Monday, January 29, 2007

2005 Hopler Gruner Veltliner

While Austrian Grüner Veltliner is not exactly a curiousity, I still find it is rather uncommon in North America despite the positive media coverage. The local liquor monopoly usually has some selections, but I bought the Hopler through the Opimian Society (a wine buying club) a few years ago and it has now become a "staple" in my cellar.

The 2005 Höpler Grüner Veltliner is a fine example of this grape. A lovely, fresh nose with floral and green apple scents, some banana. On the palate it was light and dry, with fresh citrus flavours. Very well balanced, this wine is a perfect aperitif or a great match for shellfish. Highly recommended.
Score 16.5/20
Price C$21 (Opimian)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

2002 Chateau de Chambrun

The 2002 vintage was not considered to be a great one for Bordeaux. However, Chateau de Chambrun is known to be a good maker so I bought a case of 6 bottles a few years ago upon release.

The 2002 Chateau de Chambrun is made by J-P Janouiex, who owns some other Bordeaux estates of note (check out Chateau Croix-Mouton for value). Blackberry, mint, oak, earth, pepper on the nose - overall a beauty. Medium bodied with fresh acidity, SERIOUS tannins, and a loooong velvety finish, this wine is somewhat unbalanced now. It should settle down with some bottle age, but I am not entirely sure of that. A perfect pairing for tonight's roast beef on a wintery night.
Score 16.5/20 (WS88)
Price: Expensive (Opimian)

Note: this wine was scored almost six hours after decanting, and still showing some power in the glass. Awesome.

Friday, January 26, 2007

How Merlot Can You Go?

For the first time since we founded our tasting group over three years ago, we held a tasting dedicated to the much-maligned Merlot. The wines did not have to be 100% Merlot, but 'Merlot-dominant', with that description up to the provider. And unlike the 'anything goes' format of our previous tastings, I tasked our group to deliver two right bank Bordeaux wines, two Californians and two Italians.

While weather and illness sidelined two bottles, we 'managed' - with one Italian, one St-Emilion and two Californians for the seven tasters:

1998 Beringer Alluvium Knights Valley
1999 Moulin St-Georges St-Emilion
2000 Castelgiocondo Lamaione
2002 Cakebread Merlot

The purpose of this evening, aside from getting tipsy with friends, was to compare and contrast differences amongst three regions. We blinded the wines at first to give everyone a chance to guess which wine came from where, then we quickly unblinded to spend the rest of the evening discussing, comparing, contrasting, and drinking. Out of 7 tasters, only one correctly identified the origins of all four wines - congratulations Sofia!

At first I thought Pramod's Alluvium might be Italian, but I settled on Bordeaux. I still think this is a Bordeaux - surely someone switched the labels? After so many fruit-dominated California's blends last fall, it was a pleasure to have such a nicely-balanced, well-structured Californian. It was probably my favourite of the evening - very smokey and lead pencil on the nose, some vegetal scents - not bad. On the palate it was extremely elegant and well balanced, seems to be hitting its prime. Score 18/20. RP88.

My Moulin St-Georges had to carry the flag for France, as our Pomerol supplier had to bow out due to illness. Very earthy, woodsy, oaky on the nose, with some mineral and leather scents. Some nice floral scents on the led me to believe this was the Italian. Medium-bodied, elegant, with very nice tannins and a long finish, this is entering its prime but would probably benefit from a few more years in the cellar. I loved it - score 17.5/20. WS88-90, RP90.

Lloyd's Lamaione was a wine I have been waiting to try. I thought it was a Californian. The nose was dominated by mint, but also had scents of cherry, liquorice, tea, oak and leather. On the palate there were big, velvety tannins, and chocolatey fruit. This was a lovely wine, but too young. I bet it will improve – I want to try this again in three years. Score 17.5/20. WS92, RP92.

Chris’ Cakebread Merlot was the youngest of the wines, and very obviously Californian (my only correct guess). Butter and vanilla on the nose, with some mint and leather, I described the nose as “overripe”, “like candy”. On the palate this was VERY fruit forward, dense, chewy, almost a dry port. Overall, there was too much fruit and not enough acidity or tannins for my taste, and it was my least favourite wine of the evening. That was not a consensus view, as Tonia and Sofia loved this, and I think Lloyd and Chris also liked this. This is a style issue – if you like massive, in your face, tooth-staining fruit you will love this. Score 16/20, WS85.

Overall, I have to say this was the best flight of wines have ever had. While most of our formal tastings feature great wines, there are frequently 'disappointments', and that was not the case tonight. In terms of preferences, the group was very inconsistent, with the Cakebread and Alluvium probably getting the most 'wow' from the crowd.

Of course, the purpose was to compare and contrast regions, and I did not succeed in pulling out ‘terroir’ in these wines. I think the blends and winemaking style dominated terroir tonight. The two wines that were the most ‘alike’ in my opinion were the Moulin St-Georges and Alluvium, probably on account of the blends being Merlot with substantial Cab Franc. The Cakebread and Lamaione were closer to ‘pure’ Merlot, but so radically different in terms of winemaking.

Supporting roles:

The 2004 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre was the ‘warm-up’ wine. Way too young, this was a big, dense, chewy expression of Merlot. One of my Top 50 cellar picks.

For dessert we opened a 2001 Terra Vinya Banyuls by M. Chapoutier. My first encounter with this type of wine in a long time. Richer and fruitier than a port, but a lovely chocolatey, fruity nose.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

2000 Meerlust Rubicon

Over the years I have secretly coveted this wine, but I never got around to buying it. South Africa is poorly represented in my cellar (just 3 bottles out of 487) and the depth of my South Africa tasting experience is limited, so I just couldn't bring myself to spend the money. Fortunately, my brother-in-law brought it over for dinner tonight, finally sating my curiousity.

The 2000 Meerlust Rubicon is one of South Africa's most celebrated wines, and it is clear where the inspiration comes from. A Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend, with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc blended in, this wine is very Bordeaux like in many ways. Garnet red in colour, the first scents were flinty and smokey. Behind that was a nose I can only describe as classic Bordeaux, with nice floral (violet) scents, blackberries, cedar, oak, leather, liquorice and tea. Every glass revealed more and more of its haunting bouquet.

In the mouth it was just as interesting, with everything in balance. Reserved, yet complex. Elegant, yet rustic. It was a wine that absorbed your attention. Nice, supple tannins and matching fruit, this wine still has a number of years ahead of it. It was also a wine that nicely accentuated our meal, in this case a simply prepared lasagna. This is going to be on my mind for a few days.
13% alcohol
Score 18/20
Cost C$27 (SAQ)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

2002 Planeta Merlot

Planeta is one of the key Sicilian wine houses, and I have had the chance to taste a number of their cuvees. Tonight's wine was probably the best I have tasted yet.

After tasting the Planeta Syrah at a recent tasting, I expected the 2002 Planeta Merlot to have explosive aromatics, but that was not the case. Somewhat pruney and uncomplex at first, it developed nice, but subtle, aromas over the evening - some blueberry, cedar, mint, musk, pepper and smoke. On the palate this wine was rich and chocolatey, with a big, velvety, tannic kick. Well balanced with nice, but perhaps overripe, fruit. The tannins, fruit and the persistency are there, so this wine should age nicely.

Overall, a very hefty and substantial merlot, with a racy Italian edge. I like this. Went very well with a Greek lamb stew. Score 17.5/20, cost: est. $40-ish (gift)

Friday, January 12, 2007

2003 Greg Norman Cabernet Merlot

I automatically assume "Superstar Wines" are terrible values, so it took some convincing to buy wine from a person who calls himself "The Shark". That convincing came in the form of a Wine Spectator "Wine of the Week" review, so I gave this wine a shot.

The 2003 Greg Norman Limestone Coast Cabernet Merlot is mostly Cabernet, with other vintages approaching 90%, so the anti-Merlot crowd need not worry. This ruby-hued wine was very Bordeaux-like on the nose, with a nice leathery/peppery start followed by aromas of rasberry, violet, earth, vanilla, and smoke that were interesting and every-changing. The palate continued the Bordeaux theme - very well balanced, great tannins, nicely integrated. This was not a fruit-forward Aussie! This was a full-bodied wine with substantial length - accessible now (after a good decant), it would probably benefit from a few years in the cellar. This would probably pair well with many dishes, but my preferences would be a steak off the grill or a nice winter beef stew. Score 17.5/20, Price C$24.75

I have also tried Victoria Chardonnay before, and it was a very nice wine.

Overall, while Greg Norman's wines are priced a few dollars above the competition, there is a consistency of quality in those I have tasted. Greg Norman's wines could be the ideal 'business meal' wines - impress your client without thinking too hard and without blowing the company budget. Cheers!

Monday, January 08, 2007

2005 Casillero del Diablo Carmenere

Almost immediately after tasting the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine Spectator reviewed their Carmenere (naming it "Wine of the Week") and a fellow blogger reviewed their Malbec. With these inspirations I happened upon a bottle of the Carmenere while vacationing - for the lofty sum of C$12.45. At that price it was time to try my first Carmenere!

The 2005 Casillero del Diablo Carmenere was deep purple in colour. The nose was dominated by earthy/woodsy aromas, while underneath there were scents of pencil shavings, musk, cinnamon, tea, petrol (like a Riesling) and fresh cherries. Very different. On the palate it tasted like leather and bing cherries - dry, medium- to full-bodied, with firm tannins. It was crisp, reasonably balanced, with good acidity and persistency.

Very rustic and powerful, I enjoyed this wine, but I would be careful on who you serve this wine to - this will probably not go over well with casual wine drinkers. It may benefit from a year or two in the cellar, but it is ready now. A wine for stuffing in your backpack and pondering over that campfire with a wild boar roasting on a spit. Score 15.5/20.

PS - While interesting, the Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the better choice, but a neat way to try Carmenere for the first time.

Friday, January 05, 2007

2003 Esporao Reserva

Hmm - my first Portugese wine of 2007. Actually, my first Portugese wine since last August, and that was my first in a looong time. Perhaps I have a hard time going beyond Portugese port, or maybe it is the weak selection at the SAQ and limited reviews? Anyway, I hate buying wine blind, so it was good that this wine was a gift.

The 2003 Esporao Reserva starts off spicy, with scents of cloves and pepper, complemented by blackberries and musky scents. Nice, but simple. On the palate, the wine was very acidic and unbalanced right out of the cellar, but regained its footing as it warmed up to 'chambre'. A medium-bodied red, the wine had 'good' balance, with a soft texture hiding ample tannins. It is unfortunate that I opened this wine now, as it is young and I think it will get bettter. The Esporao would pair very well with a variety of dishes, and went nicely with a homemade pizza this evening. Score: 15.5/20, cost: gift.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2005 Carmen Chardonnay

The 2005 Carmen Chardonnay has nice aromas of green apple, lemon, toasted bread and almonds - smells like a fine Champagne! On the palate it is dry, crisp, with very fresh acidity and a very subtle use of oak. Very well balanced, this could be the "best value" chardonnay I have ever tasted. Enjoyed over two evenings, it was an excellent match for a ham and homemade fish 'n chips.
Score: 15.5/20
Cost: an incredible C$9.95
Great Value!

(Note to Quebec residents, this was the LCBO price, SAQ sells it for $12.30)

FYI - I actually bought a case of this wine for a charity event (leave it to me to donate wine for a fundraiser). I wasn't there, but my wife claims the attendees were raving over the wine. I should actually thank Malcolm Anderson of the Montreal Gazette who put me on to this wine about a year ago.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2001 Clerico Trevigne Barbera d'Alba (retaste)

I opened my last bottle of the 2001 Clerico Trevigne. This was a 'retaste', as I first blogged this wine in September. All of my notes still stand - same berry, floral and liquorice scents that changed and developed over the evening. Just as nicely balanced, with good length - this should age well (too bad I drank my last bottle). After a short decant, it paired very nicely this evening with cheese tortellini in tomato sauce. I would definitely buy this wine again, if I could find it. Clerico makes a strong case for abandoning inexpensive Chianti (except the Nipozzano) and switching to Barberas. FYI - I scored this one point higher than I did in September (I forgot I had previously scored this wine). Also note that recorking this and drinking the next day was not a success - finish the bottle once you open it!

Monday, January 01, 2007

My Cellar

(Note: This post is updated every once in while so it is 'up to date')

To get a better sense of my wine interest, here are my cellar stats (as of Sept/07):

Total bottles: Red 495/White 17/Sparkling 8

Generally speaking, I consider myself a 'value' guy - very few of the famous first growths, Napa cult wines, super-Tuscans, etc. Whites are under-represented, as I tend to buy these on an 'as-needed' basis. (they don't sit around for too long... )

Amongst my reds France comprises 34%, with Bordeaux nearly half (16%) and the Rhone representing 9%. Burgundy and other (Madiran, Cahors, Languedoc) regions make up the balance.

Italy is next at 26% (Tuscany at 12%, Piedmont at 10%), Australia remains 14%, and Spain has continues to represent a very low 6% (drink these too quickly). American Wine Month did a number on my USA selection, now down to 7%, which should reverse with my upcoming Sonoma trip. South America has crept up to 7%, with the balance coming from dessert wines (variety of countries) and other formats/countries.

For whites, I have only just begun collecting ageworthy wines, so this number is set to grow. However, what I have is generally for everyday drinking. I have a clear preference for Alsace whites, but I experiment heavily so I haven't settled into a white routine as of yet.

Note: the picture above is deceiving - the floor is covered with bottles.