. Add to this a bevy of great restaurants and a government monopoly that occasionally passes on the savings from its buying power and we have it pretty good. Nothing is perfect, but pretty darn good.

With that background it was with great sadness that I began drafting a departure post in mid-December, as all things pointed to an imminent move of the family to Canada's "other city", Toronto.

Well, life throws you some curves - the family will be staying in our adopted hometown. To my Toronto-area friends and family, I am sorry I won't be joining you and drinking more LCBO wine. To my Montreal friends and tasting group - how could I leave you?!

In homage to Montreal stay tuned for some additional posts featuring "all things great and vinous" in Montreal.


Monday, January 05, 2009

2005 Chateau de Beauregard Moulin a Vent "Clos des Perelles"

Ok, Beaujolais is rare enough around here, but a Moulin à Vent weighing in at 14%?! Now THAT's unusual...

Fortunately, the 2005 Château de Beauregard "Clos des Pérelles" hid that powerful alcoholic punch quite well. Pretty wild flowers at first, the nose later reveals some earthy wet stones, a hint of cherry candy, mint, and a curious scent of popcorn (not the microwave stuff, air popped). Absolutely gorgeous soft velvet on the palate, delicate and minerally, bright and crisp, all in perfect balance and impeccably paired with duck legs and crispy shrimp. My wife says "one of the best Beajolais I have ever had" - I think I agree.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$26.85 (SAQ)

Friday, January 02, 2009

2003 Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir

I haven't acquired a taste for the wines of New Zealand. It is not that I don't like them, I just can't get my head around the QPR - generally speaking, I can get good Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, or even Chile and S. Africa, at better prices...ditto for the Pinots. But tonight's wine was a gift - an infinitely good QPR.

The 2003 Churton Pinot Noir (Marlborough) was kindly donated by my good friend Peter, but what I failed to recognize at the time was that this was an aged bottle from his personal cellar (the '07s are on the shelves of the SAQ). An impressive nose of meaty cooked fruit, earthy strawberries, slate and truffles, with a hint of white flowers. Gravelly, bitter fruit on the palate with very nice acidity, silky tannins, and a deceptively long finish. This certainly has the body and acidity to go longer, but I like this one today. Thanks Peter - I would even call this a good QPR if I had to pay for it...
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20