Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"Muy Macho", A South American Tasting

We decided to host a guys only tasting, but most of the "men" were unable to get the free pass. How appropriate, then, that the wines were "macho" wines from South America. We had an interesting selection of wines - no single varietal wines and three different countries were represented. However, the real surprise of the evening was not that Cam finally won a tasting, but HOW he won, with a shocking, unheralded, unranked, and unknown wine of dubious origin.

First: 2001 Pisano Arretxea
The Arretxea was ranked first by all three of us. Note that this wine was decanted up to 2 hours before we started tasting. Anyway, the score differential between the three wines was large, and this was a clear winner. This blend of Cab. Sauv., Merlot, and Tannat showed a very nice bouquet, with strong scents of chocolate, tobacco, leather - "beautiful and interesting". However, this wine was anything but a wallflower - a full-bodied red with firm tannins, I described it as "Powerful, hearty, interesting." A great wine that will get better. I bought up every last bottle in town.

Second: 1999 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta
I was so sure that the winner was my Clos Apalta. This celebrated, consistently highly ranked, expensive Chilean red, a blend of Carmenère (35%), Merlot (30%), Cab. Sauv. (22%) and Malbec (13%), should have been a winner. On the nose, it was more subtle than the first place wine, with very interesting smells. The taste was very nice, full-bodied and balanced, but to quote "Robust, flavorful, rough around the edges." This had a very long finish, and I suspect that this wine is set to improve over time. Note that after we had scored, the Clos Apalta continued to improve and the gap with the first wine became smaller and smaller. (RP-91, WS-92)

Third: 2002 Norton Privada
Always a favorite everyday wine of mine, this wine scored well with WS as well (91). A great value, but not in the league of the wines above. I described it as very drinkable, but not terribly interesting. Don't let these comments fool you - this wine was half price the mystery wine and less than a third of the price of the Clos Apalta. I still recommend it.

Cam's first victory proves that no one should let me help them choose a wine for a comeptitive tasting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Another Pinot Noir Tasting (Fall 2005)

Domaine Carneros, USA

This was our group's second, but most rigorous, pinot noir tasting. We had a selection of top Burgundies and North American Pinot to contrast. Here are the results:

First: 2002 Domaine Carneros "The Famous Gate"
This wine placed garnered six first place and three second place scores from our ten tasters. I loved the earthy nose, with subtle scents of truffle, undergrowth and spices. This wine was delicate, but very well balanced, with potential for improvement. Chris says this cost him US$50 - a good deal (once you read about the wines below...). For those of you claiming victory for California over France, Domaine Carneros is owned by Tattinger...

Second: 1997 Calera Mills Vineyard
Lloyd’s Calera was the oldest of the bunch. This wine garnered four first place and two second place scores. According to my notes, this wine had a great nose and lots of interesting aromas (mint, prunes, oak, grapefruit, cloves) - to quote "smells like dessert"! The taste was only slightly disappointing vs. the smell for me. At C$70, I'd pick the wine above. (RP-90)

Third: 1999 Domaine Gros Frères et Soeurs Richebourg
While Cosme's wine did collect 3 second place scores, it still finished well behind the first two wines - especially disappointing given its price of 90 Euros. I scored the wine reasonably well. According to my notes, this wine was "nice, elegant, drink now". From my notes I can only assume that the complexity of this wine was below that of the first two wines.

Fourth: 2000 Louis Jadot Gevrey Chambertin "Lavaux St-Jacques"
My Burgundy did not show very well, despite the C$82 price, garnering only two second place scores. My notes were reasonably complimentary, describing the wine as "elegant" on both the nose and palate. Again, I think the complexity of the wine was not that of the first two. Ready to drink now.

Fifth: 2002 Thornhaven Barrel Reserve
Ok, who brought the Canadian wine? Pramod's Thornhaven had an interesting nose, but on the palate I described it as "boring, overextracted, no structure". Ouch. This was my last place, so to be fair I have to mention that a number of you liked this wine a lot better than I did. If your palates are more refined than mine, this could be the best value (C$27).

Sixth: 2000 Louis Jadot Gevrey Chambertin "Clos St-Jacques"
Brought by Cam, this was a big disappointment given the C$84 price - it was ranked last by most tasters. The nose was ok, very earthy, very subtle. On the palate I described it as very light, with good balance but uninteresting.

Editorial comments:
1) Considering the hefty prices of these wines, I was disappointed overall. Even if these were cheap I think I would have been disappointed. I have yet to have that magical "Pinot Noir moment" that turns me into a lifelong fan. I'll keep trying, but avoiding these should save me some money in the short run.
2) Despite the "Sideways" impact on Pinot prices, California pinots are good values (relative to Burgundy).
3) Cam should never let me help him pick out wine.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Age Matters: A Barolo Tasting

This tasting was less 'consensual' than many of our tastings, but there was a clear line between the three older wines and the two younger ones. The final tally was as follows:

First: 1990 Marchesi di Barolo Brunate
Pramod's wine was very consistent - six first place, four second place and one third place (me) ranking. I liked this wine, but I preferred the next two slightly better. On the nose the wine was pleasing, with scents of violet, pear, cherry, cedar, mushroom and tea. This medium-bodied Barolo was tannic, harsh and slightly unbalanced, and not as interesting on the palate as it was in the glass. In my mind the wine had peaked and is unlikely to improve, although it should drink well for a few more years. What lowered the score for me was not the taste, but the complexity - interesting, but less so (in my opinion) than the next two. Pramod claims C$86, putting it in the middle of the range.

Second: 1993 Giacomo Conterno Barolo "Cascina Francia"
This wine was VERY close to the wine above in overall ranking, and it was my favourite. A lovely, interesting nose of violets, cherry, vanilla, leather, hazelnuts, almonds and prunes. Medium- to full-bodied with firm tannins, it was very well balanced. Fruity, I described this as a more 'modern' Barolo, with potential for further improvement, despite the age. The most expensive of the evening at ~C$100. (RP-91)

Third: 1996 Paolo Scavino "Bric del Fiasc"
Scores for Lloyd's wine were very close to the previous wines, it was my second favourite. The nose was very aromatic, elegant and interesting, and earthy (cedar, truffles, mushrooms), with additional scents of leather, vanilla, tea and smoke. On the palate I described the wine as austere, with firm tannins and very well balanced, very Barolo. Lots of potential for further improvement, very nice. While the Conterno was my favourite, I would buy this one if I could find it, as the C$85 price seemed appropriate for such a nice young Barolo with so much potential. (RP-91 to 94)

Fourth: 1999 Marchesi di Barolo
Fairly consistently ranked fourth, myself included, although my tasting note sounds like this was the best wine of the night! The nose was elegant and pleasing, with a wide variety of subtle aromas - white flowers, cherry, mint, hay, mushrooms, leather, vanilla and smoke - I scored it highest for the nose. On the palate this medium-bodied Barolo had supple tannins, a smooth glyceriney texture and was very well balanced with a long finish. "Great now, and may get better. Lovely." Hmmm.

Fifth: 1997 Batasiolo Corda della Briccolina
Bringing up the rear was my Batasiolo. Thinking that the Barolos in my cellar are not yet ready, I decided to pick something up at the shop. Big mistake - pretty much everybody's least favourite, including my own! On the nose it was "Very hard to get past the alcohol and tannins". Scents of iodine, fuel. You get the picture. On the palate I described it as harsh, not well integrated, but will improve. Do you want to wait?


1) Age Matters! It was a near linear relationship between age and ranking.
2) Note that those first three wines were ranked very close, while these last two were WELL behind. I believe if we did a rematch, any of the first three could have won.

It was nice to have a tasting away from my house - thank you to Reb and Cosme for hosting this tasting. Overall, a great (expensive) night - I look forward to the next one?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Cabs of the World

It has been nearly two years since our wine group's first tasting. And while that first tasting was a Cabernet tasting, it was nothing like this. This was also our first tasting away from my house - many thanks to the hosts for laying out such a fine spread!

In addition to a feast that would make a Roman emperor blush, the wines were extraordinary - even the 'warm-up wine' was over the top! On the whole, everyone's ratings were very consistent - not quite consensus, but perhaps the closest ever. And California dominated this grape tonight:

First: 1996 BV Georges de Latour
Cosme's Beaulieu was a clear winner - eight first place and two second place rankings. I loved this wine, but I was off consensus with my second place ranking. I felt that the pleasant nose hat lots of interesting, subtle aromas - violet, strawberry, some mint and spice, with a subtle gaminess. Very nice. I was (slightly) disappointed by the taste - I expected that the lovely nose of this wine would translate to WOW in my mouth, but I was disappointed with the taste - very agreeable, but not WOW, and maybe a bit off balance in my opinion (splitting hairs). It may be hard to find this wine, but I found it for US$70 on the web.

Second: 2001 Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon
Lloyd's Staglin was very consistent as well - two firsts and eight second place rankings. I was one of those ranking it first - I described the nose as "absolutely lovely", bursting with aromas of violet, mint, dark berries, oak, truffles, and animal/earthy smells. And the taste did not disappoint - dry, with firm tannins, and medium to full bodied. The only defect I found was that it was a bit 'hot', with the alcohol showing a bit too much (a frequent problem with Californian and Australian wines...). This will get better, and I would pay a princely sum to taste this again - I found it on the internet for US$115.

Third: 1998 'Paleo' Bolgheri Rossi Superiore (Le Macchiole)
Lloyd's Italian Cabernet also scored well - one second place, four third place, three fourth place and one fifth place ranking. I was more generous than most of you - I described the nose as pleasant, earthy and quite interesting, with scents of pine, truffle, leather, tea, hazelnut and a bit pruney. Tasted great, well balanced, this one is peaking. Drink now. $80

Fourth: 2001 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon
Cam brought this Argentinian (with a little help from me) cab from a very well regarded winery. Unfortunately, my rating is off consensus - I rated it last. I described the nose as pleasant but not complex, and I found it very harsh. I wrote that it needs more time in the cellar to soften up, but it won't get much better. Only C$49.

Fifth: 1999 Yalumba "The Menzies"
Despite a decent Parker rating, Pramod's "The Menzies" did not fare well. Pramod and Rebecca liked this best, and I ranked it fourth. Anyway, on the nose it was interesting but not complex. I found it a little unbalanced - heavy on the oak. It seemed to have some potential - maybe a few more years in the bottle? C$44

Sixth: 1999 Concha y Toro "Don Melchor"
While there was some debate, this bottle was likely corked (I noted a strong odour of ammonia!). WS rated this a 92 and RP rated it a 93, so it should have shown better. I have two more bottles in my cellar - I will retaste in the future.


You get what you pay for? Price followed our ratings very closely. The closest thing to a 'value' was Cam's Catena. Interesting that no one tried to sneak in a Bordeaux...

Friday, June 10, 2005


On June 10th we held a blinded, all-comers “Smackdown” - no theme, bring any red wine you like. A fantastic evening for our tasting group, and our first tasting that was not structured around a theme.

The six wines were as follows:

First: 2000 Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot
The 2000 Avignonesi Desiderio Merlot. Seven first place and two third place rankings – impressive! While this was not the most expensive, it certainly wasn’t the cheapest – this cost me C$60 in March (LCBO). According to my notes (and my memory), this was an elegant wine with an incredible nose. While this wine may improve with time, I didn’t expect much improvement – this is very drinkable now! While I normally rush out and buy the winners from our tastings, I have the good fortune of having two more bottles of this gem in my cellar. (RP 90-91, WS 90)

Second: 1998 Chateau Montus Cuvée Prestige
My first experience with Tannat, the Montus was brought by Chris and Marie-Lise. It placed second, and was a little more polarizing – two first place rankings (hmmmm - Chris and Marie-Lise – maybe you have tasted this before?), five second place rankings, a fourth and a sixth. This reminds me a lot of the wine Chris brought to the Tuscan tasting – clearly a BIG, high quality wine, but with a few rustic edges that may have nudged it into second place for many. According to my notes, this seven year old wine still needed more time in the bottle and should get better. I loved it, and bought eight bottles of a different vintage as proof! According to Chris, this wine was only C$36, which makes it the best value. The key caveat is that other vintages of Chateau Montus Cuvee Prestige are much more expensive. Did you secretly switch price tags at the store, Chris? For shame…

Third: 1997 Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
The overall ranking for Pramod and Sofia’s Brunello was very close to the Chateau Montus. The wine garnered one first place, four second place, a third, fourth, fifth and sixth place ranking. My notes were different from the rest of you, as many of you liked it but I thought it was light in the nose and a little unbalanced. I also recall it being atypical for a Brunello. We really should redo a Brunello tasting one of these days… Note that the price on this one was steep. (RP 85, WS 90)

Fourth: 2002 d’Arenberg “The Footbolt” Shiraz
Eden’s 2002 d’Arenberg “The Footbolt” is also a winner, in my mind, because it ranked so close to the second and third place wines. It was a very strong finish given the price (C$20!). Five tasters ranked it second or third, and none ranked it last! While the pros always rave about d’Arenberg wines, it was nice to see it in a blinded fashion against such illustrious competitors. Looking at my notes, I raved about the subtle but very interesting nose. I also noted that this wine has peaked – drink now. This outperformance in a strong crowd should send everyone running to buy a case. (RP 88, WS 88)

Fifth: 2001 Falesco Montiano
My other Merlot, the 2001 Falesco Montiano, did not perform as well as the pro ratings might have indicated. No one ranked it first or last, but very consistent third and fourth place rankings. This may have been a case of vinuous infanticide. My notes were very complimentary of the nose, but I commented that it should improve with more time in the bottle. WS agrees, and says to wait until after 2006 to drink. At C$51 (SAQ), it was a disappointment. (RP 93, WS 90)

Sixth: 1999 Yalumba “The Menzies”
Cam’s 1999 Yalumba “The Menzies” Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon was a great disappointment for me, personally. First, I suggested that Cam buy the wine. Second, I have three bottles in my cellar. Aargh. Five people ranked it dead last. At C$43.75, not a great deal. Could Parker have steered Cam and I so wrong? (RP 90, WS 87)

1) In case you were wondering why I entered two expensive Merlots, it was to teach a lesson to a friend who claimed he hates Merlot! My contrarian nature will now force me to buy Merlots while the rest of the wine world hunts down California Pinot Noir. Thank you, Sideways.
2) The key problem with this tasting, of course, was the comparison of very different grapes/regions/producers/vintages. It was meant to be fun, and I think our rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. All very nice wines.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Chateauneuf du Pape Tasting - April 2005

This tasting, our second CdP tasting, spanned four different vintages and included an Aussie surprise. Once again, the overall quality level was high, and the wines were wonderful. Here are the results:

First: 2000 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret, Cuvée Exceptionelle
The Vieux Lazaret was the closest thing to a unanimous rating that night – five first place and two second place rankings. This was not the most expensive – this cost me C$43.25 when I bought it in September of last year – so a clear ‘value winner’ as well. Interesting to note that this was my ‘second’ wine – a wine that I stuck in at the last minute because we needed a fifth bottle. Surprise, surprise! My notes suggest that this wine will continue to improve. (RP 91)

Second: 2001 E. Guigal CdP
A solid second place despite no first place finishes. A very narrow dispersion: two second place, four third place and one fourth place ranking. Clearly everyone liked it, but it lacked that ‘something’ that would put it into first (or fifth). My notes were pretty non-descript. A reliable crowd pleaser, perhaps? Good choice Cam! Not cheap, this was the second most expensive at C$58. (RP 92)

Third (tie):
1999 Domaine du Pegau Cuvée Reservé
1998 Clarendon Hills Grenache Clarendon Vineyard
The two oldest wines we tasted: my 1999 Domaine du Pegau Cuvée Reservé and Lloyd’s Aussie surprise, a 1998 Clarendon Hills Grenache Clarendon Vineyard.

Both had a wide dispersion of rankings – with ratings from first to fifth place, but the Pegau seeming to be more polarizing. According to my notes, this had wonderful aromas that weren’t backed up by the taste. This wine definitely required more time in the bottle – interesting as this was a 1999. This was my pride and joy – a sure fire winner, I thought. Sigh. Cost C$43.65 in October 2003. (RP 92)

The Clarendon also claimed a wide range of rankings. Note to Lloyd – you ranked it fourth! I was the lone dissenter on this one – I raved about it and gave it my highest ranking. According to my notes, what this lacked in aromatics it made up for in taste. I predict this will improve. Hooray! I have two bottles in my cellar. Lloyd claims C$40. (RP 93)

Fifth: 2000 Chateau de la Nerthe
The de la Nerthe was pretty consistent – four fifth place and two fourth place rankings. Don’t worry Pramod, Sofia ranked it second (must be love)! As Lloyd noted, he has had this before and really enjoyed it. Not a bad wine, but tough to compete with this stellar crowd. My only gripe with this wine was the price - this was the most expensive…(C$61) (RP 89)

Two CdP tastings, and both times the most expensive did NOT win. There are values to be had...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Tuscan Wine Treasures

Our recently expanded tasting group decided to dive into Tuscany, with a focus on the Sangiovese grape, but someone cheated. No matter, the upstart did not take home the prize, and we all enjoyed a fabulous night of wine tasting. The wines, and the results, are as follows:

First Place: 2000 Flaccianello della Pieve (a Fontodi super Tuscan)
Two first place and three second place rankings. Also the most expensive at C$75. I was surprised that the Flaccianello won. I thought it would be too young, and it was the youngest wine tasted. Perhaps decanting it 2 ½ hours before the tasting softened it up just enough? Very Chianti, yet very well balanced and bursting forth with interesting aromas. I can't wait for this wine to improve.

Second Place: 1997 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico ‘Riserva’
More controversial – two first place one second place and two third place rankings. While the original acquisition cost was below C$50, current market prices are surely higher if you could find it! The Badia was very drinkable and very well balanced. This was the oldest wine in the group - as Lloyd said, this wine is the reason we build/buy wine cellars! I felt this wine was at its peak, so should be consumed soon, and I preferred the more rustic first and third place wines to this much more refined Chianti. Most of you disagreed with me!

Third Place: 1999 Ghiaie della Furba by Capezzana
One first, one second, and three third place rankings. Impossible to find, but I have purchased other vintages for ~C$50. Not a pure sangiovese, but we loved it so we forgive you Chris. Despite its ranking, I think this was the real value winner. Definitely the most complex nose! Upon tasting, the tannins were still harsh, but the complexity …phenomenal! I think we all agreed that this wine was going to improve even further, and the price was amongst the lowest. It would be interesting to taste the Ghiaie vs. the Flaccianello in about five years!

Fourth Place: 1999 Tenute Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva
Ranked fourth by all. In the $40s, I think. This is a wine that I have enjoyed in the past, is often on restaurant menus, and it is a reliably good Chianti. However, the competition was just a touch more complex and interesting. On the value spectrum it was probably the cheapest of the five.

Fifth Place: 1999 Poggio Rosso Chianti Classico Riserva by San Felice
Ranked fifth by all. C$54 at SAQ. The Poggio Rosso fails the value test being more expensive and less appealing than the others.

I think this tasting was influenced by the fact that some wines were decanted earlier than others, and the wines were served at different temperatures. I think this may have influenced the score, especially the Ghiaie which was served warmer and had little air time. Something to think about for the next tasting.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Bordeaux Night - January 2005

Over the last year we have had some turnover in our tasting group, as one of our tasters departed our fair city for greener pastures. He was replaced by three new wine geeks, two of whom joined us this night. Just to make sure these uppity newbies were put in their place, we dove right into Bordeaux. This was a lot of fun - four tasters, four great wines, and one big headache the morning after. Here are the results:

First Place – 1999 Chateau Carbonnieux (Pessac Leognan)
Chris' Carbonnieux easily won with three first place and one second place ranking. I described this wine as very aromatic, with scents of violet, strawberry, cedar, spice (nutmeg, pepper), cocoa, butter, hazelnut - a lot going on here! I recall it was very 'fruit forward', more like an Aussie, but very well balanced and 'hearty'. This had a very long finish, and should continue to improve. Good thing - I went out and bought the last bottles in town. Note this was not highly ranked by Parker (86). Cost C$65.

Second Place – 1999 Chateau Montrose (St-Estephe)
On paper my Montrose should have won. 'George' garnered one first place (Pramod), two second place and a third place ranking. I described this wine as aromatic, but more subtle than the Carbonnieux - scents of violet, white flowers, cherry, mint, cloves, vanilla, butter, some prunes "not intense, but elegant". This was a well balanced, elegant, medium-bodied Bordeaux with a long finish. I rated this equal to the Carbonnieux on taste, but just a little behind on the nose. Cost C$77. (RP 90)

Third Place – 2001 Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac)
My Carruades de Lafite garnered one second place and three third place rankings. I described this wine as aromatic and "pleasant but uncomplex and not very intense" - subtle scents of violet, strawberry, mint, and butter caramel. On the palate this was a more austere wine with harsher tannins. A long finish, giving hints this wine may get better. At C$49 a 'value' winner? (RP-87)

Fourth Place – 1999 Chateau Gruaud Larose (St-Julien)
The Gruaud Larose was everyone's least favourite. Somebody had to lose, but at C$74? I described this wine as very aromatic "powerful, without finesse, overpowering tannins" - scents of violet, apple, blackberry, green pepper, pine, musk, tobacco and cocoa. On the palate this was very dry with firm tannins. Reasonably well balanced, but with a surprising short finish. Drink now. "Elegant but lacking depth, complexity." (RP-89)

  1. Did we make a 'discovery' with the Carbonnieux? I noticed more recent ratings for this Chateau are up - maybe we 'found' it first!
  2. Nice to see we got to try four different Bordeaux villages/regions.
  3. Darn newbie won!