Sunday, September 30, 2007

Grenache vs. Shiraz vs. Mourvedre

I relish the opportunity to open more than one bottle. This is not a drunken quest - Lamb's Navy Rum is cheaper and more efficient - but to REALLY learn about wine you need to have "context". So when my my brother-in-law bought over a French grenache, I decided an impromptu head-to-head tasting of the three classic Rhone red varietals was in order. The theme set, I chose the following wines to taste. The wines were decanted approx. 45 minutes before dinner, served "blind", and enjoyed (very much) over the rest of the evening.

2002 D'Arenberg "The Twenty-Eight Road" (McLaren Vale)
2004 Chateau Coupe Roses "Granaxa" (Minervois)
2003 E. Guigal (Crozes-Hermitage)

On my left was the 2002 D'Arenberg "The Twenty-Eight Road", made from 100% mourvedre. Pure mourvedre is a rather rare find, especially outside of France and Spain, so I just "had to have it". The darkest of the three wines, it was a deep purple with some brick red at the edge. It started pruney and leathery, with dense black cherry fruit, some vanilla. Very aromatic, but perhaps a touch less complex on the nose than the other two. Rich, with beautiful mouthfeel, nice velvety tannins, ample acidity and terrific balance, it was not a "boorish" mourvedre like the Cline or the Terre Rouge. I loved the juicy fruitiness, but it was not overdone - the tannin and acidity gave it nice structure.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20

Price: C$38.75 (SAQ)

In the middle was a glass of the 2004 Chateau Coupe Roses Granaxa, a 100% grenache from the Minervois region in the south of France. A pale ruby red, the lightest of the three, it was very aromatic, revealing smoke and oaky notes, followed by roses, grendine, mint, truffle and wet fur. The alcohol was noticeable on the nose and palate, with dry, peppery, tannins in the mouth, but surprisingly "un-fruity" for a grenache. Well made, interesting, but a bit less polished than the other two wines. Some length. I would drink this now after a modest decant.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: $21 (SAQ)

On my right was a glass of the 2003 Guigal Crozes-Hermitage. A nice cherry red, it was very meaty and woodsy on the nose, followed by violet, raspberry, liquorice, tobacco and almonds - very attractive. Bone dry with velvety tannins, this medium-bodied red showed tremendous poise, with everything in balance. This will keep, but it is ready now. Yes, you have seen this wine before, but I gave it an extra half point this time - a longer decant? a better pairing? The best thing about this bottle - I have four more in my cellar. Note the low alcohol...
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20

Price: $26 (LCBO)

All three wines were beautiful, and paired very well with the butterflied leg of lamb marinated in olive oil, fresh rosemary and garlic. I would not be disappointed to have any of these again, although I have to give the value prize to the Guigal, which coincidentally was the first decanter empty. Life is good.

PS - It was not that easy to pick out the three varietals blind, but one taster got it right... :)

Friday, September 28, 2007

A German Riesling and an Alsace Gewurtz

My in-laws are visiting, so that means a few more empties in the recycling bin. Fortunately, it means the serious overstock situation in my cellar is being reduced at a healthy rate (you can cancel the flight, Edward). Tonight we worked through some cool-climate whites, enjoying the endless summer here in Montreal and clearing the cellar floor of a few more bottles.

Germany seems to be taking a new stab at lower-priced dry whites, so I bought the 2005 Essence Riesling by S. A. Prüm to see what a well-know German maker could do at this price point. A white (Qualitätswein) from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, it was a pretty pale gold in the glass. Honey and lemon on the nose, with classic tar/fuel notes, there was no mistaking the varietal. Dry, but not bone dry, on the palate it was rich with honey, very smooth and very well balanced. Simple, but this went down oh so easily. A great recommendation from the staff at the downtown SAQ shop on Metcalfe, a great pairing, and a Great Value! Screw top.
11.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: $15.45 (SAQ)

We followed this crowd-pleasing white with an Alsace Gewurtz. I love Alsace whites - gewurtztraminer, riesling, pinot gris, and muscat, dry and off dry, so many great ways to pair these. In addition, these wines feature consistent quality and (generally) reasonable prices. White gold in the glass, the 2004 Lucien Albrecht Gewurtztraminer Bollenberg displayed a powerful and extreme floral nose. Like stepping into a parfumerie, it smelled of rosewater and white flowers, but it was very difficult to discern anythinge else, save some very subtle lychee, quince and melon. On the palate it was dry, nearly off-dry, with thick and rich soapy floral flavours and very little acidity. So smooth, so fragrant, so...effeminate? A beautiful wine, but a difficult pairing. Cork closure.
12.6% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$25.35 (SAQ)

Overall, the Essence paired very nicely with grilled sausages, but the Albrecht Gewurtz was a better after dinner sipper.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Guest Blogger: "Blending in” in Tuscany

My wine tasting group has been running for four years now. Our 29 tastings are the cornerstone of my wine education, featuring some of the most memorable wines of my life. It is a talented group of wine tasters and collectors, but they have been content to leave the blogging to me. Except for one.

Lloyd, in addition to being a great friend, is a wine mentor for me, so I could not ignore his request for a guest spot. Lloyd has a shrewd eye for a great wine buy, and has been instrumental in building out my Italian and Australian wine collections. A self-professed 'Italophile', I bring you my "roving correspondent", Lloyd, on assignment, in Tuscany:

Though the greatest Tuscan wines I’ve tasted thus far have been expressions of a single grape (Masseto comes to mind for Merlot, Flaccianello or a half dozen Brunellos for Sangiovese) it is the blends that dominate the shelves and restaurant wine lists. Good reason, it seems, as the age of the “Supertuscan” blend has proliferated quality well beyond the gates of Sassicaia, spreading some good winemaking – and more recently, inspiring value – around. The two 2001s I tasted recently came to me by very different routes.

The 2001 Tenuta di Ghizzano Nambrot is a Bordeaux blend dominated by Merlot (70%) with the balance Petit Verdot and Cabernet. Smoke and oak dominate, well-integrated with vanilla and dark (black currant and blackberry) fruit to a long finish. Its silky, refined sensibility after (about an hour decanted) defied the big and round, full-bodied experience down the hatch. If I had another bottle, I’d give it 2+ years to really sort out, but it’s wonderful today. This was a gift from a kind enoteca owner in Siena last year (with whom I dropped a small fortune, but that story for another day…) It was worth schlepping from Italy. The ’03 is available at the SAQ for $59. Score: 17/20. Alcohol: 13.5% (’03).

The 2001 Michele Satta Bolgheri Rosso Piastraia adds Sangiovese to equal parts Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet. I confess that this is a longtime personal favourite. I’ve previously enjoyed a ’97 and a ’98, and just cracked open a case that I assembled from several SAQ branches a few years back. It was worth the effort. The Piastraia is almost black-red and viscous. After half hour in the decanter, the nose is Oz-meets-Maremma powerful, with an extracted dark cherry fruit, some leather, tobbaco and a subtle smokey nose. The Piastraia was a velvet fist to the Nambrot’s fit-like-kid-leather glove, crossing the palate with structure, length and fine, perfectly-integrated tannins to a long and satisfying finish. The ’03 is at the SAQ for $39.75 (the ’01 was $42) making this a tremendous value. Score: 18+ (I suspect this will continue to improve). Alcohol: 13.5%

These are great food wines, the former matching up nicely with a rare filet mignon and grilled vegetables. The latter was excellent with a 1.5 inch veal chop and equally so with an old piece of Parmigiano I dug out of the fridge. It even did justice to some 80% dark chocolate (a pairing Joe knows is close to my heart, even as it blocks my arteries!)

Many thanks to Lloyd. Future appearances on this blog will be highly dependent on how frequently he enjoys Masseto without me... He can be reached by commenting below, or through my email address.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Brumont vs. Brumont

Part four of my South West France trilogy features some more wines showcasing the genius of Alain Brumont and my love of well-made tannat. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare two Brumont wines from the same vintage but different terroirs, as I did in my Montus vs. Montus and Perigee vs. Apogee experiments.

2003 Les Menhirs (VdP Cotes de Gascogne)
2003 Argile Rouge (Madiran)

The 2003 Les Menhirs is officially a Vin de Pays and not a Madiran, but it is made with the same grapes (tannat/merlot). A deep, dense purple liquid, it was rather closed just after it was decanted. Crisp and vegetal, the nose developed a subtle complexity over the evening, adding violet, blackberry, mint, musk, leather, butter, and even some nice liquorice and tea notes. Hot and peppery on the palate, very dry, but richer, juicier and more full-bodied than the Madiran below. While the fresh acidity and firm tannins were a little less balanced than the next wine, it was much more approachable and easier drinking at the same time - let's say Madiran meets Napa. A winner, and you won't have to wait as long to enjoy this one - probably another 3 years in the cellar should do fine, or a nice LONG decant today.
15% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: $33 (SAQ)

The 2003 Argile Rouge (i.e. Red Clay) is a Madiran, but unlike Brumont's top Bouscasse and Montus offerings which are all tannat, this was a tannat/cab sauv/cab franc blend. Unlike the merlot in the last wine, the presence of other grapes in the blend did not soften up this wine. Deep purple and very aromatic, it was violet, rose, butterscotch, pepper, tea, tobacco, coffee and wet stones, it smelled more like a Napa Merlot than a Madiran. If the "Menhirs" above was very dry, then this medium- to full-bodied offering was an "ultra dry", with powerful, copious, velvety, tongue-puckering tannins supported by nice leather and cocoa flavours. Despite the power it kept its poise. Very lengthy, and I found it just slightly more complex and interesting. Like the Montus Cuvee Prestige, this is a wine that really need some more cellar time, but I think you will be rewarded.
15% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$28.10 (SAQ)

So, a bit of a connundrum - the Argile Rouge is cheaper, and slightly better in my opinion, but you will have to be patient with this one. The Menhirs is an excellent wine, but more approachable today. You need to decide how long you want to wait! Both sported hefty alcohol levels, but neither was dominated by the alcohol. I have two more bottles for a rematch, let's say 2012. Stay tuned.

My last tannat post for a while...Cheers!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

2005 Nicolas Potel Santenay 'Vielles Vignes'

It's time to dive back into Burgundy, as I needed something a bit more subtle, cerebral tonight after American Wine Month and South West France. With pork chops on the grill, I knew there was a bottle of Potel in the cellar, and it turned out to be an exceptional experience.

The 2005 Nicolas Potel Santenay 'Vielles Vignes' was a bright cherry red in the glass, with a purpley hue at the fringe. The nose was very subtle in my Pinot Noir glass, but a quick switch to my standard INAO tasting glass helped me better analyze this wallflower. Dusty and earthy at first, it later revealed some strawberry (almost jammy), white flowers, leather, cinnamon and attractive vegetal aromas. Did I smell some grapefruit in there? Strange. Very dry on the palate, it was crisp and focused, minerally - almost chalky, with liquorice and strawberry flavours. A classic Bourgogne from an exceptional vintage for Burgundy reds. It was also an exceptional pairing, in harmony with pork chops in an Asian marinade, but it would pair very well with a wide variety of dishes. Note that I tried something new tonight - I decanted it. I never decant Pinot Noir, but some recent experiences with late-blooming wines suggested I should give it a try. It seemed to work tonight. Warning - this is not yet ready, and should be cellared for a few more years (i.e. 3-5). Note to Brooklynguy - I am betting this goes for $20s in the U.S. of A.
13% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$31 (SAQ)

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 2006 Cono Sur Vision Pinot Noir that I am sipping right now. Is it possible to find a drinkable Pinot from Chile? For $16? Yes, not just drinkable, but incredible. The subject of a future post...


2006 Chateau de Fesles Cabernet Franc

Both Dr. Debs and I were thinking Loire red last night, but I ended up taking another stab at Cabernet Franc. And another success, I should say, especially given the price. Quality-wise, this wine slots in between the 2004 Clos la Dioterie and the 2004 Domaine de la Perrière. Even better, it was cheaper than the relatively unloved (by Joe) Perrière.

The 2006 Chateau de Fesles Cabernet Franc "Vielles Vignes" (Anjou), by Bernard Germain, was a nice purpley-red, appearing "weightier" in the glass than it was on the palate. Very leafy on the nose, with dominant scents of tobacco and tea, later showing some nice vegetal, blackcurrant and black pepper notes. On the palate it was very dry, with tongue-puckering tannins, lively acidity, crisp currant fruit and a velvety texture. Light- to medium-bodied, the whole package was slightly off balance, but should come together a little better with some time in the cellar. I found it a bit nicer closer to cellar temperature, or just below room temperature. A great match for homemade burgers off the grill, I think it would also pair nicely with some winter stews or weightier veal dishes. At this price, you can safely put some away for winter.
13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$17 (SAQ)

Note that I had the Anjou White by Germain here, and it led off our World of Whites tasting last week. Another great find - Germain is displaying some nice, consistent quality.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Soaring Loonie: Dollar = Dollar

Ok, so I am writing about the soaring Canadian dollar, affectionately known up here as the loonie. Today the loon just reached parity with the U.S. dollar. You have to go back to your BeeGees albums to find the last time the Canadian dollar was this high. Just five years ago it was at $0.62. If it weren't for the taxes, I might think I was living in Switzerland!

So what does this have to do with wine? Everything. I am paid in C$, yet 72% of wine sold in Canada (and 99% of my cellar) is imported. I am jumping up and down in my chair - WAHOO! Over the past few months the price tag for my upcoming trip to Sonoma has fallen by 15% - now that's savings! While I am not holding my breath for the local monopoly to cut prices (at least in the short run), I think my upcoming trips down south will be more...fruitful?

Soon I may have to take back my comments about American wine "value for the dollar".

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An Evening With Tony Hooper, Winemaker

My grad school alma mater hosted an event for alumni and cleverly used wine as bait. It worked.

Of course, this was no ordinary wine tasting, as the winemaker for Wyndham Estates, Tony Hooper, came to discuss the wine industry, the Canadian wine market, and even some business etiquette. In fact Wyndham was kind enough to leave behind a booklet entitled "The Wydham Estate Executive Guide to Wine: Choosing Wines for Business Meals".

Interesting facts from the corporate presentation:
  • New Zealand continues to struggle to meet demand. In fact Tony commented that the really good sites have all been used up and vineyards are now expanding to more marginal sites. Conumers take note...

  • The Canadian wine market is nearly 35 million cases, up 8% vs. the prior year. Red wines represent 62% of Canadian wine sales, a substantial departure from other regions (USA and Australia are roughly 50:50)

  • Canadian wine accounts for 28% of wine sold in Canada. Having visited Ontario and B.C. (the two main wine producing regions), you can probably double that market share in those provinces.

  • Quebec, my home province, leads the country, consuming 37% of all wine sold in Canada, yet Quebec represents just 23% of the Canadian population. While Edward may claim that I am solely responsible for this "outperformance", what this really means is that French wine culture lives in North America!

  • The 2007 crush in Australia was a thirty-year low due to drought conditions. The 2008 crush will be worse. On the plus side, quality is going way up!

  • The Bin 444 Cabernet doesn't sell in Asia (bad luck) while the Bin 888 Cab/Merlot is a hot seller (lucky number). He joked that they may change all their wines to 888 for Asian markets.

  • Alcohol: Tony and I chatted about Tasmania and alcohol, amongst other things. He says some big retailers are now requesting lower alcohol in the wines. So, it is not just a blog topic anymore - retailers are taking notice!
The tasting featured everyday Wyndham wines: the Bin 222 Chardonnay, the Bin 444 Cabernet, and the Bin 555 Shiraz. It was rather a difficult setting to take notes - the glasses were too full to swirl (yes, I know how to solve that problem) and held a hint of industrial dishwash soap. But no matter. The Bin 222 is consistently a great value and competitive in that price bracket, it paired well with tropical mango fruit sushi. The Bin 444 was varietally true, but a bit rough around the edges. It paired nicely with a mini-burger in a mini-pita. Probably bested by some lesser-priced Chileans, it could soften up with a few years in the cellar. The Bin 555 was an excellent wine, and paired nicely with beef skewers and some beef carpaccio.

So, the question you might have is: "Why is the winemaker for one of the world's largest wine companies flying to Montreal to do a tasting with students?" Do the math - 37% of 35 million is nearly 13 million cases, and the Quebec government has a monopoly. Tony was here to pitch a big customer.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

A World of Great Whites

For my tasting group this was our first evening dedicated to white wines. With such limited experience at the higher end of the white wine market, we decided to taste a variety of whites from around the world in a more casual, unblinded format, so our tasters put away their score sheets and simply enjoyed. (Except for me)

Waiting for the guests to arrive, we sipped on a bottle of 2004 Chateau des Fesles Chenin Sec "La Chapelle" (tasted here previously), the designated "warm-up" wine. Nice for a start, but not up to the main event!

We tasted the following six wines in flights of two, in the order below:

2002 Caves Duplessis "Montee de Tonnerre" (Chablis 1er Cru)
2005 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (Napa)

2002 Catena Alta Chardonnay (Mendoza)
2004 Tardieu Laurent White (Hermitage)

2005 Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner "Grub" (Austria)
2004 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Ste Catherine Clos des Capucins (Alsace)

Pramod's Caves Duplessis Chablis was very subtle - you had to work hard to find the aromas in this wine. First described by the group as "stinky sock, but in a good way", it later (much later) revealed some subtle floral, apple, grapefruit, mushroom, cheese and lemon brioche. Very light bodied, and I would say thin and dilute, this was elegant, but the opposite of what I look for in a Chablis - no crisp acidity, no chalky minerals - the crowd response ranged from "ho-hum" to "yech". 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$40ish

My 2005 Montelena (not the 2004 reviewed recently) was less controversial. Fresh cut grass, honeysuckle, quince, grapefruit, undergrowth, and earthy on the nose, it smelled "green" and "young". Very well balanced and drier, crisper, and richer than the Chablis, with a nice (but not overpowering) dose of lemon and butter. A beautiful wine, but needs to rest a few years. 13.9% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$45 (SAQ)

Cam's Catena Alta had a most unusual nose, variously described as "fishy" or "it smells like the wharf". I noted fish, lemon, banana and olives - a very different nose from the other two chardonnays. Despite this freaky nose, it was one of the crowd favourites. I liked the juicy, crisp, buttery and balanced palate, but I did not think it was up to the other two chards. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$47.50 (SAQ)

The Tardieu Laurent Hermitage had the most interesting nose. Very floral, white flowers, almost perfumey, but with a nice woodsy/earthiness. Velvety, extremely well balanced and very elegant on the palate, with a nice taste of peach and almonds. Another terrific wine, but the group was less enthusiastic. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$67 (SAQ)

Ash's Schloss Gobelsburg smelled of buttery toast, pine, yeasty. Slightly effervescent and slightly less dry than the chardonnays above, I found it the most powerful and interesting, but a bit off balance. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$36 (SAQ)

Chris' Weinbach Riesling was probably the star of this flight. White flowers, apricot, peach, hazelnuts and petrol/rubber, this was a very nice Alsatian Riesling nose. Beautifully balanced, harmonious, an absolute pleasure to drink. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$47.75 (SAQ)

Overall, I think the Alsace Riesling was the star of the dry wines, while the Chablis was the least preferred, but I think every taster had a different favourite. Personally, I may buy a bottle of the Montelena to stash away in the cellar, and a bottle of the Alsace because I love them so. The Tardieu Laurent is tempting, but pricey. These wines paired to varying degrees with a selection of sashimi, cheeses and a baguette.

It was Chris' birthday, so for dessert we opened a 2002 Donnafugata "Ben Rye" (Passito di Pantelleria). This was the REAL star of the evening. Deep amber in colour, the nose revealed a stunning bouquet of canned peaches, apricots, caramel, hazelnuts and almonds. Luscious and very well balanced, this was a beautiful dessert wine - one of the best I have ever tasted. I have never seen a bottle of dessert wine disappear so quickly! I just bought four more half bottles. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 18.5/20
Price: C$70 (SAQ)

After all that, the stragglers finished a 2005 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett, a wine recommended by my friend Bill Z. We were in no position to score or rank that wine, but I can safely say it disappeared rather quickly and I have fond memories of it.


I am going to be updating some of my older posts, adding photos, links, categories, etc. over the next few days. My apologies to those of you that have subscribed to this feed for the déjà vu ...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Vintages Sept. 15 Release

Ok, one more special release, this time for my Ontario friends. This week's Vintages (LCBO) release is focused on Ontario wine, which I cannot comment on, but there are two awesome finds that I highly recommend:

1) 2003 Chateau Septy (Monbazillac): One my SW France wine favourites, this dessert wine is a stunning value, and just $9.99 for a half bottle! Ontario residents lucky enough to get a bottle of this need never eat cake again!

2) 2004 Bodegas Castano Hecula (Yecla): This is one of THE best wine values in the world. You MUST buy this by the case.

Other wines to think about:

2005 Elderton Tanatalus: a favourite Aussie winery for me based on quality and consistency.

2004 Yalumba Shiraz/Viognier: A great new world shiraz, and a great value.

2004 Altesino Rosso: They make a great Brunello, in a traditional style. This is worth a try.

(PS - Eden, please buy me some of the Septy, Hecula!)

WBW#37 - Wines You Never Drink...

...From Places You've Never Been, Made From Grapes You've Never Heard Of
That's my alternate title for Dr. Vino's WBW#37 - "Go native!". After all, that is really the purpose of this week's WBW - Tyler wants us to break out of our ruts and try something REALLY different. With South West France on the mind and the Good Professor offering bonus points, I couldn't resist drinking two Tannat-based wines this evening:

2001 Chateau D'Aydie (Madiran, France)
2002 Bodegas Carrau "AMAT" (Uruguay)

Ok, so you heard it here first, Uruguay is an up and coming wine region. Overshadowed by Argentina and Chile, and unloved because of its bet on Tannat, I fearlessly predict that Tannat will do for Uruguay what Malbec has done for Argentina. Read on....

The 2002 Bodegas Carrau AMAT is a fabulous, interesting wine. A deep, cherry red in the glass, I put the glass to my nose and .... smiled, a big, fabulous, Cheshire cat grin. Cool and right out of the decanter, it smelled rich and chocolatey with dark cherry fruit. Then I let it warm up and oxygenate - leather, mushroom, earth, pepper, tobacco and smoke. On the palate this rich, full-bodied, wine presented powerful velvety tannins that danced across the tongue - omnipresent, but not overpowering. Brooding, complex, interesting, and only slighty rough around the edges, this wine is tempting now but should be cellared for a few more years. Long after the wine has gone I am still sniffing the glass and smiling...mmmm, THIS is Tannat.
14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$21 (SAQ)

The 2001 Chateau D'Aydie comes from Madiran, a region in South West France and the "home" of the Tannat grape. A dense, dark purple in the glass, this wine has to be decanted carefully, as it threw off a mountain of sludge. More delicate on the nose and definitely showing the elevated alcohol, I thought this signfied that the wine was not 100% Tannat, but the label assured me that my nose deceived me. Bone dry and 'hotter' on the palate, this medium-bodied tannat was more off-balance than the AMAT, but the acidity and tannins were a nice match for the olive and pasta dinner. It may benefit from a few years in the cellar, but I am not sure it has enough "stuffing" to go the distance. Nice, but disappointing at this price - for a few bucks less you can have the AMAT above (or a Bouscasse), or for a few more you can enjoy the heavenly Montus.
14.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$29 (SAQ)

Given the price and score, I have to recommend the Uruguayan Tannat, which is growing up very well in its new home. Please do try one of these!

For Tyler: In lieu of Bonus Points for the new/old world presentation of a freaky grape, I humbly accept your attendance at a tasting with Brooklynguy and I on Nov. 4th...Cheers!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

SAQ Cellier Release - Sept. 13th

The SAQ, Quebec's government-controlled liquor monopoly, is now publishing a beautiful wine magazine (in both English and French) called Cellier, which is published in conjunction with the periodic release of selected wines. This month's feature, by editor Marc Chapleau, covers the region of South West France, which is extremely topical given this week's WBW and my recent South West France series. I highly recommend that my Quebec friends read the article on South West France.

So, with a special release focused on a wide variety of wines from the South West, here are some thoughts:

1) The 1999 Chateau de Haute-Serre makes a great, inexpensive, Cahors. This release features their Cuvee Prestige. An experiment at that price, but I might just do it.
2) The 2004 Argile Rouge from Alain Brumont is bound to be good.
3) The 2005 Domaine Cauhape Symponie de Novembre is a dessert wine from this winery that I raved about in my SW piece.

There are also a number of other Madiran, Cahors and other (i.e. Irouleguy) SW releases. Enjoy!

PS - Note the release features a number of Corsican wines - see Dok Weingolb for some thoughts on these wines.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Wines of South West France: Part Three

Of course, talking about the wines of South West France is rather uninteresting, so we need to drink. But despite some gentle reminders from my friends, I have been so busy that I have not had time to work through my pile of SW France tasting notes. But their time has come, and this should lead in nicely to this week's Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by none other than Dr. Vino.

These notes have been collected over the past month and a half, and I hope they give you a flavour of the region and its treasures. I think a key theme in this piece is VALUE - this region is the source of many great values...

Bergerac / Bergerac Sec / Monbazillac

As per my previous posts, this is a great place Bordeaux-like wines at not-so-Bordeaux-like prices.

My Bergerac red was the 2005 Chateau Grinou Reserve. Bright purple in colour, with leathery black cherry and pleasant green pepper, liquorice, cedar and mint notes. Very nicely balanced, very dry with firm tannins, a nice round texture and copious leather and black pepper fruit, oaky. Hard to resist now, but should keep for a few more years. Try and find this good a bottle in Bordeaux for C$16.45 (-10% off). My Montreal friends should buy up every bottle in town.
14% alcohol, Score: 16.5/20

My white, a Bergerac Sec, was the 2005 Chateau Tour Gendres, Cuvee des Conti. White gold in colour, this semillon-dominated white was almost all pink grapefruit on the nose, but later showed faint floral, toast, apricot and nut aromas. On the palate it had a rich, luscious texture, but remained crisp and focused. Great deal, C$16.
13.5% alcohol, Score: 16.5/20

The stunning value was the Monbazillac. The 2000 Chateau Septy is an AWESOME alternative to a pricier Sauternes. Bright gold in the glass, this liquid treasure showed sweet caramel and apricot, followed by tar and petrol notes. A beautiful texture on the palate, a golden almond extract like finish. This is a great value (C$22), and an excuse to drink more dessert wine.
13% alcohol, Score: 17/20

Gaillac / Fronton

Probably the rarest and quirkiest appellations in the SW, as discussed in my previous posts, but very rustic and food friendly - try these as an alternative to some Italian country wines.

From Gaillac I tasted the 2000 Domaine de Pialentou "Les Gentilles Pierres". Deep ruby red in colour, the Pialentou started like a smelly sock, in a good way...ripe berry fruit, almost cranberry, with white flowers, mushrooms, oak, leather, cinnamon and cloves. Gorgeous. On the palate this medium- to full-bodied red was supple and well balanced with fresh acidity, raspberries, very oaky. A bit over-oaked, but otherwise perfect. At $21.80 a great deal for the quality. For my Montreal friends, the SAQ website lists the 2002 (bad vintage) but I keep finding 2000s in the store - buy them all up now - a beefy red in its prime.
12.5% alcohol, Score: 17.5/20

My notes describe the two Fronton selections as "Loire meets Italy". I tasted two wines from Chateau Montauriol, the 2004 Montauriol "Tradition" and the 2004 Montauriol "Mons Aureolus".

The pricier Mons Aureolous was my preferred wine, with an interesting nose of ripe blackberry fruit, green olives, cedar, black pepper and liquorice - very earthy. On the palate it was rich, with black cherries and some chocolate, very different. Juicier and better balanced than the Tradition, C$19 (-10%).
13.5% alcohol, Score: 16/20

The Tradition was a dark purple, with a simpler nose of green pepper, mint, earth, and almonds. Bracingly acidic at first, thin and dilute, it settled down over the evening to pair nicely with a meal, but never acheived the balance and complexity of its pricier sister wine. C$13.25 (-10%)
12.5% alcohol, Score: 15.5/20

Madiran / Cahors

These are my favourites from the region, and the main reason that South West France has my attention. The Cahors wines have the burliness of Argentine Malbec, but with a touch more finesse. Madirans have a rustic, tannic complexity that I love, but require patience. Perhaps an interesting substitute for a Barolo. I will lean on some old material here, as I have blogged a few of these.

Click here (1,2) for some red Cahors wines, and here (1,2,3,4) for some red Madiran ideas, and here for white Madiran.

Jurançon / Jurançon sec / Vin de Pays Côtes de Gascogne

Last, but certainly not least, I got a chance to sample some fabulous whites from this region, but I stuck with dry whites.

My first Jurançon sec was tasted in France, and with such a nice experience I couldn't wait to try the 2004 Domaine Cauhape "Seve D'Automne" Jurançon sec. Straw yellow in the glass, this wine leapt forth with beautiful aromas - very melon, canned peaches, white flowers, apple, caramel (almost Sauternes-like), banana, toast and hazelnuts. I could have sniffed it all night, if I wasn't so busy drinking it. Silky smooth in texture, very well balanced, very apple-y, it barely showed the whopping alcohol (I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that later in the evening). A beautiful white to sip and ponder. C$28.
15% alcohol, Score: 17/20

My two VdP Côtes de Gascogne white selections were terrific values. My favourite was the 2006 Brumont Gros Manseng-Sauvignon, by one of my all-time favourite winemakers Alain Brumont. Green gold in the glass, the nose was very interesting - melon and grapefruit, limes and pineapple, mangoes?, white flowers, oak, petrol and a hint of pis de chat. On the palate it was silky, balanced, melon and grapefruit. Overall, it was surprisingly complex for the price - C$12.30.
12.5% alcohol, Score: 16.5/20

The 2006 Domaine la Hitaire "Les Tours" was also a very nice value. White gold in the glass, it was simpler on the nose - apple, lemon, banana and toast. Very dry and crisp, lemony, with a pleasant bitterness on the finish. Would go great with grilled calamari in olive oil. A nice price, C$12.75 (-10% off), and very low in alcohol.
10.5% alcohol, Score: 15.5/20


Overall, this was a fabulous adventure, but it is not over. Stay tuned for more over the coming months.

It was especially interesting to taste this selection of charming, rustic wines throughout August, in parallel with the rather polished wines of American Wine Month. You can't get a better contrast than this!

Alain Brumont is a genius, and all of his wines peformed well. I think he will feature again in a future post...

I hope this is in time for you to make some selections for WBW.


I'll Take the Tassie Trio (Ribs and Pinot Again)

Tasmania, the island to the south of Australia, is not a region that is "top of mind" for most winos. Probably none, as it represents just 0.5% of Australian wine production. It is a "cool climate" region, with the northernmost part of the island at latitude 41 degrees south (Burgundy is at 47 degress north), and it shows in the wines. It would be simplistic, however, to characterize this island as one wine region given the diversity of terroirs, but I will not be exploring that diversity tonight, instead focusing on one grape from a single winemaker.

Tonight I had the rare opportunity to try, blinded, three different price points of the same grape from the same winery:

2003 Piper's Brook Pinot Noir Reserve
2004 Piper's Brook Pinot Noir Estate
2005 Ninth Island Pinot Noir

Two out of three tasters rated the CHEAPEST of the three the best. Pale ruby red in the glass, the Ninth Island Pinot Noir started with musky cooked fruit, later showing strawberry, truffle, cloves and very meaty aromas on the nose. Drinking very well right now, it was rich and elegant, with nice strawberry fruit. Interesting, but not complex. Its easy going nature had most of us thinking it was the eldest of the flight. Great now, or could spend some time in the cellar. Given the price, this is an absolute steal (but there are only five bottles left in the city of Montreal).
13% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$20 (LCBO) - SAQ price is 2$ more...

The Reserve wine of Piper's Brook is pricey, but only mid-priced in the alternate universe of Pinot Noir. Bright ruby red, it started with strong creme brulee and floral notes, supported by strawberries, mushrooms, mint, and tobacco - haunting, heavenly, and continuously changing. On the palate this was bracingly tart and acidic at first, but softened beautifully over the evening, later showing crisp strawberries with nice acidity, ample tannins, and substantial length. It was this evolution that ultimately made it my favourite, and this was the only one of the three that absolutely demands more time in the cellar.
13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$49 (SAQ)

The mid-priced Piper's Brook Estate was the least favourite for all of us - not a bad wine, but facing tough competition. Pale ruby red, it showed a nice nose of roses and strawberries, some earthiness, but rather simple. On the palate it was crisp, structured, and again rather simple. I thought it was the least expensive of the lot, given the lack of complexity. It should be noted that the same vintage of the Ninth Island also scored lower - perhaps 2004 was a challenging vintage for Tassie Pinot?
14.1% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$31 (SAQ)

No, I do not tire of Pinot Noir and ribs - all three wines paired very nicely with ribs in black bean sauce.

Overall, Piper's Brook Estate is making some great Pinot Noir, in a more crisp, focused, Burgundian style (note the low alcohol content vs. other New World Pinots). These were great wines, but the bang for the buck resides with the Ninth Island, a wine frequently blogged on this site (1,2,3) AFTER the main event Pinot has been finished - I may have to rethink that.

PS - Perhaps Brooklynguy's quest for inexpensive Burgundy should take a detour to Tasmania?


Thursday, September 06, 2007

2004 Domaine des Malandes "Vau de Vey"

Before the notes, I think it is time to single out Barry. Barry is one of the only wine bloggers I know who has 30 years of wine tasting under his belt, is one of the only guys reviewing German wines (he lives there), and Barry has a cellar that I am seriously going to break into. So, what is the connection between Barry and a Premier Cru Chablis? This wine was suggested to me by Barry in response to my naked chardonnay post last month. Always on the lookout for good Chablis ideas, I rushed out and bought some.

The 2004 Domaine des Malandes "Vau de Vey" (Chablis Premier Cru) was white gold in hue, with a nose of "minerally lemon brioche", followed by some pine and honey notes, and a subtle petrol smell which is often found in Rieslings (and this Jura wine). Overall, I found the nose rather simple. On the palate this was classic Chablis - bone dry, crisp and very minerally, very structured, focused, but a bit austere, rough around the edges. Probably the first white wine tasting note in a while (ever?) where I will say: "This wine needs some cellar time". Enjoyed over two evenings, but it was not a great pairing for the mandarin chicken or the pork tenderloin - I suggest you seek the bounty of the sea. Note that Barry scored the 2005 (a better vintage for Chablis) a bit higher than my 2004.
12.8% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$29 (SAQ)

PS - It is not very often that I get to try three very different interpretations of Chardonnay in such close proximity. A smashing idea would be a blinded tasting of this wine, the Beringer Private Reserve and the Chateau Montelena - an old world, new world and mid-Atlantic smackdown! Volunteers?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Camping Wine

I took three bottles of wine camping with me. Come to think of it, I brought the wife and kids too, but the important thing is the wine. The wine selections were:

2005 Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 D'Arenberg "The Laughing Magpie"
2004 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva

Unfortunately, I ignored my own rules, choosing a wine (the D'Arenberg) with a ton of sludge. I actually knew it would be sludgey, but I really wanted to bring a screw top (this was the only one in my cellar). All the campfires in the world could not prevent me from pouring giant chunks into my fellow campers "glasses". A great wine, but not a great camping choice.

The other two were excellent wines for camping, but did require a corkscrew. The Casillero del Diablo paired nicely with hamburgers and roast marshmallows, while the Nipozzano paired well with pasta in a cheesey rose sauce.

Two out of three ain't bad...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

American Wine Month Round Up

American Wine Month at Joe's Wine was an experiment, of sorts. But before I go on a Euro-bender, I thought I would quickly review my thoughts on American wines in general, and this month's seventeen wines in particular.

This was my first theme-based month (there will be more - open to suggestions), and a chance to delve deeper into American wines - wines that I do not drink frequently. By opening my wallet and donating my liver I hope that my site, dedicated to ALL of the world's wines, can no longer be accused of overlooking this important wine producing country - the world's fourth largest wine producer and probably THE most blogged wines in the English language blogosphere.

A couple of broad observations:
  • Quality: America produces many great wines. More importantly, I have rarely encountered a truly bad wine, so you can almost buy at random. Unfortunately, I sometimes question the QPR, which brings me to price...
  • Price: The main problem I have with U.S. wines is price. Before I get the hate mail, this is the view of a "foreigner" purchasing those U.S. wines that are exported in larger numbers. I can usually substitute American export wines with equal or better wine from elsewhere at a lower price. This is a generalization, but especially surprising as of late given the strength of the Canadian dollar vs. the U.S. dollar. Looks like I have some shopping to do when I visit Sonoma - just five weeks away!
  • Alcohol: These wines frequently sport high levels of alcohol and low levels of acidity, which makes for unbalanced wines (and difficult to pair with meals), in my opinion. While I am not averse to high alcohol wines, it can be difficult to get the balance right. It was nice to see a few selections this month were not over the top in terms of % alcohol.
  • Stats: Fourteen of the seventeen wines came from California. This 82% is below the ~90% of U.S. production represented by California, but close enough in the murky world of statistics. The other three came from Oregon (1) and Washington state (2). Note that only five of these were a Meritage blend and only one was a Pinot, so a rather diverse varietal selection.
  • Best Wines? I think the most memorable wines were the Washington state reds featured in the Perigee vs. Apogee experiment, followed closely by my encounter with Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay. The Bonterra Viognier was a terrific value, as was the Ravenswood Zin.
Thanks for joining me in this review from wherever you live. While the quality of American wines has never been in doubt, it was satisfying to see this first hand in a rather impromptu format. Light on Pinot, perhaps, but I will rectify that soon.


PS - I am very disappointed that my American friends could not guess from which state of the union this expat wine blogger hails from...(see here for a clue).