Friday, February 27, 2009

Two Takes on Mendoza: Norton Privada and Clos de los Siete

Digging though my cellar I noticed two takes on Medoza's 2005 vintage from two of the better winemakers - one, a modern-styled Malbec, the other a more traditional blended wine.

The 2005 Clos de Los Siete shows trademark Michel Rolland (a part owner in this project) - dark cocoa and black cherries on the nose, a strong dose of violet, some blueberry, black pepper, and flint. Soft and voluptuous on the palate, with dense velvety tannins and nice spicy, long finish. A nice wine, but a style I have moved away from over the years.
cork. 15% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$24 (SAQ)

I have to admit I was more excited about the 2005 Norton Privada, a blend of Cabernet, Malbec, and Merlot (typically the three grapes are nearly equal in the blend), simply because I knew what I was going to get with the Clos de Los Siete but with this I had no idea (it has been years since I had a Privada). Impressive, and quite different on the nose, with pipe tobacco, vanilla and white pepper, fresh blackberries, almondy and a hint of perfume. Spicy and crisp on the palate with terrific balance, a tremendous wine at this price point and certainly good for a few more years in the cellar.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$23.30 (SAQ)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Beer to Celebrate 400 Years

Québec City celebrated its four hundredth anniversary in 2008 and for this special event Québec's renowned Unibroue (the "official brewer") crafted tonight's limited edition beer. Aptly named "Quatre-Centième", it showed a creamy, yeasty nose with some lemon and orange peel. The palate was simple and refreshing - citrus cream flavours with a sturdy texture and a fine mousse. Flawless, but less complex than my other Unibroue faves (1,2) - can I call this a New World Hoegaarden?

PS - the bottle shot comes from friendlier weather but the notes are fresh

"Drink less, drink better!" (Unibroue slogan)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

2006 A et P de Villaine "Les Clous"

de Villaine's wines have a nasty habit of quickly disappearing from the local wine shops, so I greedily grabbed this bottle of "Les Clous" when I saw it. Unfortunately my praise for the 2006 is not as effusive as the praise expressed for both the 2001 and 2005:

The 2006 A et P de Villaine 'Les Clous' smelled of damp hay, cream, apple and pear, later showing some spearmint, lavender soap. Soft on the palate with creamy lemon, a gritty minerality, and a nice bitter finish. A touch hot and a little less complex than those prior vintages, but thoroughly enjoyable.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$28 (SAQ)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WBW #54: Pio Cesare, White and Red

I have been ignoring Italy for the past few months (not sure why) and I have not participated in WBW (I know why), but for the fifty-fourth WBW installment my wine buddy David McDuff is hosting and Piedmont is calling - how could I resist (especially when bonus points are served)?

I chose two wines from Pio Cesare, one of Piedmont's most renowned wine houses, for two reasons - consistent success, and it has been two years since I have tasted "A Peeedmont Chardonnayyy".

The 2001 Pio Cesare Barbera d'Alba "Fides" first showed its rubbery/inky/tarry side on the nose, later delivering lovely green pepper, cherry fruit, almonds and earthy, single malt scotch-like notes. Lovely texture - silky tannins and fresh acidity with a nice, spicy almond finish. Scored identically to last year, with similar tarry notes and a spicy mouthfeel, one of the nicest barberas I've ever had.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$33 (SAQ)

Yes, Piedmont chardonnay just sounds wrong, but I just focus on the liquid in the glass. The 2007 Pio Cesare l'Altro Piedmont Chardonnay had a promising nose - green grass at first, some soap, apple, floral and peach notes as well. Stoney and crisp on the palate, yet soft and oily as it warmed up. No faults here - a delicious, balanced chardonnay, just not "moving" me tonight...
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$23.25 (SAQ)

White and red from Piedmont, same winemaker, I can't wait to use those "McDuff Bonus Points". Cheers, David!

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Grand Tasting of California Cabernets

Looking back over the past few years of tastings it is hard to believe that I have been the "ringleader" for our wine group - I mean, I never EVER win these tastings. Remember the old saying "even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut"? Well, in our blinded tastings my wines have been road kill.

Well, that's not really true - my Cesare Ornato was the best at the November tasting - at least I thought so, but I was unblinded so my self-proclaimed victory was hollow. But tonight was extra special because it was the real deal - a blinded, head to head cab-fest featuring some truly legendary California wines...and I won!

Ranked 1st or 2nd by two-thirds of the tasters, the 2003 Cardinale (86% Cabernet, Merlot) was obviously chosen by a sophisticated oenophile with a superior palate. A subtle nose, quite closed at first, later opening to reveal beautifully balanced violet, black pepper, leather and blackberries. But the nose was a pretty accessory to an astonishing palate - nice dense fruit and a very fine, velvety, long, long finish. It didn't jump out at us so much as it crept up and enveloped the group with incredible complexity and finesse. Did I mention that I won? Score: 18.5/20

There was considerable enthusiasm for Ash's 2002 Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, (100% Cabernet, organic) Ash adding to his string of successes since rejoining our wine group last year. A more interesting nose than the Cardinale, with flinty eucalyptus, violets, currants and black cherries, but just a touch jammy at the end of the night which pushed it into second place for me. Delicate, classy, and showing some age on the palate, a beautiful wine. Score: 18.5/20

There was little separation amongst the top 3 wines, with Lloyd's 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia (83% Cab, 14% Merlot, Petit Verdot) close behind the Cardinale and Heitz in the rankings. Black cherries and mushrooms on the nose, earthy/flinty notes as well, some mint - pretty, maybe simpler than some of the others. Very nicely balanced with a very, very long finish...elegance. Score: 18/20

Further back was Cam's 2003 Juslyn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Estate (85% Cabernet, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, Petit Verdot). Quite different from the others, with a lovely meaty nose, wet stones as well, a touch jammy and hot as the night wore on. A nice lengthy, meaty finish on the palate. Score: 17.5/20

Tied for fifth and sixth were Pramod's 2001 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Cosme's 2004 Peter Michael "Les Pavots". I quite liked the Montelena (Score: 17.5/20) - rubbery liquorice, black earth and white pepper on the nose, crisp cherry fruit and silky tannins on the palate, just a shorter finish than the greats above pushing it down a notch for me, but I liked it more than most the gang (I always love Chateau Montelena). The surprising result for me was the near last place finish for the Peter Michael (Score: 17/20), as the "Les Pavots" consistently wins accolades. Gobs of ripe, dark fruit on the nose, vanilla and violets as well. A very nice, long finish with dense tannins, just too fruity and too jammy for our group.

Unfortunately Chris' 2003 Neal Family Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Estate was corked - a shame, as there was such a nice velvety texture to the wine. I think each and every one of us has had a corker now.

So, if any of you start "Google-ing" these wines you will find that they are, for the most part, expensive and rare - a true who's who of California and a terrific flight to really get a sense of what it's like at the top ends of the price/quality spectra.

A terrific night! Many thanks to our hosts, Cosme and Rebecca (the tenderloin was a smashing idea).

Next up, IGT-fest!

Monday, February 09, 2009

2001 Grant Burge Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon

Max, a former partner of mine, is the only Ausso-Franco-Canadian I know - a Québecois carrying an Aussie passport. So when Max gave me this Aussie wine for Christmas I assumed he had "inside knowledge". Whether or not this was true, it was a delicious wine...

The 2001 Grant Burge Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon is a regional blend (60% Coonawarra fruit, 18% Barossa, 22% Adelaide Hills). An impressive nose that starts with herb (mint and basil) and vegetal notes, later some wet leather and tobacco...cassis, strawberry, violet and graphite...heavy oak, but it dissipated nicely...beautiful! The palate impresses with silky tannins and crisp fruit - a zingy natural acidity, a wine that is sparkling and alive. Delicious, lingering, and not showing any signs of age...still tasting great 5 hours later. My first wine from Grant Burge, certainly won't be the last. (sold out in Québec, a newer vintage is available at LCBO)
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: gift

Friday, February 06, 2009

Mini Vertical #9: 2002 vs. 2003 St. Clement Oroppas

My wine group's latest grand tasting featured a top flight of California Cabernet Sauvignon, but you'll have to whet your appetite with this more modest offering, another blinded "mini-vertical" from my cellar.

On my left was the 2003 St. Clement Oroppas. With spicy dark berries, black pepper and violet...a riper, jammier nose than the '02 below. Very smooth and tasty, but softer and jammier on the palate as well. Enjoyable, just less structured and less complex. Drink now.
Score: 16.5/20

On my right was the more interesting 2002 St. Clement Oroppas - peppery, with vegetal notes, damp black earth, vanilla, violets and tobacco. Soft, dense fruit, also a modern-styled effort but retaining a vibrancy - decent acidity and classy tannins holding this all together. A very long finish, this is a youthful cab that should spend a few more years in your cellar.
Score: 17.5/20

I have nothing but praise for St. Clement's wines - in a sea of overpriced underachievers, these wines are amongst Napa's best values at all price points. Save your money on those cult California Cabs - Oroppas kicks many of those, just US$55 at the winery door.

PS - a special thanks to Pramod, who put me on to St. Clement in the first place.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Lost Files: 2000 Avignonesi Desiderio

The "Lost Files" are those pictures of wine bottles on my hard drive that have no associated tasting note. But in this case my notes were unearthed while cleaning out my bedside table drawer - such a beautiful wine that I couldn't resist posting this, spring bottle shot (opened on Mother's Day last May) and all.

My notes on the 2000 Avignonesi Desiderio (85% Merlot, rest Cabernet Sauvignon) describe a complex nose of dark cherry and peppery plums, minty espresso beans, cherry blossom, black earth, liquorice and tar - lots going on here. On the palate it was terribly awkward at first - a powerful, robust and flavourful wine featuring dense tannins, good fruit and acidity, but it took four hours in the decanter to settle down and come together - but when it did, WOW. This is a wine that has the stuffing to go the distance - very sorry I opened it so young.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: ~C$80 (LCBO)

PS: despite its youth, this wine was a winner at a group tasting nearly four years ago. At that time I recommended "drink now" but that is clearly wrong - it may work after a long decant, but you really should set this aside.