Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mini Vertical #6: 2003 vs. 2005 D'Arenberg "The Laughing Magpie"

Been away for a few days so I have a few posts to catch up on. Here's the last in my Mini Vertical series (for now), and it was another Australian night.

The 2003 D'Arenberg "The Laughing Magpie" was a dark cherry red with a slight brick colour at the edges. Opened slowly over the eveing - liquorice and cloves, then violet, blackberry cedar, tobacco, flint and prunes. Quite angular and harsh when first poured, but it softened very nicely over the evening, retaining a nice fresh acidity and elegance. Drink now, or over the next few years.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: ~$27 (LCBO) (swapped some Montus for this one)

The 2005 D'Arenberg "The Laughing Magpie" was a purpley cherry red, with a very hot and spicy nose. Blackberry fruit, smokey, with some leafiness, later revealing violet, undergrowth, pepper, liquorice, butterscotch and cocoa, and a late showing of a strong, tar/fuel aroma. On the palate it was complex, with dry dusty tannins and not overly fruity, but not as well integrated. It should improve with some bottle age, but I really have no experience with wines aged under a screw cap. Give it a good decant.
screw cap. 15% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: $27.95 (LCBO)

So while tonight was meant to be a comparison of two different vintages, I couldn't help thinking about "closure". The 2003 has sat in my cellar for a few years under a cork closure, while the 2005 was purchased more recently and sealed under a screw cap. Can I really compare vintages in this scenario? Also interesting to note the difference that 0.5% alcohol made on my perception of the wines.

Sorry Edward - I promised a match up of the 2002 vs. the 2005 after your 2002 review, but I only had the 2003. Cheers!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mini Vertical #5: 1999 vs. 2001 Chateau Carbonnieux

I couldn't do a series of mini-verticals without stepping into Bordeaux. Tonight's two Bordeaux come from the unheralded 1999 and 2001 vintages, sandwiching yet another one of the "vintages of the century" - I can't fault the Bordelais for trying, but as one of their primary customers I find it all a bit annoying.

Anyway, I was curious about these two "inferior vintages" of a wine that my tasting group seriously enjoyed a few years ago. Carbonnieux is based in Pessac-Leognan, and is unusual in that it produces nearly equal amounts of red and white wine. For red grapes the vineyard is planted 60% Cabernet and 30% Merlot, with the balance being Cab Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere.

The 1999 Chateau Carbonnieux was cherry red, with some bricking at the edge. Vegetal and roses at first, some blackcurrant, prunes, blackberry, musk, leather, black pepper and gravelley wet stones, medicinal as well. On the palate it was a classic Bordeaux - very dry, crisp and spicy. Light to medium bodied, with powerful tannins and ample acidity that seemed a awkward, but developing improved elegance with more air time. I recommend drinking now, or over the next few years. Note this tasted nothing like my notes from 2005.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$65 (SAQ)

The 2001 Chateau Carbonnieux was cherry red, with a caramel nose at first, but shifting quite dramatically to vegetal, then mushrooms, truffles, and black earth, roses and crisp berries. Very nice. On the palate were dry, firm tannins and good acidity, very powerful and rough around the edges at first, but developing and improving over the evening at a rapid rate. Despite the awkwardness this was a much more complex and interesting wine that I believe needs more time to develop - stick it away for another five years.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$66 (SAQ)

A few observations: (1) Despite both being awkard, I felt the 2001 has potential and should develop nicely, while the 1999 does not appear to have that potential (2) Another major split between RP and WS tonight - the '01 was an 89 for Bob, but Suckling gave it a 79 - that's a very big gap (3) The prices on these were way too high - bad QPR.

Those following my Mini Verticals will notice that I have not made any comments on the actual vintages I am tasting. I have done that purposely - tasting first, reviewing the vintage commentary afterwards to compare to my notes. I will review this series in greater detail soon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Day '05 Burgundies

I have had some success with red Burgundies from the 2005 vintage, so I bought a slew of them for Christmas dinner in the C$25-35 range. A pretty good line up, and all paired nicely with the meal. However, there was no consensus tonight, with each taster finding their own favourite.

The 2005 Mongeard-Mugneret Hautes Côtes de Nuits was light cherry red in the glass, with a simple oaky and earthy nose, later showing some grenadine, mushroom and floral aromas. On the palate it was very tart with ample tannins - quite awkward at first, but softeneing over the eveing. Not bad, but this classically styled Burgundy could probably benefit from some time in the cellar. Cam's favourite, but down the list for the rest of us. I might pick up another bottle and sock it away for a few years.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$27.25 (SAQ)

The 2005 Joseph Drouhin Givry recently received a glowing review here, and did not disappoint tonight. A musty, earty nose, but the velvety palate and nice finish give this a slightly better score than last time (it was paired with food this time). If not everyone's favourite, it was close, and at this price a great value.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$25.25 (SAQ)

The 2005 Joseph Drouhin Pernand-Vergelesses was purchased to compare to the Givry above, and the added $ did not make a difference. Darker hued than the Givry, it had an interesting minerally and animally nose, with leather, truffle, nuts, and pepper, and a "hot" minty presence. Spicy, with crisp acidity and nice mineral focus on the palate, it was once again a touch hot, harsh. It may soften with some bottle age, but I am just not sure. Nobody's favourite.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$34.25 (SAQ)

The 2005 Doudet Naudin Mercurey "Chateau Beau" was perhaps the most polarizing of the evening. Darker cherry red, with a funky barnyard nose, truffles, brie cheese, wet stones, fur, and a minerally/flintiness. Nice berry fruit on the palate, velvety tannins and good acidity, this was a classy, elegant, well-balanced Burgundy. A bit thin, short finish, drink now or over the next few years.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$32.75 (SAQ)

I am still enjoying the accessibility of the "lesser" Burgs from the 2005 vintage, but it was pretty hard to be "wowed" by these wines after last week's stunning Burgundies. However, these price points were much more palatable! For my part, I would highly recommend the humble Givry (given the price) or the Mercurey, but that Mongeard-Mugneret seems to have potential that the others do not. I would also note that the Mercurey was an ethereal burg experience, a wine to ponder, and more like last week's Cote d'Or wines.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and Joe was pouring Pinot Noir

Christmas Eve is my big holiday. So what does one pour to match beet soup, salmon, perogies and cabbage? Umm, Pinot Noir, of course...? While not wanting to spoil a big meal with a blinded tasting, I did pour three very different Pinots to compare and contrast:

The was no doubt as to which wine was the crowd favourite. The 2004 Cristom Pinot Noir "Marjorie Vineyard" from Oregon's Willamette Valley. A deep cherry red, it exploded with truffle and lush black earth, followed by flowers, candied rasberry fruit, ferns, allspice and tobacco. On the palate it was beautifully balanced, with velvety tannins, very good acidity. Juicy, but not jammy, wow. I see why Oregon gets a lot of attention from some Burgundy fanatics. "Probably the best Pinot I ever had" is a quote from my father in law, who has a had a "few" good wines in his life. At this price it had to be good.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: US$60 (Burgundy Wine Co.)

The 2003 Höpler Pinot Noir was a bit of an experiment - Austrian Pinot? Sure, I'll take a few of those. A pleasant surprise. Light cherry red in the glass with an attractive nose of raspberry and oak, supported by white pepper, smoke, floral, musk, vanilla and mushroom. Fresh berry juice with nice acidity, great balance, and a long finish. A great pairing for the meal.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$31 (Opimian)

I reallly liked the '03 Cambria I had this summer so I bought two bottles of the 2005 Cambria Pinot Noir "Julia's Vineyard". From California's Santa Maria Valley, this deep cherry red wine was jammy, candied fruit on the nose, with attractive cocoa, oak and smokey notes. Despite the nose this was not a fruit bomb - crisp berry fruit, nicely balanced, but a short finish. A great wine in a tough crowd.
cork. 13.7% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$31 (SAQ)

Quote of the night: while pondering the Cristom, my father-in-law was warned that he should drink his Cristom or there might not be any left for him. The response: "Once you've drunk it you can't smell it." 'Nuff said.

No Burgundies tonight - those come out tomorrow.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mini Vertical #4: 2001 and 2002 Yalumba Signature - with a Middle Eastern Twist

Another mini-vertical tonight but my bro-in-law decided that, after some success with the Chateau Musar at our "Oddities Night", he would crash this Barossa party with a Lebanese wine. A Cab/Shiraz blend, it was a perfect match for my Yalumba tasting. This one is for you, Fadi!

Three wines, similar grapes, and harvested within a 12 month period, but with such different terroirs and styles - it should have been easy to pick out the Lebanese in this blinded tasting, right?

The 2001 Chateau Kefraya "Comte de M" is regarded in some circles as Lebanon's greatest bottling, vying with the Musar for that honour. A dark cherry red in the glass - similar to the others - but on the nose this wine was very different from the other two. Earthy, with melted chocolate, tea, liquorice, grendadine, cedar, musk, leather and compote - very complex, but an unusual wine that could be polarizing. On the palate is was a touch austere, even rustic. Very dry, with ample acidity and big tannins that made this full-bodied wine seem a touch off-balance. A lengthy finish, it softened up over the eveing, and it should be a few years before this wine struts its stuff. Nicely done, but I think I may have preferred the Musar. Rematch in five years.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: $50 (SAQ)

The 2001 Yalumba "The Signature" comes from Australia's Barossa Valley, and is a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz. Deep, purpley-red in the glass with no signs of aging. Pepper and blackberry on the early nose, exploding over the evening with violet, strawberry, truffle, leather, vanilla, smoke and a hint of tarriness. Crisp currant fruit and very dry, dusty tannins on the palate, some tarry notes, this wine had an extremely long finish. This elegant, Bordeaux-styled wine was my favourite of the evening.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$47

The 2002 Yalumba "The Signature" was so different from the 2001 that it was not easy to pick out the Lebanese wine amongst the three bottles. Deep, dark purple in the glass. Violet, blackberry, and vegetal notes dominated, later showing cherry, cedar, coffee, tobacco, cocoa and eucalyptus. Silky and elegant, it was juicier and more accessible than the others, yet had a very long finish and could also benefit from some cellar time. Definitely not a fruit bomb, but more fruit forward than the 2001.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$43.50 (SAQ)

Despite a trio of warm climate cab/shiraz wines, there were no fruit bombs here tonight. These were complex, elegant and structured wines, and great pairings for Beef Wellington. As I tasted these a number of questions came to mind:

1) The '01 Signature was panned by Wine Spectator (87 pts), yet 95 points from Mr. Parker. Were they tasting the same wine? Perhaps Mr. Parker's roots in Bordeaux give him a better appreciation for this style?

2) The '02 Signature was better reviewed by WS (91), and similarly reviewed by RP (96). Hmmm - fruity and not fruity, but same in RP's books, but WS needed that extra ripeness to give it a decent score? Food for thought.

3) Is the Kefraya Comte de M Lebanon's best? A very well made wine and different from the Musar, which seems to come from another era. But the Musar was just so different, and therein lies he charm, in my mind.

4) There was a piece to the Comte de M and the Musar that was very similar, despite very different grapes and vintages. Earthy and liquorice-y, a Lebanese terroir?

(PS - apologies for the crappy photo)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mini Vertical #3: 2000 vs. 2001 Quinta Quietud

Getting out of the house, but not getting away from my cellar, we decided on an early sitting at Toucheh, a local BYO resto known for great food at a reasonable price. To match the Iranian/Italian inspired fare I brought two Spanish reds, in keeping with my mini-vertical theme.

The 2000 Quinta Quietud comes from Toro, a Spanish appellation down river from Ribera del Duero. This wine, 100% tempranillo (Tino de Toro), was bright cherry red in the glass. Oaky and peppery on the nose at first - crisper fruit and more subtle - it later showed some plum, white cherries, rose, hay, mint and coffee. Very dry, with fresh acidity and supple tannins, it was a bit awkward and less balanced. Very enjoyable, but less complex than the 2001 below. Drink now.
cork. 14.3% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: $39.75 (SAQ)

The 2001 Quinta Quietud was a deep, dark cherry red (much darker than 2000) and very aromatic. Lots going on - spicy at first, supported by attractive violet, blackberry, strawberry, cherry, oak, earth, pepper, tea and smoke aromas. The spiciness continued on the palate. Very dry, with ripe berry fruit and ample oak, it had a nice backbone of firm tannin and fresh acidity. Elegant, harmonius, with a very long finish, this wine could use much more time in the cellar. My type of Spanish red - dry, spicy and beautifully textured. Great price.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: $30.75 (SAQ)

For dessert I brought a Jurancon Sec, the 2005 Domaine Cauhape "Symphonie de Novembre". Golden yellow in the glass, the nose was all apples, quince, pears, cantaloupe and fig. Honey, green melon and apples on the palate, it had a nice bitterness and acidity on the finish. Rich, smooth, balanced, it was not too sweet, viscous, or fruity. Terrific.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: $38.00 (SAQ)

I highly recommend Toucheh - the chef came to our table and explained the fine selection of 10 different entrees (incl. some vegetarian), and service was very attentive. But don't count on them to be wine nuts - the glassware was weak and there were no decanters (I brought my own) to be seen, but they did bring an ice bucket for the Cauhape. Not a problem, just prepare yourself.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

High End Burgundies: Côte-d'Or, Côte de Beaune

"It is good to have good friends, and even better to have good friends who love wine, but it is absolutely spectacular when those good friends love the really, really good stuff and want to share." - Joe

That pretty much sums up my thoughts on an evening of spectacular wines with a spectacular friend. There was no specific theme for tonight - Cosme and I just wanted to get together and "open something". It turned out that we opened "somethings", very special somethings from Burgundy.

The oldest wine tonight was the 2000 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin (more at The Burgundy Report). Cherry red in the glass, it started all Coca-Cola, maybe more Dr. Pepper, on the nose. Closed all night, the nose was rather simple and uncomplex. On the palate it was a beautiful, easy drinking red - soft, fleshy, dare I say modern? A short finish, this elegant, balanced, and beautifully textured Pinot is ready to drink now.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: ~C$90

The 2001 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny is a legendary, historic estate, one that can trace its roots over 550 years and the 20th generation of the family curretly runs the estate. It doesn't get more "old world" than this (more here). A bright cherry red in the glass, this was the deepest, darkest wine of the three. Closed at first, milk chocolatey, later showing nice spicy raspberry, earthy, smoky, subtle floral aromas and some sweet caramel. A very nice, long cherry finish, rich and velvety, elegant, such perfect balance...mmm. Will probably keep for many years in the cellar, but nice today.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 18.5/20
Price: $$$

My contribution, and the youngest of the evening, was the 2002 Bouchard Père et Fils "Le Corton" - the sole representative from the Beaune (more here). A light cherry red in the glass, it was crisp and minerally on the nose, with raspberry, mushroom, smoke and wet earth. Lively acidity, velvety tannins, nice persistency, becoming richer and juicier over the evening, but always forcused, never jammy. This is my style of Burgundy, and a relative bargain in this crowd. I would stick this away for a few years if you can wait.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$80 (SAQ)

Overall, I was a bit surprised by the two Cote de Nuits wines - I have very little experience with them, and I found them much softer and less "focused" than I expected. Very elegant, very complex, but I am not sure I like the style - something to explore in future tastings. That being said, drinking a legend is a very special wine moment, and the Comte de Vogue delivered.

These were tasted unblinded - I wonder what would have happened if these were unblinded?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mini Vertical #2: 1997 vs. 1999 Riserva Ducale 'Oro'

After last night's mini-vertical I realized I have a whole cellar full of mini-verticals - a theme for this year's holiday season! Tonight's spaghetti and meat sauce dinner screamed for a Sangiovese so I brought out this mini-vertical (blinded), which has been in the works for some time.

The 1997 Ruffino Riserva Ducale 'Oro' comes from the Chianti Classico appellation of Tuscany, and recent vintages were made from 85% sangiovese and 15% colorino. Dark ruby red and rust-coloured at the edge, it started out very flat on the nose - pruney, but not much else. Then (1.5 hours later) it opened up...roses, white cherries, musk, leather, tobacco, cocoa, and some tarriness and flintiness, even some wintergreen? Very attractive, and equally so on the palate - velvety tannins and dry cherry fruit, this was a very well-balanced, classy wine. Could rest in the cave, but no need - it is drinking very well today.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: $40.50 (SAQ)

The 1999 Ruffino Riserva Ducale 'Oro' was a lighter ruby colour in the glass, fooling some tasters into thinking this was the older bottling. Quite aromatic on the nose - very smokey, with blackberry, musk, tobacco, tar, flint, and some meaty/cheesey notes. On the palate it was crisper, with nice pepper and nutmeg, but a bit angular and unbalanced. Terribly interesting, but just not coming together the way the 1997 did. Could that be two more years in the cellar? I suspect it goes beyond that. Stick this one away and try it again in 2009.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: $44.95 (LCBO)

Overall, these wines were far more similar than they were different, with both coming from outstanding Tuscan vintages (although the experts seem to declare the '97 vintage superior, which fits with tonight's result). Note that the 2001 was last blogged here from London, and these older brethren were equally impressive.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mini Vertical #1: 1998 vs. 2003 Shafer Merlot

(snow angels...)

A little while back I "won" a 2003 Shafer Merlot in a gentlemen's bet, so when I saw the 1998 at the local shop I added that to the collection as well. I thought about building a vertical, but in the end I stopped at two bottles. Tonight was the perfect evening to crack these open.

Today officially kicks off the holiday season - no more work 'till January and my in-laws are here so I can work through my overstock. With a pork roast in the oven I went for the Merlot, breaking my pinot noir reflex in this situation. The wines were decanted and blinded for this comparison.

On my left was the 2003 Shafer Merlot from California's Napa Valley. As far as I can tell this wine is over 85% merlot, with the balance being cab sauv and cab franc. Teleporting me back to my Napa 2006 trip, this intense cherry/purple wine was dominated by jammy fruit, pepper, and dark chocolate on the nose. Opening up over the evening, it taunted me with musky leather, vanilla and cinnamon. Very intriguing on the palate, but the fruit was big, the tannins harsh and the alcohol a touch high. Not a bad wine, but a flag bearer for the jammy chocolatey fruit bombs that are less loved by Joe these days. Needs more time in the cellar.
cork. 14.9% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: gift

The 1998 Shafer Merlot was a different story. In the glass it was a dark cherry with an attractive brick hue. A terrific nose of dark berries and plums, pepper, liquorice, leather, smoke, nuts and an attractive leafy/vegetal note, I could have sniffed this for hours. On the palate this medium-bodied merlot was silky smooth, balanced and elegant, with good acidity and nice fruit. A better pairing for the pork roast, this wine is ready now but could keep for a few more years.
cork. 14.3% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$62

So, this brings up a good question - has Shafer changed winemakers? While age has certainly softened the older wine, I think there is more to the difference than a few years in the bottle. Anybody have an answer to that?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yoyo, a Resto, it's BYO

Our tasting group now has a new annual event, the Christmas BYO dinner. Last year it was Bistro l'Entrepont and the year before it was Les Infidèles, so when La Colombe (wisely) rejected us, Yoyo happily took us in. The only theme this year was NOT EXTREME - bring anything you want, but not the stupid-priced stuff we had last year.

Yoyo was an incredible BYO so I will start with the food. Serving up a diverse menu of French comfort food, the menu had unusual creations and well-loved classics, with the most diverse set of appys and entrees I have yet seen at a Montreal BYO. Slightly larger than the city's other BYOs, it was probably a bit less romantic, but more appropriate for our large-ish group. The only criticisms I can think of are that it was a bit out of the way and the freakish heating system rapidly alternated between Havana and Baffin Island, but that's nitpicking.

I took advantage of the unusual menu to try some things you don't get every day - a blood sausage appetizer and a "sweetbread" stuffed with sweet goat cheese for the main course. Both were impeccably prepared, and tasty enough to convert the vast majority of you who just vomited under their computer desks.

Of course there was wine involved. Enjoyed, but not intensely scrutinized, here are some notes:

2001 Chateau Lagrezette Cuvee Dame Honneur: My contribution had beautiful violet aromas were framed by leather. tobacco, earthy wet stones, pencil shaving, minerals and and copious dark fruit - very intriguing, and the favourite of a few diners. A bruiser on the palate, with tough tannins and a bit hot, but with nice leathery fruit. A wine to sip and ponder, it only started to open up late in the eveing. Needs time. cork, 15% alcohol

2002 d'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz: Pramod's Dead Arm showed big jammy cherries and fresh wild berries, later some mint, pepper and flinty notes, it continued to evolve right up to the last drop. Despite its youth it tasted more delicate, yet powerful at the same time. Very tannic, but with juicy fresh fruit and good acidity. It softened over the evening, but I just don't think this is ready yet. Sock it away. cork. 14.5% alcohol

2003 d'Arenberg Ironstone Pressings: I generally think of d'Arenberg as more old world style than other Aussie makers, but it is really specific bottlings that seem that way - the Ironstone Pressings is one of them. Cam's wine was Rhone-like: meaty, earthy and cedary up front, with some vegetal, black cherry, and a touch minty. Velvety tannins, I found it more interesting than The Dead Arm, but perhaps a big more rough around the edges on the palate. Fine now, but should improve over time. Probably the wallflower of the evening - nobody's favourite, but enjoyable for all. cork. 15% alcohol

2000 Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco: A beautiful nose of berries, licorice and undergrowth, and even more amazing on the palate - crisp strawberry fruit, silky tannins and very nice length - this was the most elegant and drinkable of the evening, and probably tied with the Burgundy below for the crowd favourite. cork. 13.5% alcohol

2004 Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras: Peanuts? Yes, peanuts on the nose - almost peanut butter - never had that before. Also, truffles, tea and cocoa, pepper, cedar, rose, and minerals. Smooth and elegant, light to medium bodied, with dusty tannin and a short finish, but very well balanced and drinking well today. Overall it started odd, but flowered throughout the evening (and everyone noticed). Drinking well now. cork. 13% alcohol

This was a very diverse set of wines and all were excellent. Hard to call a favourite, but I think the Burgundy and the Barbaresco both crowd favourites (interesting that these were the subtle, lowest alcohol, wines). I liked the Burgundy with my blood sausage, while the Barbaresco (my favourite of the evening) paired best with my sweetbread.

When in Montreal you definitely need to check out Yoyo with a Gresy Barbaresco - highly recommended.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wasn't That a Party

It's holiday time so I have been busy away from the blog, but with last night's party out of the way I can catch up on the pile of tasting notes exceeded only by the pile of snow in my driveway.

For the past few years my wife and I have hosted an open house for close friends and neighbours. But rather than simply put a bottle of wine on a table, every year I conduct a mini-tasting. Too chaotic (kids are invited) for anything formal, I simply serve a variety of wines and blind the guests.

Tonight, the wines were "Santa", "Mrs. Claus", "Rudolph" and "Frosty":

Armed with the following riddles our guests were invited to guess which was which, if they so chose:

A - "Viva Italia!" Oops, I mean "Viva Argentina!"
B - Chianti, but not Classico
C - Shiraz, or Syrah?
D - Who added that dash of white to my Aussie red?

This rather simple exercise integrated well into this social event. Some guests tried to solve the riddles, some simply asked me lots of questions, others secretly pondered the wines and listened to the others, and some simply chugged whatever was closest to them. But as evidenced by the army dead soldiers on my dining room table, the forty-five adults in attendance were "enthusiastic".

The winner? Well, that wasn't really a question, as all of these were terrific wines, but Rudolph was hero tonight and I had to work hard to keep that decanter full. Rudolph was the 2005 d'Arenberg "The Laughing Magpie" (1,2). No surprise - in my experience the big fruit of the Aussie wines always seem to win in such a chaotic setting, and this wine had enough complexity to keep the interest of our more experienced guests. A good party choice (but not cheap), but very sludgey wine so decant carefully.

The 2004 Masi Corbec comes from their Tupungato estate in Argentina. Made from Corvina (the grapes used in Amarone) and Malbec, and in the appassimento method used for Amarone, I thought this would be the one to confuse even the best tasters - and it did. A big bruiser, it shows similarities to real Amarone, at a price ($27) much closer to a simple Valpolicella. It probably needs some time.

The 2004 Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina (90% Sangiovese, plus Malvasia nera, Colorino, others) is a JoeFave (1,2), but in this setting this flavourful but very dry wine just didn't work. The same went for another JoeFave, the 2003 Guigal Crozes-Hermitage (1,2) - the Syrah of the group. Crisp and elegant, but with all of the sights, sounds and flavours thrown at our guests it was ignored by all, except my bro-in-law Cam who happily gulped it up.

Some may have noticed other wines. A late arrival was Cosme, the man who started me on this vinous journey. Together we and the remaining seven guests raided the JoeCave for some Montepulciano, the 2001 Don Luigi by Di Majo Norante to be exact, a wine made from 90% Montepulciano and 10% Tintilia. A wine enjoyed in the past, I put it away for a few years after my last bottle. Awkward when first poured (it was still at cellar temp), it opened up to a terrific and complex (leafy tobacco and dark berries, spicy) nose. Flavourful, with crisp acidity and big tannins and nice cherry fruit, I can't believe this is six years old. This wine screamed for a helping of homemade meat lasagna.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WBW #40 - Petite Sirah

Sonadora got the nod from the Wine Blogging Wednesday committee and chose Petite Sirah for the theme. This presented two dilemas for me: (1) I have never tasted a good Petite Sirah, and (2) this was the first WBW that required me to go shopping - my cellar is usually well-stocked for such events.

Searching the SAQ (local wine monopoly) website, I found just 6 Petite Sirah wines online. Moreover, not all of the bottles were at stores nearby. In the end I found a Mexican Petite Sirah and a Aussie Durif nearby, making a few firsts for Joe's Wine - my first Mexican wine, my first Aussie Durif and my first blog entry in the Petite Sirah category. The wines were decanted and served blind.

Mexico? I actually thought it was Californian on the website, but realized my mistake when I got to the store. Could the land of tequila take one of California's signature grapes and make something nice at 12 bucks? The 2004 L.A. Cetto Petite Sirah (100%) comes from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, Mexico. Dark cherry red in the glass, it was pleasant - but simple - on the nose, with some black cherry, vanilla and faint floral scents. On the palate was jammy fruit, supported by gripping tea-like tannins, but light on acidity and a bit "hot". Smooth, rich, it had decent length and could probably be cellared. At less than $12 this was a steal, and should be a serious consideration in the "fruity New World" category for upcoming holiday parties. Great Value!
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: $11.95 (SAQ)

Like the Cetto above, the 2005 Deen de Bortoli Vat 1 Durif was chosen because it was easily accessible. Dark cherry red, this wine showed a much more interesting nose - black cherry, smoke, leather, wet fur, and leafy/woodsy notes, very nice. Dry, with fresh acidity, pretty cherry fruit, and velvety tannins, this was a luscious and classy pour. Short finish, drink now.
screw top. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: $17.50 (SAQ)

Overall, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't get a California Petite Sirah in here, but then I would never have discovered Mexico. Olé! Going into this I thought the wines would be tannic and alcoholic fruit bombs, brutes. The tannins in these bottles were soft and palatable, and the alcohol was lower than I expected. Still fruit bombs, but enjoyable sippers.

Thanks, Sonadora, for pulling me out of shell. I never go back in.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Marcus and Joe decided to get together again (previous) for a Friday evening tasting, this time at my place. After some lengthy discussion we finally came up with a theme – Southern France vs. Spanish whites. Perfect – my tasting group hates doing whites!

The idea was great, but the execution was a bit more challenging given the weak local selection. In the end we succeeded in putting together a great flight: a Rueda, a Rioja, a Jurancon Sec, a Cotes du Rousillon, and even a Vin de Pays du Gard.

To pair with our later evening event I served a selection of cheeses from the south of France (Tomme de Chevre des Pyrenees, Petit Basque des Pyrenees) and Spain (Manchengo), and other light snacks. Truly a diverse set of wines and flavours!

For blinding, we opted against the paper bag trick, as the different-coloured and different-shaped bottles would be a dead giveaway. Instead my wife poured the wines into chilled decanters and we kept them cool on a tray of ice! (see photo below - remind you of anything, Edward?)

The decanter on the left held the 2005 Domaine Mourgues du Gres "Terre d'Argence" Vin de Pays du Gard, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. A new appellation for me, this wine was reminiscent of the white Hermitage I had recently. Yellow gold in the glass, the nose showed lavender, lemon, apple and toast. A touch thin on the palate, but as it warmed it showed a nice, rich apple flavour. Good acidity, but a bit hot. Very Rhone-like, and a nice effort.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: $23.10 (SAQ)

The next decanter held a 2003 Chateau les Pins Cotes du Roussillon. Corked, unfortunately, as there were some neat aromas hiding underneath - cooked pears, flowers - and some almonds on the palate.

For both Marcus and I (and my wife who joined us later) the clear favourite was the 2005 Palacios Remondo Placet, a white Rioja wine made from the local Viura grape and reviewed here earlier this year. A pale white gold in the glass - the palest of the bunch - I thought it might be the Rueda by the colour. Very interesting on the nose – citrusy (limes), minerally, and floral – gorgeous. Elegant, rich and luscious, with a nice long bitter finish. Sometimes a great wine comes together so well that you can’t use words to describe why you like it so much – the Placet is one of those. Marcus and I just bought up the last bottles on the island (sorry).
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: $24.75 (SAQ)

The next decanter held the 2004 Domaine Cauhape "Seve D'Automne", a wine from the Jurançon sec appellation (made from the Gros Manseng grape) and tasted in my Southwest France review. Deep yellow gold in the glass, it showed green melon, banana, honey and pineapple on the nose. The tropical theme continued on the palate - papaya and melon, with a nice bitter and minerally finish. Once again, the whopping alcohol was not overly apparent. Flavourful and elegant, but an extrovert amongst a more reserved peer group. Note: the priciest wine of the evening.
cork. 15% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: $28.05 (SAQ)

The decanter on the right held a 2005 Bodegas Aura, a Verdejo from the Spanish Rueda appellation. This golden wine was rather simple - apples and lemon rind on the nose, some minerals. On the palate is was thin and light, lemony and minerally, with a nice crisp aftertaste. Kinda Pinot Griggio-ish, this was a terrific white quaffer - uncomplex, but fun. And the best price of the evening...
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: $18.70 (SAQ)

Overall, the wines paired very well with the regionally-inspired munchies. I was probably most taken by the Spanish wines, with the crisp Rueda reminding me of a time when my patio was not covered in a foot of snow. Cheers, and many thanks to Marcus for once again donating his liver!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Menu for Hope 2007

See this post by Alder at Vinography for more details on this worthy charitable event that corrals the collective energy of the blogosphere in support of the United Nations World Food Program. Donate a prize, bid on a prize, spread the word.

Cross-border logistics preclude me from participating in the auction portion of the event, but I have made a donation directly to the UN WFP.


(image courtesy of Chez Pim)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

2005 Beringer Alluvium Blanc

To celebrate the end of Prohibition I thought I'd uncork an American wine. Even better, tonight's pour comes from a winery established BEFORE prohibition, Beringer. Beringer was established in 1876, and survived the Prohibition years by selling sacramental wine for religious purposes. I applaud that entrepreneurial spirit!

I bought this wine as yet another experiment - after the great Alluvium red at our Merlot tasting I thought the white might be good? Well it was - very good, in fact. The 2005 Beringer Alluvium Blanc is an interesting blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Yellow gold in the glass, the first nose is of toasty oak and lemon rind, with some papaya, honey and lemon rind as well. Dry, smooth and creamy on the palate, with a nice lemon rind finish, and only a slight hint of heat from the high alcohol. This is one of the nicest U.S. whites I have ever had, and a nice take on Semillon. A great pairing for homemade breaded filet of sole, this wine will show up here again.
cork. 14.1% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$29.95 (SAQ)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Raise a Glass...

“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognised. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.” – John D. Rockefeller

Earlier this year Dr. Debs commented on the start of prohibition in the U.S., but I promised her that Dec. 5th was the day I would remember. On this day in 1933 the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment (the prohibition of alcohol).

Let us raise a glass today to the rebirth of the American wine industry, and keep this day as a reminder to always be wary of the dark forces of the temperance movement...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New York, New York (2)

A highlight of our NYC adventure was a simple table wine at Patsy's Pizza. The 2004 Avignonesi Rosso is a blend of Prugnolo (40%), Cab Sauv (30%) and Merlot (30%), and just $24 on the restaurant menu. Dark cherry red in the glass, this vino di tavola was simple - smokey and cedar-ey, like a campfire, with meat, tobacco, pepper and dark cherries on the nose. Big and flavourful on the palate, with nice cooked fruit, acidity and tannins, it was balanced and interesting. An honest effort at this price, and a great match for a calzone with romano and prosciutto. Patsy's - great pizza, kid friendly, conveniently located near FAO Schwartz, and great prices on cheap wine.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: $24 (menu)

I love visiting NYC at this time of year, and despite three kids in tow we managed a few good wine moments. I even liberated a few bottles of Bella from Rob's "cellar" - mmmm - wait for it!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

New York, New York (1)

I have been away for a few days on a family trip to NYC - Rockefeller Plaza, the Rockettes, Statue of Liberty, etc. While not a wine trip, I had a few neat experiences.

The first was Landmarc in Tribeca. When faced with the impossible task of finding a restaurant that was "kid friendly" AND had a good wine list, Rob's girlfriend Ellyn delivered. The kids loved "the fancy restaurant" and daddy loved the wine list - hey, I wasn't driving anywhere!

We started with the 2004 Catena Alta Malbec (my receipt says it was the '03, but I am pretty sure it was the 2004). My intent was simple - Rob and Ellyn had never enjoyed a malbec before, so this was my weapon to change their mind. A terrific wine, with great poise and elegance, velvety tannins good acidity and present, but not omnipresent, fruit. Drinking well now, this could also do with a few years in the cellar. Price: $ 69 (menu).

But we did not avoid the fruit bombs. Next up was the 2002 Clarendon Hills Grenache. Big, fresh, ripe cherry fruit, I was shocked at how fruit forward this was - as Rob said "now I know what they mean when they say 'fruit bomb'". Balanced, with velvety tannins and modest acidity, it was a terrific drinking wine, but not a great match for food.

Now these are wines that can be found on many a wine list, so what is so great about Landmarc? What they do right is a "reasonable" markup. That Catena is $50 in the store - a markup of less than 50%! They also had decanters, and used them. So, kid friendly, great food and reasonable wine markups? Outstanding - highly recommended. Thank goodness Rob finally got the good sense to find a woman who knows these things!

Next up: table wine at a pizza joint...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Super Super Tuscans

I would like to say that I chose these wines to pair with an oven roasted chicken, but I actually chose the wines days ago, and once I had the wine picked out no meal would stand in my way - I was going Tuscan tonight!

The 2000 Ghiaie Della Furba by Capezzana could almost have been in our oddities night, a Tuscan wine made from Cab, Merlot and Shiraz. A deep, dense cherry red in the glass, it was not showing its age visually. On the nose the first aromas of prunes and cooked fruit gave way to a wild and spicy number, with a complex nose of violet, blackcurrant, cedar, leather, pepper, liquorice, coffee, flint and a meaty/gamey smell. Very dry, with a rich, soft mouthfeel, the juicy fruit was followed by a powerful tannic attack. This big brutish wine had tremendous length, but is a little off balance and needs more time to straighten out. To quote the local celebrity, Bill Z, this wine has "torque". Seems like a good match for a steak frites.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$41 (SAQ)

If the Ghiaie above was a Rambo-esque brute, then the Sangiovese-based 1999 La Gioia by Riecine was the Sean Connerery of the two. Ruby red in the glass with some bricking at the edge. The nose was aromatic and polished, with floral (peonies), tobacco, and an Amaretto-like nose in the lead, followed by black cherry, wet forest, animal fur and liquorice - it smelled like a young Sangiovese. Sooo smooth and elegant, this medium-bodied red was very dry with crisp berry fruit. A very long finish, it has ample tannins and acidity to go the distance - put this away for a few more years. It was nice with the roast chicken, or would pair very well with grilled meats.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$67 (SAQ)

Overall, the elegance of the Gioia made it the crowd favourite. These wines were not tasted blind.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Breaking the Rules with Inexpensive Burgundy

Feeling a little cocky after a string of nice red burgundies this year (1,2,3,4,5) I went and broke a number of rules with this wine. First, I bought it based on the label (gasp!): no recommendation from friends, store employees or the usual media suspects - just a good vintage and a decent house on the label, and for $25 how could I go wrong? Second, I opened a Burgundy and drank it...without food (horror!). Yep, that's right, opened the bottle and drank some with my wife while watching an old Bond flick on TV. Surely random acts of Burgundy buying and drinking without food should be punished?

Wrong, the 2005 Joseph Drouhin Givry was a terrific bottle. Bright cherry red, with a perky nose of very ripe raspberry and damp forest undergrowth, later opening with some floral, truffle and meaty aromas. While the nose seemed overripe, that was not the case on the palate - the berries were crisp, with enough tannin and acidty that may allow this to keep for a few years. A pleasure to drink on its own, it might even go with food.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$25.25 (SAQ)

A great pour, this wine plays into my thinking that randomly buying 2005 Burgs from the lesser domaines of decent makers should deliver some great values.

PS - I actually bought this to compare with the $35 2005 Drouhin Pernand-Vergelesses - looks like I have to go buy another bottle (bottles?)

Friday, November 23, 2007

2006 Domaine du Salvard

I have to credit Brooklynguy with this find, a terrific inexpensive white from France. The 2006 Domaine du Salvard from the Cheverny appellation was white gold in the glass, with a terrific floral nose and lime, grapefruit, canned peach, honey and some apple aromas. Despite ample acidity it had a nice soft mouthfeel. Elegant, crisp, and balanced, even slightly earthy (damp undergrowth), but less minerally than I was expecting. A terrific pairing with homemade fish sticks, but less so with wild boar sausage.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$15.75

Like yesterday's German specials, this would also make a great holiday wine - cheap, and your guests will love it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Essence vs. Solitar

I am always trying to break my long-held beliefs in wine. Like German wine, for example - some great stuff, but nothing of interest at the low end, right? But after a nice experience with a cheap Riesling two months ago I have been poking around the German aisle more often, and noticed that the very nice "Essence" (by S.A. Prum) also had a sister wine called "Solitär". A perfect opportunity to compare two Rieslings - same vintage, same winemaker, both from Germany's Mosel-Saar-Ruwer appellation.

The 2005 Essence Riesling was similar to last time, with perhaps more floral and apple aromas than I recall. Soft and juicy with a nice bitterness on the finish, it was once again a well balanced wine that would make a beautiful apertif, or pair nicely with a poultry or ham. Great value.
screw top, 11.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: $15.45 (SAQ)

The 2005 Solitär Riesling was white gold in the glass and a shade lighter than the Essence. While the drier of the two, it was sweet on the nose - almost marmaladey - with toasty caramel at first, later showing off its attractive floral and hay aromas. Very dry, this light bodied wine was minerally with nice, focused acidity. Lighter and crisper than the Essence, it would be a nice pairing with simply prepared whitefish dishes. Great value.
screw top, 11.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: $15.45 (SAQ)

Overall, these were great, inexpensive whites that would be ideal for the upcoming holiday season.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oddities Night...or Freakshow?

Our tasting group took the challenge of finding an oddity to heart, raiding their cellars and using incredible creativity to find odd - even freakish - wines. This grouping, probably gathering dust at the back of your local wine shop, was tremendously entertaining and a great learning experience, as our intrepid group of seven dove into the darkest corners of the wine world:

1998 Chateau Musar (Lebanon)
2001 Wunderlich Viktoria Cuvee (Hungary)
2002 Cava Amethystos (Greece)
2002 Grover Vineyards La Reserve (India)
2003 Marques de Grinon Petit Verdot (Spain)

There was no doubt that the legendary Chateau Musar was the crowd favourite. Located in the Bekaa Valley, Chateau Musar is probably Lebanon's most famous estate, weathering years of war to produce arguably the finest, most ageworthy, wines from the Middle East. Every year the winery uses a different blend of Cabernet, Cinsault, and Carignan. Visually, Cam's 1998 Chateau Musar was the lightest-coloured wine of the bunch, a pale ruby red in the glass, but it was anything but a lightweight. At first the nose smelled of very toasted oak, which dissipated over the evening to reveal notes of green pepper, liquorice, truffles, roses and a pleasing earthiness. Crisp raspberry fruit with oaky tannins, it softened beautifully over the evening. Despite its age, it still had finish that should allow this to go for a few more years.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20, five first place rankings
Price: C$51 (SAQ)

Second place was my Spanish Petit Verdot. Like 2GrandCru, this was an impulse - Spanish? Petit Verdot? The 2003 Marques de Grinon Petit Verdot comes from the Dominio de Valdepusa appellation of Spain, and is 100% Petit Verdot. Most of you recognize this as a grape frequently used in Bordeaux-styled blends, but almost always at very low percentages. Insanely dark purple, it was impossible to see through this glass, all light, space and time vanishing into its blackness. (note - do NOT serve with white linens) Grapey and sweet at first, it had a funky rubbery smell that turned some off the wine, but later revealed nice leathery and minty aromas. On the palate was a big shag carpet of tannins that not only coated the back of the tongue, but puckered up the roof of your mouth as well. Medium-bodied, juicy, with a nice loooong finish and dry cherry fruit, it opened up over the evening and was beautiful drinking for those of us who got over the smell. Despite a whopping 15% alcohol it was not particularly 'hot'. I have one more bottle - it will be interesting to see if time will tame this beast.
cork. 15% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20, two first place (and one last as well)
Price: C$40 (SAQ)

Third place was a very competent wine that Chris brought from India, the 2002 Grover Vineyards "La Reserve". A blend of Cabernet and Shiraz grown on the hills near Bangalore, and if an Indian wine is not "odd" enough, Michel Rolland is the consulting winemaker! This wine was quite musty at first, but that gave way to leafy, cooked fruit, smoke and vanilla aromas. Pleasant, but thin and short, a good effort.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 15.5/20
Price: ~US$30

Fourth was Pramod's Greek wine, the 2002 Cava Amethystos, a Vin de Pays de Drama (I just learned an appellation!) by Domaine Costa Lazaridi. A blend Cabernet Sauvignon and some Merlot and Limnio. Not very complex on the nose - flint, cherry, and cinnamon - but velvety tannins, nice balance and a medium finish. I liked it more than the rest of the group.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$48 (SAQ)

Lloyd's Hungarian wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend, was dead last. The 2001 Wunderlich Viktoria Cuvee was all Banana smoothie, with some leafy and floral notes, juicy with no length or structure, really never had anything like this. Could the bottle be off? Odd, indeed. Nobody finished their glass.
Score: 12/20
Price: ~US$30

So, the Indian hated the Indian, the Greek hated the Greek, and everyone hated the Hungarian (Lloyd promises never, ever, to bring such a terrible wine to a tasting).

It is interesting to note that we were truly blind - no one had tasted the wine that they brought prior to this tasting.

Overall, the quality level rapidly deteriorated after the first two or three wines, and even the top wines were not really up to the level of wines we typically crack open, but it was a terrific "learning" tasting, and as my readers know I am always on the hunt for something unusual.


Friday, November 16, 2007

What is "Odd"?

My wine tasting group is having an "oddities" night tomorrow. Chris' free-for-all format is somewhat of a departure from our formal tastings, where we each try and outdo one another in a region or grape of focus.

So, what exactly is an "oddity"? I suspect odd may be a function of where you currently live. I certainly would not think it odd to taste a Canadian wine, but an Aussie might think that to be a freakshow. Anyway, "oddity" has not been clearly defined, leaving us to "free our creative minds". Fair to say that odd regions, or odd grapes from normal regions, are the focus.

I am not sure what exactly was the catalyst for this unusual event, but expect some fun stuff to be poured. I am contributing a Spanish Petit Verdot, but I think we may see some neat (for a Montrealer) stuff from Lebanon, Greece and who knows what else. I will report back soon - please pass along any "odd" wine stories.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

2005 de Villaine "Les Clous" - WBW #39

Domaine de Villaine has a commanding lead for Joe's 2007 "Winery of the Year" award: three for three, with high scores today, and previously for a white (1) and a red (2) - all at prices under $33 (tax in).

Brooklynguy is the host for tonight's Wine Blogging Wednesday, "Silver Burgundy". My selection is the 2005 Domaine de Villaine "Les Clous", a Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise made from Chardonnay grown in the Bouzeron appelation. A deep, deep, gold in the glass, and very aromatic - it started all floral - lavender - with a good dose of honey, apricot, fresh-picked ripe apples, butter and a hint of sweet cinnamon. Very elegant on the palate, perhaps thin while still cold, but very flavourul, crisp and minerally as it warmed. What can I say? Another great de Villaine outing. I usually refrain from shouting "Great Value!" over the $20 price point, but I can't help myself tonight.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: $26 (SAQ)

From my tastings of de Villaine's Bouzeron wines, it is clear that serving them at refrigerator temperature is plain wrong - they open up and come alive over 10 Celsius. Do not overly chill these and you will be rewarded with flavourful wines revealing breathtaking bouquets.

I promised more Burgundy in 2007, so thanks to Neil for kicking my butt and hosting a Burgundy-focused evening. Check out his site for more Silver Burgundy reviews from other bloggers.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Dinner with Brooklynguy at AOC Bedford

(source: AOC Bedford, Neil conveniently sat under the copper frying pan...)

Dinner and wine with a fellow blogger is a treat, but twice in a month? Rare, indeed.

Neil (Brooklynguy) was kind enough to supply the wines for a tremendous dinner on my last trip to NYC. AOC Bedford is a quiet little French Bistro (apparently NYC's "most romantic restaurant", so I hope Neil took Brooklynlady there sometime!) in Greenwich village, just a few blocks from where I used to live in New York. Sunday is bring your own wine night, with no corkage on the first bottle (Ha! One bottle...).

Neil was late, but that was ok as the server set me up with a Pinot Blanc from Germany. Very nice, but I can't recall the name of the wine (no notebook tonight). What I absolutely can recall is that the restaurant was obsessive about using the proper stemware for each wine, and the glasses did not betray the manner in which they were cleaned - Bravo!

Neil opened with the Henri Billiot Brut Rose NV Champagne that has previously written about. His comments were "nearly perfect", and I would agree. While the rose colour was subtle, I found the pinot noir came through quite clearly, with nice blackberries and that crisp white champagne backbone and a great mousse. Neil correctly refused the ice bucket, allowing us to observe the flavour and aromas evolve throughout the evening. Like Neil, I am not a huge fan of rose Champagne, but this was a great one.

With appetizers we opened the 2002 Domaine du Closel Savennieres Clos de Papillon, a delicious Loire white that Neil has tasted on multiple occasions (I don't see the '02 there). Anyway, this was a delicious, but ageing, white, which we both remarked was remarkably similar on the nose to a Sauternes (apricot, noble rot). An elegant, balanced, white that is losing some of the crispness I love in Loire whites, perhaps peaking in my mind.

For the main course Neil shared a 2002 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne Romanee, which he wrote about here. Cherry red in the glass, it started musty, but followed with earthy vanilla, blackberry/raspberry, and smoke. On the palate it showed dry, dusty tannins, with a nice - but short - finish. A terrific red Burgundy showing that paired well with my lamb, drink now.

Many thanks to Neil, who was surprisingly close to how I pictured him! My apologies, Neil, as I was very disorganized for this event - I didn't even bring a gift (how embarassing - I was going to bring the de Villaine Bouzeron I sampled here). Unfortunately, airline travel with wine is frustrating these days. Speaking of de Villaine, tomorrow is WBW #39....

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cibo Bistro & Wine Bar

A wine bar review is not that interesting until one considers the location of this worthy stop on your travel itinerary, gate B6 at Philadelphia International Airport. How cool is that? With cullinary delights at most North American airports ranging from TGI Friday's to Starbucks, could Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar be a refreshing sign of things to come?

In the background was modern, rhythmic mood music which fit with the hip and trendy decor, reminiscent of the modern-styled bistros and wine bars popping up in major metropolitan areas. A nice suprise to brighten up this weary traveller's day, and it was jam packed similarly haggard travellers.

It was dinnertime when I sat down at the bar, and with just an hour between flights ordered a crispy calamari salad (balsamic dressing) to pair with a glass of the 2005 (?) Folie a Deux Menage a Trois (white), a widely available blend of Moscato, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. White gold in the glass, I thought it more sauv. blanc on the nose, with grapefruit, green apple, oak and some floral notes. A nice soft mouthfeel, supported by juicy lemon and pink grapefruit, good acidity and persistency. Very smooth. Nicely done, and a great pairing.
Score: 16/20

Cons? Pricing (wine, the food pricing was ok), of course, but I have become somewhat immune to airport sticker shock over the years. The glassware was weak, but forgivable given the challenge of handwashing Riedel at a high volume Airport bistro.

Overall, if you love wine than this bistro is worth a stop. Somebody sign me up for this franchise!

PS - If anybody knows of other good airport wine bars, please pass on the details!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vintages Release - November 10th

I haven't commented on a Vintages release since September, but today's release is the best I've seen in months. I only hope that this post is not too late!

For my Toronto and other Ontario friends, this week's Vintages release features "Burgundy's Miracle Vintage". While the 2005 Burg selection seems "ok", the rest of the offering has some gems. Here is a partial list of bottles from this offering that I recommend:

Large Format (1.5L)

The 2005 D'Arenberg D'Arry's Original and the 2004 Zenato Ripassa are long time favourites at Joe's and perfect for the upcoming holiday season - find two decanters! The 2004 D'Arenberg Dead Arm is a collector's item to put away for the 18th birthday of your child of same vintage.

Baby Bottles (375mL)

Half bottles are great to have around. The 2004 Zenato Ripassa is also available in small format, and you could get that mini-Tig (2004 Tignanello) for a special occasion. I would also check out the mini-sparklers on offer - the 2006 Nivole Moscato d'Asti is a great after dinner off-dry sparkler, and the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut would be an inexpensive aperitif.

Other Great Ideas

2006 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec: a reliable malbec, just $14
2004 Elderton Shiraz: loved by Joe, see here
2006 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz: great new world shiraz, it will sell out quickly


2006 Ironstone Vineyards Obsession Symphony: Never heard of the "Symphony" grape, a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris. That's a $15 experiment I would love to try.

Happy Shopping!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Acela Express - "High Speed" Wine

The Acela Express is the closest thing we have in North America to a Euro-style high speed train. Not quite the same deal (I recently rode the Eurostar through the Chunnel, very cool), but it seems to me a great way to travel that Northeast corridor.

Travelling from Philly to Baltimore in one hour, downtown to downtown, I enjoyed a salad and a light snack (some chilled duck slices and Asian noodles) with wine, of course. Blinded, I sampled a small glass of white with salad and a small glass of red with the duck.

The white was a 2006 Santa Ema Chardonnay from Chile (I guessed Aussie Chardonnay). Yellow gold, with spicy oak, red delicious apple, lemon, butter and some nice minerality. On the palate it was appley toast with a nice soft mouthfeel and good acidity, very flavourful. A nice choice - one of the best freebie whites I have enjoyed. Score: 15.5/20

The red was a 2004 Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, which was definitely a Californian. Dark, dark purple in the glass, it looked like Shiraz but smelled like Merlot. Vegetal on the nose, with some spicy oak and ripe berry cassis, vanilla and nutmeg. On the palate it was medium-bodied with jammy fruit and a short spicy liquorice finish. Great balance, but a bit hot. It worked nicely with the duck, but fell apart quickly - don't cellar, don't decant. Very competent. Score: 15.5/20

Overall, kudos to Amtrak for making good selections at what I assume was a low end price point.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

1998 Fontanafredda Barolo Vigna La Rosa

A singular tasting note - no head to head, no travel, just a humble tasting note. But this wine was anything but humble. I have published Barolo notes here, but always in connection with one of our tasting group meetings. Tonight I just felt like a Barolo, and after my last post I wanted to prove that I don't have anything against Fontanafredda per se.

In my last post I mentioned that I had a good experience with the 1998 Fontanafredda Barolo Vigna La Rosa with my tasting group, but that's technically not true, it was corked. So tonight was the first chance for this wine to truly shine - and shine it did. Shiny brick red in the glass, the aromas were subtle at first - earthy and leathery - later supported by a symphony of spices (allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla), roses, raspberries and blackberries, mint, flint and a hint of the pruney smell you get with an aged wine. Pure joy on the palate, with supple, velvety tannins, fresh acidity, beautiful rasberry fruit and a nice soft mouthfeel, this was a stunning pairing for a homemade Osso Buco. Just nine years old, it is stunning now, but it has the fruit, acidity and tannin to go for a few more years. Wish I had another bottle. Note this was decanted 3 1/2 hours before dinner - perhaps a record around here. Can you use the words "value" and "Barolo" in the same sentence? This wine makes me think you can...
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18.5/20
Price: C$66 in 2004 (SAQ)

With guests over, I also opened a 2004 Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto D'Alba Basarin di Neive as back up. I didn't take notes, as I mistakenly thought I had blogged it previously. A stunning expression of Dolcetto - the best I have ever tasted. I have a few more bottles, so I will post some notes on that one sometime soon...Cheers!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Barbera D'Alba, Nebbiolo D'Alba

The Italian town of Alba is located in the heart of Piedmont, one of Italy's most famous wine regions. Overshadowed by Barolo to the west and Barbaresco to the east, the wines of Alba don't receive the same level of attention. Sure we've all seen Dolcetto d'Alba, Barbera d'Alba, Nebbiolo d'Alba in the shops, but they are not top of mind for most wine drinkers. Notably, the Nebbiolo d'Alba is produced in vineyards adjacent to the Barolo zone, thereby presenting a potential source of reasonably priced Nebbiolo?

With guests over dinner and a roast beast in the oven, I decided it would be a neat opportunity tonight to compare, unblinded, two very different wines from Alba - same vintage, different grape. Tonight's Nebbiolo and Barbera are related only by geography so I would not have expected them to be comparable, but I tasted them side by side for "calibration", as Edward would say.

On my left was the 2003 Fontanafredda Marne Brune Nebbiolo D'Alba. A shiny, cherry red in the glass, it smelled of cough syrup and rubber (Cam described it as a warm pink school eraser), some blackberry and spearmint. Later in my INAO glass all I could discern was a very "industrial" nose. On the palate were powerful, harsh, rip-the-tastebuds-off-your-tongue tannins, lively acidity - structured, but not polished, with very little fruit. Now of course I should know better than to open Nebbiolo from Piedmont barely 4 years old - what else can I say? I am pretty sure this will improve with some cellar time, but I have little experience with generic Nebbiolos. My guests were kind enough to leave the rest of the bottle behind.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 14/20
Price: ~C$19 (LBCO)

On my right was the 2003 Sandrone Barbera D'Alba. Like stepping in from the harsh winter and warming up by the fire, this beautiful Barbera cheered the crowd after the cold Nebbiolo above. Deep cherry red in the glass, it showed pleasing notes of white flowers, blueberry jam, and vanilla, with some nice green pepper/vegetal notes and only a hint of fuel. Very dry, with fresh acidity and firm, supple tannins, this medium- to full-bodied barbera was very nicely made and very well balanced with a nice long finish. This modern-styled fruity (but not over the top) barbera was so silky smooth, it was happily gulped down by all.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$32 (SAQ)

Overall, the biggest surprise for me was the Nebbiolo. I have had great Fontanafredda before (Barolo and Barbaresco), so what should I make of this? Even if it improves with age, at that price point I think drinkers are looking for something ready, or nearly ready to drink. One sip of that wine could turn those new to the grape off Nebbiolo forever. Anyway, if I ever find another bottle I will stick it away and see what happens in a few years...