Thursday, November 30, 2006

2003 Nipozzano Riserva

Frescobaldi's Nipozzana Riserva is one of great wonders of the wine world - big, bold and interesting, and well made year after year. How do they do it for this price? The 2003 has great scents of blackberries, leather and spice on the nose. A bit rustic, it has nice tannins, fruit, and decent length. An excellent match for pizza, but would pair well with anything. A staple, highly recommended.

13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Cost: C$21.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Extreme Smackdown at Bistro l'Entrepont

An orgy of decadent wines! How else to describe this evening, a knee-jerk reaction to our successful C$35 Smackdown? Our "Extreme" tasting had one rule - your bottle had to cost you more than C$100. Recognizing that these were some of the world's greatest wines, we also decided that the evening would not be 'competitive' - the wines were not blinded, and we tasted them in series rather than head to head. We also went out to dinner for this tasting, a celebration of the three years our tasting group has developed!

I was the only geek taking notes. Note that I will not provide scores or relative rankings, as that would be a disservice to the quality of these wines (ok, send me a nice bottle of something and I'll cough up the scores/rankings). This was a truly stunning collection of wine and any preferences would be based on style, not quality.

Seven collectors raided their cellars, and came up with the following wines (in the order that we tasted them) for this evening's twelve tasters:

1997 Beringer Howell Mountain Bancroft Ranch Merlot (Napa)
2000 Chateau de la Gardine "Cuvee des Generations" (Chateauneuf du Pape)
1999 Ornellaia (Tuscany, Bolgheri)
1990 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa)
1989 Conterno Fantino Barolo Vigna del Gris (Piedmont)
1990 Chateau Clinet (Bordeaux, Pomerol)
1999 Gaja Darmagi Cabernet Sauvignon (Piedmont)

We decanted these wines upon arrival at the restaurant and started with an Austrian white (see below), to pair with the appetizers and give the heavies some air. The ordering was meant to move from the lighter wines to heavier wines, but it was more haphazard and probably not the best ordering.

For example, the first wine - Pramod's Beringer Merlot Bancroft Ranch - was one of the biggest, most powerful, merlots I have ever had! This wine needed some more time in the cellar, or at least a longer rest in the decanter before drinking. Anyway, this had a beautiful aromatic nose that developed and changed over time - rose, blueberry, mint, pepper/cloves, tar, minerals and some vegetal scents. Powerful and a bit awkward on the palate, this a medium-bodied red with light fruit and blockbuster tannins. Needs some time. WS-93, RP-92. Cost US$125.

Cam's Gardine Cuvee des Generations was another wine that may have been out of order. While CdeP is usually a more elegant wine, this young wine would have benefited from further aging. The nose on the Gardine is very-subtle at first, hiding its secrets of awesome meaty/leathery/nutty/vanilla scents. Extremely elegant and well balanced, with rich, jammy cherry fruit and heavy tannins, this wine will get better. Deceptively elegant in its youth, keep it for a few years. Rated a 94 by Parker, but a very odd 86 in Wine Spectator - did they taste the same wine? Go with Parker - this was a stunning wine. Cost of C$124.

While still young, I thought my Ornellaia would show very well after a good decant. Very complex on the nose - violet, deep cherry, mint, cedar, leather, and meat with stunning earthy aromas. Near perfection! Harmonius, medium to full bodied, with nice fruit and big velvety tannins. Eerily reminiscent of Opus One (there is a Mondavi thread in the history of both wineries), but much better. Ready now, this wine should continue to improve. Overall, one of the best-balanced wines I have ever had, developing beautifully. RP-94, WS-94. Cost of C$175.

Next up was Lloyd's Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Chateau Montelena. This wine was a highlight of the evening for me. Despite its age, this wine smelled like it was made and bottled last year! It even looked young, showing very little of the trademark brick red of an older wine (maybe Lloyd brought the legendary 1997 and scratched out the number to fool us?). A beautiful, fresh, cabernet nose - violet and white flowers, strawberry, musk, pepper, earth and smoke, with continued development over the evening. This harmonius, medium-bodied cab boasted nice fruit and velvety tannins. A veeery long finish, it may improve but it is certainly ready now. Amazing. RP-93, WS-94. He claims this wine cost him C$140 in a barter trade.

Ash's Conterno Fantino Vigna del Gris was the oldest of the evening, and perhaps the best value. A lovely nose, this wine showed some of the pruney, stewed-fruit scents of an aged wine, as well as meaty, leathery smells. Extremely well balanced, it still showed the power and intensity of Barolo with nice velvety tannins an a good finish. An excellent example of what a Barolo should taste like as it hits its prime. RP-91, WS-88. Cost US$90.

Cosme's Chateau Clinet is a legendary Pomerol. The same age as the Motelena, it was showing the brick red colour of an aged wine at the edges, and had that pruney cooked fruit smell of an aged wine. Perhaps the most memorable nose of the evening, it had enchanting scents of cherry/raspberry, earth, oak, leather, spice (cinnamon, cloves), and coffee. Very well balanced, elegant, meaty, and rich, it had a loooong finish that went on and on. Overall, I felt the tannins were nice, but the fruit was fading. Drink now. RP-95, WS-92. Easily the most expensive, it costs C$425 at the local shop.

We all expected Chris/M-L's Gaja Darmagi to be a bruiser, so we left it for last. We were correct - this wine was Rambo crashing a Bond flick! Deep red, almost purple, this wine had nice, classic cabernet scents of violet and pepper, with hints of leather, mint, vanilla, and coffee/cocoa. On the palate this was a monstrously big, tannic brute, with rich chocolatey fruit. It needs some time to mature. A beautiful Piemontese take on Cabernet, it will get better. RP-91, WS-88. Cost C$210.

Honorable mention:
While preceding wines were the feature wines, those were not all, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the others.

Our out of town guests came by my place before we went out for the evening, and I served a bottle of the 2001 Quinta de la Quietud a favourite Spanish wine of mine (RP-92, cost C$30). This is a beautiful tempranillo from the region of Toro - big, full bodied, with a tannic bite and a long finish, it softened up over the evening. Perfect for a steak off the grill, it also went nicely with a cheese plate. A great value for a wine of this quality.

To kick off the tasting above (and to pair with the appetizers), we started with a very nice Austrian Riesling. The 2003 Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibnerberg had a classic Riesling nose, with floral (honeysuckle, white flowers), pear, and litchee scents with some earthy undertones. Fresh, rich, and light bodied, it was very drinkable, but the low acidity might make it difficult to pair with food. Worth seeking out, but I don't know the price.

We had to finish with dessert, didn't we? The 1986 Farnito Vinsanto del Chianti had scents of flowers, pears, and almonds. It was very rich and well balanced, and not too sweet. Nicely done, worth seeking out.

Lastly, we finished a bottle of Sauternes, the 1998 Chateau d'Armajan. A very nice Sauternes, my notes are short, as you might expect after tasting all of the wines above. Seemed like a good value for a Sauternes.

Restaurant Bistro l'Entrepont
While the evening was a celebration of wine, the splendid Bistro l'Entrepont should also be celebrated. The food was splendid. I started with a creamy vegetable soup - beautiful texture, balanced flavours, and served at the perfect temperature. A plate of wild mushrooms was well prepared and matched our wines beautifully. For the main course I had the deer, and it was the nicest I have ever had! I am not a big dessert guy, but the Creme Brulee - spectacular. And the service was equally impressive. Despite the size of our group (which nearly occupied the entire restaurant) and a tableful of bottles, glasses and decanters, the service was unflappable. Thank you for a great evening - I recommend this resto to anyone. I will be back.

Friday, November 24, 2006

2001 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurtz Turckheim

I thought an Alsace wine would go nicely with a baked ham, but I was wrong (for the second time tonight). The 2001 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht "Herrenweg de Turckheim" Gewurtztraminer is a great wine, but not a match for a baked ham.

Beautiful golden amber in colour, this wine had a very aromatic and beautiful nose. Scents of lemon, white flower, sweet apricot, brioche and cloves - almost Sauternes-like. On the palate it was sweet, rich, soft and well balanced - perhaps even some licorice flavours?

Overall, this was a terrific wine, but a terrible match for our dinner. It is too bad, because it was such a good wine - try it as an after dinner dessert, or even better a before dinner apertif?
Score: 16.5/20
Cost: C$36

2004 Chateau de Nages Reserve (White)

I have had great success with the Chateau de Nages red wine (especially the Cuvee Joseph Torres - excellent value), so I thought I would get a few bottles of their white. An intriguing blend of Rousanne and Marsanne, it was even on sale - just C$12.21.

I thought the 2004 Chateau de Nages Reserve (Blanc)  would be a nice smooth sipper before dinner, but I was wrong - this would be an excellent wine for pairing with a meal. Nice lemon and toast scents, very minerally. Crisp and minerally with excellent balance, this would be a terrific match for a oysters or a simply prepared white fish. Highly recommended!
cork. 13.5% alcohol.
Score 14.5/20

Monday, November 20, 2006

Great Values, Spain

Following on my Argentinian and Australian value selections, here are my five best wineries for inexpensive wines (below C$20) from Spain. These wines are widely available, but some seem to sell out quickly so you have to be on your toes!

Castano: Castano has a great selection of wine under $20, and it usually sells out. There is a reason why - they are all great values. The Monastrell (Mourvedre) is fantastic, and the Dominio Espinal is probably one of the greatest values on the planet.

Castell del Remei: The Gotim Bru is a great value, and seems to be available in my price range. The Oda is a bit more expensive - pass, and go for the Gotim Bru.

Conde de Valdemar: Great values across the line. The Gran Reserva won our $35 smackdown. The Reserva, Crianza and even the white are nice, with the Crianza and white in the price range.

Muga: Muga makes some good high-end stuff, but their Crianza is a great buy. The other Mugas are pricy, but good.

Sierra Cantabria: The Crianza is a great value.

FYI - I will probably have a sequel to this post, cheers!

2004 The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne

The 2004 D'Arenberg "The Hermit Crab" (get used to the D'Arenberg wines...) is a blend of classic Rhone white grapes, Viognier and Marsanne. Bright golden yellow, it had nice aromas of white flowers, pineapple, vanilla, and nuts, maybe even a bit spicy. On the palate it was rich, with nice acidity and excellent balance, some butter/oak, but not dominant. Likely a terrific match for lobster, or even a simply prepared chicken. I actually paired it with a mild chicken chili, and it worked. Another D'Arenberg success - I will definitely buy this one again.
Cost C$16

Saturday, November 18, 2006

2003 D'Arenberg "The Laughing Magpie"

D'Arenberg is one of my favourite wineries, and "The Laughing Magpie" is one of my favourite values. It is also a good wine for drinking on its own, so it was a perfect way to finish off the evening after the Whitehall Lane below.

Young, with a beautiful deep purple colour, the nose was aromatic and dessert-like. There were scents of blackberries, cherries, mint, leather, pepper, cloves, and vanilla, but the nose was dominated by the vanilla and fresh fruit. Spicy and nice.

On the palate it had a nice, soft, mouthfeel. It was medium- to full-bodied, and despite the fruity, dessert-like flavours it was poised, with good balance.

This wine may keep for a few years, and could improve, but it is good now. Nice on its own, or perhaps pepper steak or lamb. Note the heavy sludge - I suggest you stand it up for at least a day and decant before serving.
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$27

Note that Yalumba makes a Shiraz/Viognier for a few $$$ less, and it is also a terrific wine.

2000 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon

I picked up this Napa wine on a business trip to New Orleans about 18-months ago and I thought it would pair very well with a roast beef. (My wife is conveniently hooked on California wines now)

While this 2000 Whitehall Lane Cab was not an old wine, the colour was beginning to show some brick red. I could tell by the nose this would be a bruiser - nice, but some harsh tannin and alcohol on the first sniff. Also scents of violet, blackcurrant, cherry, mint, cedar and pepper. The violet and pepper dominated, and over the evening it showed some green pepper scents.

On the palate this was a very rich wine, with good fruit, big tannins and good acidity - despite being 6 years of age, it is likely to improve with a few more years in the bottle. Slightly heavy on the alcohol and a bit unbalanced.

Overall, a very enjoyable wine and a great match for roast beef, but not very complex and slightly off balance. I will retaste my other bottle in a few years to see if it improves.
Score: 16/20
Cost: pricey at US$50

Friday, November 17, 2006

2006 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages Nouveau

While I like to think of myself as a wine enthusiast/afficianado/expert/freak (your choice), I have never had a "Beaujolais Nouveau" before. Imagine that, a self-described "expert" has never tasted a Beaujolais Nouveau! I have to admit that I looked down upon this 'phenomenon' simply because it was popular. Well, to address this deficiency I bought a Georges Duboeuf Nouveau yesterday - third Thursday of November!

The 2006 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau was a bright cherry red in the glass. Light, fresh and uncomplex on the nose, it had some nice, subtle aromas of peaches, raspberry, mint and maybe some nuts. On the palate it was light, fruity and fresh, lively but dry, with no tannins - if blindfolded I think I would have called it a chardonnay! Well balanced, this wine had no length and was meant for quaffing today. Very nice, and ready to drink, a party pleaser to be served slightly chilled. It paired nicely with 'Amaretto chicken'. Don't let my score: 14/20 fool you (cost C$16) - this was enjoyable and thirst-quenching, but not a complex wine to ponder while reading the RVF. Maybe "Nouveau" isn't so bad, in limited quantities...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Great Values, Australia

Following on my Argentinian value selections, here are my five best wineries for inexpensive wines (below C$20) from Australia. These are not in order of preference although the Yalumba/D'Arenberg selections are the preferred. Note that these wines are widely available on restaurant menus, so are worth knowing.

D'Arenberg: While famous for some pricey offerings, D'Arenberg has a way of being amongst the best wines at every price point. The whites are great deals, the "D'Arry's Original" is a great value, and "The Footbolt" Shiraz is close to being the best value on the planet. Consistent year after year.

Elderton: Pushing my luck with this one, as their wines are typically priced above my C$20 cut-off, but their "Friends" line of wines are good values and should be found under the price cut.

Greg Norman: Ok, I'll admit that I have avoided his wines because I figured any golfer's wines are hype, not substance. I will also admit I was wrong. The wines are typically pushing against my price target, but should be available at that magic C$20. Look for the terrific Chardonnay and Cabernet-Merlot. I can't comment on his California stuff.

Penfold's: They make some good high-end stuff, but their Koonunga Hill range are great values, especially the Shiraz-Cabernet.

Yalumba: Their "Bush Vine" Grenache, Barossa Shiraz, and Shiraz+Viognier are amongst the best value reds on the planet, widely available, and consistent year after year. Their Eden Valley Viognier is one of the most interesting inexpensive whites I have ever tasted. And their expensive wines are pretty good too! It gets even better - their Y series wines are even cheaper, and even better values (I like the Y Merlot).


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ribs and Pinot, Part 3

Pinot and ribs to brighten up a cold, damp, fall evening. We had two new world Pinot Noirs this evening:

2004 Domaine Carneros (California) Pinot Noir
2004 Ninth Island (Tasmania) Pinot Noir

The feature wine tonight was the Domaine Carneros, which I brought back from Napa. Note that the high end wine from this estate is also fabulous, winning one of our previous tastings. Very aromatic, with scents raspberry, mint, leather, vanilla or butter, and cocoa. Slightly earthy as well. Interesting - like a chocolate raspberry dessert. On the tongue it has beautiful, rich, chocolatey/fruity texture, with bright acidity. Well balanced and approachable in its youth, this was a beautiful, interesting Pinot.
Score: 17.5/20
Cost: US$30 (winery)

The poor Ninth Island, a Pinot I always rave about as a great value. And it remains a great value, but it was tough to follow the the Domaine Carneros. A nice but simple nose, with scents of oak, strawberry and cocoa. It was nice on the palate, but somewhat off balance due to the very high acidity. It is a nice match for food and a very reasonable price for Pinot Noir.
Score: 15/20
Cost C$23 (SAQ)

Friday, November 10, 2006

2003 Chateau Pipeau

I bought the 2003 Chateau Pipeau through a futures offering. While I thought it was much too young, I had six bottles so I thought I'd give it a try and see how it is today.

This St-Emilion was a deep cherry red, with a beautiful nose that evolved over the evening - starting out with strong pepper, cocoa, earth and smoke scents, it later showed hints of roses, strawberries, pine, leather and game - very minerally as well.

On the palate it was very dry, with nice acidity and big tannins that softened over the evening. Well balanced, this young wine had nice fruit, but these were somewhat masked the tannins. A great, long finish, this wine is definitely not ready yet - I will try again in three years. A fine match for a roast beef.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Cost: C$28 (LCBO)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Chardonnay Night

I have had a few too many "big reds" lately, so I was kind of looking forward to an evening of white wine. We had two Chardonnays tonight to pair with a roast chicken (in orange marinade):

2005 Montes Alpha Chardonnay (Casablanca Valley, Chile)
2005 Castello di Pomino (Pomino Bianco, Italy)

I bought the Montes because of a wonderful experience I had with their Merlot, and the Chardonnay was just as satisfying. This Chardonnay had scents of white flowers, cantaloupe, pear, pineapple, lemon, oak, butter, toasted bread, and honey - a nice, classic, chardonnay. On the palate it was rich, medium bodied, and tangy - nicely balanced with good acidity. Overall, a nice wine that successfully incorporates the new world and the old world. Recommended. Score 16/20, cost C$20.50.

The Castello di Pomino comes from one of my favourite wineries, Frescobaldi. Richly coloured, it had a more modest nose than the last, with scents of green apple, peaches, and toasted bread - nice, but not as intersting as the last wine. On the palate it was elegant but light bodied - a well-balanced, solid quaffer, but not terribly intersting. A good value. Score 15/20, cost C$16.

Friday, November 03, 2006

2001 Chateau de Lancyre "Grande Cuvee"

Hmmm - another Pic Saint-Loup wine - maybe this French region (1,2) is on to something that we can all appreciate - great, inexpensive wines?

The 2001 Chateau de Lancyre Grande Cuvee is a deep purple, with nice spicy and blackberry aromas, as well as oak, vanilla, and pencil shavings. Rich, dark cherries on the palate, it was peppery with good balance. Short length, this is a fruity wine for enjoying today (decant, lots of sludge). Score 16/20. C$24.65

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Great Values, Argentina

While I always have a "value" bent, I just noticed that many of my selections below are pricier than the average wine. It is not that I don't drink cheap wine, but I tend not to blog those wines. To address this paucity of inexpensive wine reviews, I would like to highlight my five best wineries for inexpensive wines (below C$20) from various regions. Tonight, Argentina (in order of preference)!

Altos: The "Las Hormigas" Malbec is a great value and worth seeking out.

Catena: Fabulous Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Save even more money and buy their Alamos line of wines - terrific values.

Norton: Great Malbec, and the "Privada" cuvee is usually priced very close to my sub-20 target (a definite buy)

Lurton: Good Cabernet, should have a good Malbec as well.

Zuccardi: The Zuccardi "Q" Malbec is a terrific wine, but I have not tried their other offerings.


2002 Ramey Claret

I thought a nice bottle of wine would console me after a terrible week, so I went California (I'm in a bit of a rut after Napa...). My wife also loves California, and was returning from a business trip, so the 2002 Ramey Claret sounded like a good choice.

The wine was a nice deep cherry red, with some brick red at the edges. The nose was very nice: scents of rose, strawberry, orange, pine, earth, leather, pepper, green tea, cocoa, hazelnut and wet stones. Overall, wonderful strawberries and leather up front,with an interesting diversity of aromas.

On the palate it was medium bodied, rich and velvety with supple tannins and a slight rusticity. Very well-balanced, it was more oaky than fruity, but elegant. Decent length, this wine will probably improve, but is nice today. (It reminds me of a "Baby Dominus") Depsite the high alcohol, it is not noticeable on the nose or palate. Overall, excellent winemaking - exuberant and restrained at the same time, should soften up over time, nicely done.
Score 18/20
Price: US$41.50