Saturday, October 27, 2007

Two Bloggers Take On Cab Franc

Marcus was the first wine blogger to notice my site and his encouragement has been inspiring. But Marcus has always been suspicious of my patriotism - there are very few Canadian wines on this site. His great experience with a Niagara Cab Franc and my lack of enthusiasm for the hometown juice led to a truly awesome global Cab Franc showdown last night:

2000 Hillebrand Showcase Cab Franc Glenlake Vineyard (Niagara)
2002 Charles Joguet Clos du Chene Vert (Chinon)
2003 Germain "La Marginale" (Samur-Champigny)
2004 Steltzner Cabernet Franc (Stag's Leap)

My contribution was the Marginale and the Steltzner, a wine tasted here nearly a year ago, and acquired on my Napa 2006 tour. The four wines were decanted (exc. the Hillebrand), served blind, and enjoyed over the evening with some tremendous food.

On my left was the 2002 Clos du Chene Vert, a classically-styled Loire Valley cab franc from the Chinon appellation. A pale cherry red, the first aroma was that of cheese - brie, perhaps - later developing nice complexity, showing violet, rose, strawberry, nutmeg, pepper, bread and undergrowth. On the palate it was peppery, oaky and even olivey. A very lengthy finish, this needs more time in the cellar. To quote my notes, "beautiful". Joguet is clearly a winemaker to watch - I loved the Dioterie, and last night's Chêne Vert was equally impressive.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$33 (SAQ)

Next was the 2004 Steltzner Cab Franc. Following my recent trip to Sonoma (and a visit to Napa last year), it was not problem identifiying this as the American wine. A deep, dense cherry red in the glass, it showed nice jammy blackberry fruit, with some liquorice, smoke, tobacco and cocoa. Medium to full bodied, the velvety tannins provided structure to the nice, big, dense, chewy fruit, but it got a bit flabby later in the evening. Note that this wine hid the 15% alcohol very well. Might improve with time, but a very nice new world cab franc today.
cork. 15% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: ~US$38 (winery)

Third from the left was the 2003 Domaine des Roches Neuves "La Marginale" was an enigma at first, showing some more modern styled winemakeing, but obviously old world on the palate. Woodsy, dusty and oaky at first, it later showed nice blackberry, pepper, black liquorice and undergrowth. On the palate the thick tannic blanket of dry dustry tannins coated the tongue with nice, crisp, leathery fruit - very complex, very interesting. A very long finish, this wine was way too young and should improve with some cellar time.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: $38 (SAQ)

On my right was the 2000 Hillebrand Showcase Cabernet Franc. Aging beautifully, this wine was smooth, but rather one-dimensional in the presence of the other wines. Meaty, with violet, blackberry, leafy green pepper, and liquorice, it was simpler than the other wines. It was also simpler and thinner on the palate, but with nice blackberry flavour and silky smooth.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$50 (winery)

Overall, a very awesome tasting and my first with a fellow blogger. What did I learn last night?

1) Marcus is a great host. Just make sure you get the tasting finished before he fires up the stove or you won't be able to smell the wine! (we did)
2) An eight year old Cab Franc from Niagara can taste very smooth and luxurious, and while "new world" it was not American - I thought they would be more similar.
3) I thought the Napa might better one or both of the Loires. Those Loires were amazing, and the two cheapest!
4) I thought that the Marginale was almost Bordeaux like - poised, yet powerful, rich but not cloying, focused but not too acidic. In that context - equal or better than many pricier Bordeaux - it is an absolute steal. The Chinon was equal, but a more classically-styled Loire red and maybe a slightly better match for dinner. In a blind tasting with some Bordeaux, I think the Chinon would have been easy to pick out, the Marginale less so.
5) Both of us correctly separated the old world cabs from the new, and both of us preferred the old world juice. Even more important, those two were amazing bottles and much cheaper - consumers take note!

By now, some of you have done the math and realized that two gentlemen opened four bottles of wine. We only finished half of the wine, so it could have been a more difficult morning...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Raclette Bordelais

I would probably serve a white wine, like the Swiss chasslas in my prior post, with a simple cheese raclette. But tonight's raclette also featured filet mignon so we went red, and my wife insisted on Bordeaux. For five adults we put together a nice flight of three red Bordeaux from different appellations.

On my left was the 2000 Moulin Pey-Labrie from the Canon-Fronsac appellation, a merlot that was a suggestion from Brooklynguy (and previously tasted here in March). Ruby red in the glass, the nose was very subtle, very leathery and peppery at first, reluctantly giving up blackberry, dark cherry, and earthy vegetal and tobacco scents. On the palate it was spicy and lighter bodied that the others, but with a smooth multilayered elegance that had everyone talking. This was even better than the last time around. Drink now.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$35.50 (SAQ)

In the middle was the 2000 Chateau Haut-Breton Larigaudiere from Margaux, and from what I can gather is mainly cab sauv, with some merlot and petit verdot mixed in. I bought this after a great experience with the 1999, thinking the celebrated 2000 vintage would be even better. Dark ruby in the glass, this was the jammiest of the three. On the nose dark cherry fruit, almost blueberry, was followed by violet, mint, truffle and vanilla - not bad, but the simplest of the three. Fuller-bodied than the Pey-Labrie, it was similarly smooth and well-balanced - dry, fresh acidity and velvety tannins - but rather simplistic. I was surprised it was the Margaux. May keep a few years, but fine today. Definitely a nice wine, but just not equal to the other two. Four out of five tasters ranked it last.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$39.75 (SAQ)

On my right was the 2003 Chateau Pipeau from St-Emilion, a merlot (90%) with some cab sauv and cab franc. Dark cherry red in the glass, it certainly looked the youngest. The nose was closed at first, but opened nicely with some air to reveal a very leathery and oaky nose, roses, cloves, mint, vanilla, liquorice and smoke. Beautiful on the palate - very dry, with big velvety tannins, this was a full-bodied, spicy and flavourful wine, but with impeccable poise and balance. Four out of five tasters rated the Pipeau the best. Note the serious price discount to the other two - great value. Tasted here last November, it must be aging well - score is up.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20 (very close to an 18, maybe next year)
Price: C$28 (LCBO futures)

The wines were all decanted an hour before dinner and enjoyed over the evening. They were all classy and a nice pairing for the meal, but the Pipeau was the hands-down winner, and even more compelling considering the price. Cheers!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Swiss Wine: 2006 Fendant Chasselas

I am suspcious of grapes that never really make it to the new world. Chasselas is not widely planted in New World vineyards, which incessantly seek to copy the world's greatest. Is that an oversight, or is chasselas just not worth the effort?

While tonight's cheesy raclette would have paired nicely with a Swiss white, we also planned on throwing some chunks of filet mignon on the rock, so a red was probably in order. Thus, my first Swiss wine was relegated to "warm-up" status.

The 2006 Fendant by Cave St-Pierre is a chasselas from the Swiss appelation of Valais. Shiny white gold in the glass, it was mildly aromatic, with subtle scents of white flowers, limes, pineapple and toast. Minerally and slightly effervescent on the palate, this dry white showed nice bitterness and persistency. Rather competent, but a bit thin and dilute, this easy drinking white was a nice warm up for tonight's raclette.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: C$17.85 (SAQ)

PS - my wife insisted on Bordeaux for the main event, stay tuned...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Spooky" Wine Pairings - Spicy Wild Boar Sausage

(source: Brooklynguy)

Sometimes a bad pairing destroys a great bottle. That's what happened with a bottle of 2006 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny, a wine I was so looking forward to and highly recommended by Brooklynguy.

Coming home from work I see this prized bottle open on the table. Excited, I ask my wife "What's for dinner?" When she replied wild boar sausage, I thought to myself "not perfect, but not too bad". I smelled the wine - beautiful, rich sauvignon blanc, almost new world. Then I took a bite of the sausage....yikes! Filled with red pepper! Fearing a frying pan to the head I took great pains not to complain about the inappropriate opening of my Salvard. To her credit, I am not sure there is a good pairing for spicy wild boar sausage. And who the heck thought of putting the pepper in there anyway?

Anyway, no detailed tasting note for this wine today, other than to say it was absolutely delicious sipping once my tastebuds recovered - rich, pink grapefruity, nice balance. I promise to buy another bottle, hide it from my wife, and report back to you soon. With Halloween nearly upon us, please pass along any other truly "spooky" pairings that I should avoid.

PS -Neil, I temporarily swiped your photo, thanks.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Guest Blogger: Lloyd Does Sicily

Nearly a month ago I finally let my good wine buddy Lloyd help me fill in some content. I value Lloyd's wine views as highly as any, and especially his love of all things Italian. Once again, here is my "roving correspondent" Lloyd, on assignment in Sicily:

One of the only benefits of having a disorganized cellar is finding a hidden gem you forgot you had. Kinda like finding that $20 bill in an old jacket, it’s a great feeling. Such was the case last night when I spotted a 2002 Planeta Burdese that I forgot I owned. Purchased at the suggestion of a local wine advisor who has an eye for the unusual, he suggested I let it sit for a while. He was right on. Made predominantly from cabernet sauvignon and about 30% cab franc, the Burdese is big and mouth-filling, with a wide beam of fine tannins that suggests it will age extremely well. The nose was hot (the ’02 seems to be unusually high alcohol for this wine at 14.5%), but balanced with smoke, oak, cassis and dark cherry. I guessed some Sangiovese – but was wrong. The whole thing comes together nicely, full-bodied, oh-so-slightly astringent but well-integrated with the fruit and tannins, and a satisfying, long finish. It got even better after an hour in the decanter. This is a great match for any red meat or strong cheese, and as good a cabernet as I’ve ever tried from southern Italy. Score: 17.25, Price (SAQ ‘03): $35.

Hey Lloyd - what's up with the quarter points?!


PS - I always find the Planetas nicely made, but a bit hot.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sonoma 2007 Wrap Up

We left Santa Rosa early on a foggy morning to catch our flights back east. For my last Sonoma post I thought I'd just summarize my final thoughts on a tremendous trip, with the benefit of a few nights to mull the event.


Without a doubt, the highlights were:

1) A tour and tasting at Luna Vineyards with winemaker Mike Drash. The wines were excellent, and we loved having your ear for a few hours. Good luck with this year's harvest, Mike.
2) Dinner at Barndiva with Sam and Scot of Marietta Cellars - thanks for the tips, and I look forward to tasting the Emilia's Cuvee

3) Bella Vineyards, purveyors of fine Ancient Vines Zin at a very modest price for the quality. Entering the tasting room on a rainy day, The Smiths playing in the background (nice touch)...I could have stayed there all day.

4) Tasting at Verite. Verite is French for truth, but I prefer the word perfection. I dare Miles to drink this and say "No f-ing merlot!". Thanks, Leanne.


1) EDK - the service was awful and my wallet was swiped. But the food was sooo great....

2) Santa Rosa - Charles Schultz is from Santa Rosa, but I was on a wine quest not a Snoopy quest. Stay in Healdsburg next time - sorry, Sonadora, I should've listened to you.

3) Martinelli - I've heard of a short pour, but that was ridiculous!

What I bought?

I acquired six bottles of the Bella (2 Lily Hill Zin, 2 Big River Ranch Zin, 2 Lily Hill Syrah), 1 Landmark Pinot, 1 Marietta Emilia's Cuvee, 2 bottles of '02 Verite (Le Desir, La Joie), 2 bottles of Hartford Pinot, and 1 bottle of the Luna Canto. These will be returned to Canada in twos over the coming year.

To Visit Next Time

I definintely think you need to base yourself out of Healdsburg. We originally thought Santa Rosa was central, but it involves driving or expensive cab rides to get to the key restaurants. Stay in Healdsburg and you can probably walk to dinner every night, try something new, and is definitely the best situated for the key vineyards. Many have tasting rooms in town, as do the wine shops.

Wineries? I regret missing Trentadue, and I wish I had been more organized and called ahead for appointments at some others...

Many thanks to...

Sonadora for Sonoma travel tips.

Mike Drash for his time, fresh cab berries and beautiful wine.

Edward for drinking a few Sonoma selections "in support" of my trip (any excuse, eh Edward?)

Andrew for steering us to Harford - too bad I forgot about your Zin recommendation, but I loved their Pinot!


David suggested Bistro Ralph, but time constraints forced a Burrito truck substitution (At Lytton Springs Road/Healdsburg Ave, next to the Hwy 101, go for the truck on the left - he said he was better than the guy on the right. I don't know if that's true, but his shredded pork burrito was totally awesome). Barry suggested Kosta Browne and Mark West, but they are not open to the public. Farley suggested Siduri and Acorn, but we're guys - we're not organized enough to call ahead!

Cheers! Back to my daily tastings...sigh.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sonoma Pics

(Old Highway 1 - the long way to Santa Rosa...)
(Day 1 - Cab berries go for destemming at Luna)

(Day 2 - The rain stops, and the clouds begin to drift away)

(Day 3 - A quiet back road near Hartford)

Great shots, and more to come. Cheers!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sonoma Day 3 - The Last Supper

Leaving Verite with a bottle of the 1998 La Muse for dinner, we decided to take a leisurely drive through the valley, stopping for a proper lunch (i.e. no more burrito shacks) at Ravenous (click here for a review) in Healdsburg. Good, fast, service was perfect for a brief luncheon detour from some serious wine country touring. Noisy, chaotic even, this great little bistro was a perfect fit for my style, and the food was absolutely delicious. For once I cannot comment on the wine list - after the stunning flight at Verite I thought a homemade lemonade would be the beverage least likely to disappoint.

Sufficiently nourished we left Healdsburg, taking the Westside road destined for the Hartford Family Winery. Having found Zin Nirvana at Bella and Merlot Nirvana at Verite, I thought one more shot at Pinot Noir was appropriate. Scenic and twisty, the Westside road was perfect for a leisurely drive. We stopped the Winemobile every 200ft in an attempt to capture the seasonal beauty of Sonoma on film (ccd).
Not sure if I found Pinot Nirvana at Hartford, but it was close. We started with the '05 Chardonnays, the Four Hearts and Stone Cote cuvees. The Four Hearts was more New World in style, while the Stone Cote was more Burgundian, but both were varietally true and excellent examples (best whites of the trip). The three '05 Pinot Noirs (Land's Edge, Sevens Bench, Jennifer's) were also very well made, but the Sevens Bench was the tasting room standout in my mind (and made it home with me). While I went here for the Burgundian-styled juice, we tasted the '05 Russian River Zin and I would be remiss if I didn't mention what a standout wine this was, especially at the $30 price point. Perhaps an equal to Bella. In fact it was Andrew at Rouge and Blanc that sent me here, but I mistakenly thought he sent me for the Pinot - I just checked my notes, he sent me for the Zin...sorry Andrew!

Last Supper: A Dinner at John Ash & Co.

The day, and our trip, ended at John Ash & Co., one of Sonoma's top tables. Unlike EDK, John Ash acknowledged our reservation and set us up at the bar for some pre-Verite (I mean pre-dinner) drinks. I loved that the bar served mini-flights of 3 wines - two oz. pours in tasting glasses around a theme. The standout? A Balletto Gewurtztraminer - I must visit Balletto next time.

Seated facing a floodlight vineyard, it would have been romantic if Rob weren't there. The service was exceptional, and surprisingly fast for a Saturday night. Yellow tomato gazpacho with some spicy tuna balls (went nicely with my flight of whites) was followed by a beautiful cut of venison in a blackberry reduction, a perfect interplay with our red wine selection.

The 1998 Verite was a stunning Merlot of subtle complexity. In the glass it was dark cherry in colour, with some orangey brick at the edge. The nose was dominated by leafy tobacco, liquorice, exotic spices and dark currant fruit, constantly shifting, changing, teasing. On the palate the beautiful currant fruit interlaced with velvety tannins, it was dry and slightly minerally/chalky. Absolutely amazing balance: smooth yet complex, subtle and powerful. With a very long finish, this Verite still has a few years ahead of it. What a way to finish this adventure.
cork closure, 14.1% alcohol
Score: 19/20
Price: US$90 (winery)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sonoma Day 3 - Beauty in a Glass

How could I spend a full day in Sonoma, visit just two wineries, and achieve nirvana? Well, it all depends on what is in the glass...

Day 3 started at 11am with a "by appointment only" tasting at Verite Wines. Vérité is a maker of very expensive Bordeaux-styled wines in Sonoma but I didn't know much about them before our trip. As far as I understand, this winery, like some other boutiques in Napa and Sonoma, is a pet project of Jess Jackson (of Kendall-Jackson fame). These boutiques (Cardinale, Verite, others) are run outside the K-J empire as quasi-indepedent facilities (i.e. Verite uses the equipment at Stonestreet down the road). For Verite, Jackson brought in Pierre Seillan, a vigneron from Bordeaux, to craft Californian Bordeaux-styled (with an emphasis on Merlot) wines.

Away from my tasting group I have never tasted such an amazing flight of wines, and this classy joint served the wines properly - the wines were double decanted hours before we arrived and served in proper Riedel stemware that did not smell of industrial soap. From left to right:

2002 Archipel
2002 Verite "La Muse"
2002 Verite "La Joie"
2002 Verite "Le Desir"
1998 Verite (La Muse)
1998 Verite "La Joie"

The starter was the 2002 Archipel, a cab sauv (49%), merlot (32%), cab franc (18%) and malbec blend. Nice leafy aromas, raspberry fruit, mint and liquorice, with beautiful dry tannins and a nice long finish. This Verite wine uses California oak (the rest use French oak).

The 2002 Verite La Muse (92.5% merlot, 7.2% cab franc, dash of malbec) was a terrific, Pomerol-inspired merlot. Liquorice and truffles, musk, leather, tobacco, smoke, later showing a softer, chocolately/candy aroma. Velvety tannins, beautiful length, poised, elegant. Still very young, stick it away for a decade.

The 2002 Verite La Joie is a cab-dominated blend (64.2% cab sauv, 28.5% merlot, 7% cab franc, dash of malbec) the maker claims is Pauillac-inspired. It was a stunning wine, violet, pepper, cocoa, raspberry with dusty dry tannins and a finish that goes on forever.

The 2002 Verite Le Desir is described as St-Emilion inspired, with a blend of merlot (52.7%), cab franc (41.2%), cab sauv (5.1%) and a dash of malbec. Cofffee grounds, very peppery, leafy tea and tobacco and maraschino cherry. Such beautiful balance, exquisite harmony, a very long finish. Could this be a 20pt wine? Wow! (my favourite)

The 1998s were also served to compare to these new releases. The 1998 Verite (La Muse, but they didn't use that name originally), 90% merlot and 10% cab sauv, is aging beautifully. Flint, floral, leafy, vegetal and pencil shaving on the nose, the wine was silky smooth on the palate with great raspberry flavour and nice acidity. Still showing some length, this could certainly cellar for a few more years, but it is drinking so well now there is no need to wait. We bought a bottle for dinner (more later).

The 1998 Verite La Joie (70% cab sauv, 30% merlot) was brick red, peppery, smokey, and woodsy undergrowth notes, this wine is also aging gracefully, with bright cherry fruit, silky tannins and some nice lenght. Same as the La Muse - it can be cellared longer, but why wait?

Despite the lengthy decant, these wines were so complex and ever evolving. Many thanks to Leanne for the tour through these vines and the overview of the winery. We were even served an Archipel Rose, a terrific little rose for $12 - I recommend picking up a bottle at the winery - this is going to be discontinued.

In summary, I highly recommend to anyone going to Sonoma to call ahead and make an appointment to taste these wines. If you can't afford to drop $150 on wine you will pay a $25 fee, which seems to me a reasonable price to properly taste six truly stunning wines.

This visit was one of those rare "Wow! Unbelievable! Incredible! Super-fantastic! Amazing!" wine moments. Seillan is a genius, and the French inspiration/winemaking style flows through all of these wines - they all resemble good vintage Bordeaux. While I didn't officially score these, the Verite wines would all justify between 18.5 to 20 points out of 20, my highest ever. Despite the obscene price tag I bought the '02 La Joie and Le Desir - if these aren't perfection, then they are so darn close...

Stay tuned for the end of Day 3, cheers!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sonoma Day 2 - Dinner at EDK

(View from the Bella Cellar...)

This should have been a terrible evening. The El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma did not honour our 8:30pm reservation, making us wait another 45 minutes to get a table (and were terribly rude and unapologetic). By 12:15am Montreal time I nearly ate my wallet. Actually, I should have - it would have been better knowing that the cash was safely digesting in my empty stomach rather than funding a night of binge drinking for that punk who "lightened up" my wallet. And that cash would have come in handy for the $100 cab ride from Santa Rosa. But I digress...

Arriving on time for our reservation, we cooled our heels in the bar, sipping on a beer while I fondled the 2005 Bella Lily Hill Syrah that would be our dining companion. Fortunately, the food (and the wine) was fantastic.

Once we were seated the service dramatically improved, and the menu was terrific. For a starter I had local yellow tomatoes with shaved fennel and arugula - delicious. The entree, a grilled free range chicken with gnocchi and garlic sauce, was absolutely perfect. Rob went for the pork osso buco, another winner. And the main courses paired very well with the Syrah (tasting notes some other day). A minor gripe - was that a baguette?! Anyway, if the first paragraph were a lie this could have been a perfect evening.

So, was the wait worth it? Not sure if I can let any restaurant get away with that reservation idiocy, and they seemed rather unapologetic that a regular lifted the cash out of my wallet (which wouldn't have happened if my reservation had been honoured).

In the end, the food was really good. The Bella Syrah was really good. And at least the he left my credit cards and ID. I can't wait for Day 3 - a verical tasting of one of the world's greatest wines!

Sonoma Day 2 - Dry Creek Treasures

The morning began with a suggestion from Sam and Scott during last night's evening at Barndiva. On a cool, drizzly morning (that had most winemakers freaking out, by the way…), we set off for Bella Vineyards, a little “hole in the hill” (literally) winery at the end of West Dry Creek Rd. This winery does not sell retail, with all of the wine going to visitors and wine club members. I should add “lucky” in front of that, because this was an amazing flight of wines.

Zin is not frequently at the top of my list, but I may have to make an exception for Bella. The modest $5 tasting fee served up the stunning 2005 Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel and 2005 Big River Ranch Zinfandel. Both wines come from old vines, ranging from 85 to 100+ years old. Both were extremely complex, nicely balanced, with the Big River featuring a very long finish (meant for aging, my favourite Zin ever), while the Lily Hill seemed more accessible. Both tasting notes feature words like "spectacular" and "beautiful". Nuff said, you MUST visit this place - this was our great find of the trip. Even better, they had a very nice Syrah, and the prices were very reasonable for the quality. Rob and I went splits on a case.

We were rather reluctant to leave Bella, but the pourer assured us no amount of groveling would result in free pours, and my claims of media nobility were ignored. So off we went to we went to see Unti Vineyards, which served up a nice Grenache at Barndiva last night (Sam's suggestion). Tastings at this winery are "by appointment only", but the Unti folk were gracious enough to host us in a quick tasting of some of their wares. An unusual winery, focused mainly on Rhone and Italian varietals, it seems to be most associated with its Barbera wine. This was sold out, unfortunately, but we did try their 2004 Syrah, 2005 Segromigno, 2005 Zinfandel and 2005 Petit Frere. Last night Scott recommended the Syrah and I agree - another bottle to lug home. Overall, the quality was very nice, especially given the very modest price point on most of the wines.

After that we drove past the Ridge winery. Unable to contain myself at seeing this veritable Cathedral to wine, I had to stop. Seems like Zin heaven was achieved at Bella, so I was rather unimpressed - high hopes combined with a great Zin earlier in the day made for a tough tasting. But I left with a Montebello, regardless.

After that we stopped at Seghesio - a traditional, crowded tasting room, the wines on offer were nice, but the day was progressing and my taste buds were lacking (perhaps it was the burrito truck for a second day in a row...). Even worse, we tried to catch Martinelli before close. Clearly the length of the pour, while free, was inversely proportional to the proximity to closing time. Lapping at the vapours in my glass, I have no idea if the wine was any good.

Then to dinner - an adventure in itself.

More later...Cheers!

Sonoma Day 1 - Continued

Leaving Luna, we took the Oakville Cross to get back to Sonoma. On the way Rob saw the Silver Oak Vineyard tower, and instinctively drove into another winery. There was a Sonoma connection here - Rob wanted to compare their Napa to the Sonoma Silver Oak bottlings. Fortunately, there were pouring both at the winery, saving us a trip to the Sonoma estate. The 2003 Silver Oak Alexander Valley was classic California Cab, but very dry with dusty, earthy, tannins, rather Bordeaux-esque. Nicely done, needs some time in the bottle. The 2002 Silver Oak Napa Valley was a seriously complex wine with copious tannins and tremendous length. Elegant, balanced, but far too young. Overall, despite the different terroirs, the wines were quite similar. While the Napa was the better, was it $40 better? Not sure about that.

By now we were ready to start our Sonoma trip. Taking the scenic Oakville Grade through the Mayacamas mountains made for an adventure in itself, with over 100 hairpin turns and steep twisties. Made for a Porsche, our Dodge was less prepared for such a drive. If the drive were any longer I may have lost that burrito stand lunch...

We arrived in Sonoma near Kenwood, and decided to finish our winery tour with a stop at Landmark, a winery known for Pinot and Chardonnay. These are rather highly rated wines, but Rob was not terribly impressed - kinda ho-hum. I liked the 2005 Domaris and Lorenzo chardonnays, but the 2005 Kanzler Pinot was the highlight of the visit - spicy, mushroomy, earthy, raspberry jam, coffee - smooth and crisp, great balance, substantial tannins. Nicely done.

Capping off a terrific wine day was dinner in Healdsburg at Barndiva. Hip, trendy, this bistro served up great wine, great food and great service. Sitting at the bar, we conversed with son of the Marietta Cellars owner. Serving up great wine and tips for the next day's tours (their winery is not open to the public), we were soon joined by his brother, a recent UC Davis wine grad. These tips led to our greatest wine find of the trip! Gotta catch a flight - more details on the dinner and the wines soon. Say tuned for Day 2 - Dry Creek Valley Treasures.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sonoma Day 1 - From Grape to Glass

Curiously enough, my first day in Sonoma began in Napa. In response to some comments I made on his 2004 Luna Sangiovese, Luna Vineyards' winemaker Mike Drash invited me to stop by when I was in the area. Sonoma was close enough, so Rob and I took a slight detour from our original plans.

Busy with the harvest, we jumped into Mike's truck and drove to Coombsville (an area of Napa that has not yet achieved AVA status, but likely to according to Mike) to oversee the harvest. The vineyard was buzzing with activity, with an army of pickers was scurrying through the rows picking the ripe cabernet berries (delicious, by the way). The competition was in the field as well, as the winemaker from Anomaly was overseeing his crew picking their assigned rows.

After that we headed off to Caldwell Vineyard to check on some more cabernet plots, meeting other winemakers hurrying about. Caldwell, in addition to making their own wine, makes their facility available to other winemakers, whom were also busy processing their grapes. There we had a chance to taste some Malbec juice, straight off the press, and meet briefly with the Caldwell winemaker. After that, we grabbed a burrito and returned to Luna to enjoy our lunch and grill Mike for a few more minutes.

Thanking Mike, we headed off to the tasting room to taste some of his wares. Our Trail Blazer flight featured the 2005 Sangiovese, the 2003 Merlot, the 2002 Canto (a super-Tuscan inspired wine), the 2004 Howell Mountain Merlot, and the 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet. An excellent flight of wines, I particularly enjoyed the Canto and the Howell Mountain Merlot. Unfortunately, my real objective was to buy some other vintages (2003 and 2005) of the Sangiovese Rerserve and conduct a vertical, as per Mike's suggestions, but this wine sells out. It looks like I have to scour New York to find those bottles.

Overall, after 4 hours with Mike I have a year's worth of material that will have to wait. Many thanks to Mike for sharing his time and some quality wines with us.

This is not the end of Day One, as Joe finished the day in Healdsburg, enjoying dinner in the company of more winemakers - stay tuned.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Canadian Thanksgiving - Turkey and Pinot

Canadian Thanksgiving is held a few weeks before the American holiday. While there may be various historical reasons for two countries' choice of day to celebrate thanks, I for one blame the weather - late November weather can be dicey in many parts of this country - no need to flood the highways with turkey stuffed drivers if the snow is blowing.

For the main meal, our northern holiday also featured a fine turkey (blogger is rejecting my turkey shot). I was pitched the Zin idea for turkey, but I really like the pinot pairing (last year was a turkey/pinot t-giving).

For the main meal, we started off Burgundy vs. California, but not in a competitive way - calibration, as Edward would say.

The 2005 Nicolas Potel Santenay was even slightly more impressive than the last time. Cherry red, the nose was quite similar to my last experience, with earthy, mushroomy and berry aromas, I could picture myself standing in the winery at harvest time. On the palate it was crisp, focused, elegant and balanced with nice raspberry fruit. Last time I commented that this should spend some time in the cellar, but it is drinking very well now. An exceptional pairing.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$31 (SAQ)

A previous vintage of The Famous Gate was a winner at one of our Pinot Noir tastings, prompting me to visit the winery last year. The 2004 Domaine Carneros "The Famous Gate" was an attractive ruby red in the glass, with a complex nose dominated by cocoa and cloves, also showing raspberry jam, vanilla, nutmeg, and smokey/flinty notes. On the palate this medium- to full-bodied pinot was silky, smoother and softer than the Potel, also very elegant, but seemed less acidic and overpowered the meal. Could use a few more years in the cellar.
cork. 13.7% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: US$50 (winery)

So, the crowd favourite was the Potel, and it came down to pairing - the Potel seemed to match and accentuate the meal just slightly better. It was the first bottle finished.

With a large crowd, it was not long before we moved to the third bottle, a 2006 Cono Sur Vision Pinot Noir that I hinted to in my previous Potel post. Bright cherry red, with ripe raspberry, iodine, canned fruit and smokey notes on the nose. On the palate it was "edgier" than the other two Pinots, but crisp and flavourful with nice acidity and mild tannins. An amazing balance between old and new world styles, and a tremendous value for the money.
screw top. 14.1% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$16 (LCBO)

In Sonoma, off to the wineries today - Cheers!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sonoma Valley Preview

In just three nights I will be at my hotel room in Santa Rosa, in the heart of Sonoma, resting up for a three day whirlwind tour of one of America's most famous wine regions. This will be my first visit to Sonoma, so my perspectives today are those of someone who has "never been there".

Grape growing began in the region in the early 1800s, but all sources point to a Hungarian Count, Agoston Haraszthy, as the father of the local wine industry. Arriving in the mid-1800s, Count Haraszthy is credited with being among the first to plant European varietals and promote California as a place to produce fine wine. Founded in 1857, his winery (Buena Vista) still operates today.

Today Sonoma's 1,800 grape growers and >250 wineries produce wines from 65,000 acres of vineyards. Chardonnay is the dominant grape (16,000 acres), Cabernet Sauvignon (12,000 acres), Pinot Noir (10,000 acres), Merlot (7,500 acres), Zinfandel (5,000 acres) and Sauvignon Blanc (2,500 acres). I have to confess, I was a bit surprised by these stats, as I think of Sonoma as Zinfandel country - already learning...

Situated so close to Napa, Sonoma is often overshadowed by it's famous peer (visited by Joe last year). Geographically and viticulturally diverse, Sonoma's twelve AVAs cover a wide range of soils, microclimates, and grape varietals. Unlike Napa, Sonoma doesn't have a signature grape or wine style, and it is this diversity that makes it so daunting to study. And yet this is what excites me about the trip - surely there are some unheralded gems just waiting to be discovered?

I look forward to visiting, tasting, purchasing and writing about the wines.


PS - Some useful links: Sonoma Vintners, Sonoma Growers, and Sonoma Touristy Stuff.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dinner at Vago: 2003 Tauleto

My wife's parents insisted on taking us out for dinner, so we went to Vago, an Italian joint on Greene Avenue in Westmount. The Brunello I had my heart on was sold out, so Tommaso - the sommelier - sought to restore his good name (and my good cheer) with this brutish sangiovese from Umbria.

Actually, the 2003 Cesari Tauleto is made from Sangiovese Grosso (90%, the Brunello grape) and Bursona Longanesi (10%, and a grape I never heard of before). A dense, dark, cherry red, nearly opaque, it gave off beautiful scents of cedar, cherries, leafy tea and tobacco, damp wood, nutmeg, coffee, leather, smoke. On the palate this powerhouse was very dry and full-bodied, well-extracted, with beautiful spiciness and dark cherry fruit. A very long finish, buy it now but but do not open this for a few more years. A great Brunello substitute, thanks Tommaso!
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20 (+?)
Price: C$49 (SAQ, more at the resto)

PS - I think my wife is tiring of me becoming best friends with every sommelier I meet! After dinner Tommaso served me a splash of Moscato, and then brought me over to the bar where he poured me a glass from a bottle of Solaia - awesome!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Magnum 'o Fun: 2001 Ridge Lytton Springs

I don't think I have blogged a wine by Ridge, but I have had a few of their bottlings over the years and they are always impressive. I bought this magnum a year and a half ago when I was on a magnum kick, thinking I should have a few magnums around. Unfortunately, I love head to head comparisons so I never open the darn things!

For a group of seven adults I opened the 2001 Ridge Lytton Springs comes from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma (just a few more days...). Deep cherry in hue, with some brick at the edges, it showed pepper, dark berries (currants?), oak, liquorice, rose, and creme caramel (a "cultural" observation for Edward). Full-bodied yet extremely elegant, with supple tannins and a velvety texture. Beautiful fruit, but not overdone for a Zin, with the Petite Sirah and Carignane taming the fruitiness and adding structure. This is drinking very well now, but probably has a few more years in the magnum. One of the first times I have opened a bottle and had six adults stare at me with that "WOW!" look on their faces - that alone was worth the bottle price.
cork. 14.7% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$96 (SAQ, magnum)

This is a warmup for Sideways 3, a JoeTour of Sonoma, Oct. 10th-14th.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Two "Chardonnays"?

For a roast chicken dinner I thought some chardonnays would work well, so I brought out a pricey Chilean chardonnay and a wine from Bourgogne. All white Burgundy is chardonnay, right? Well, some of you have already noticed that the label above clearly says "Bouzeron". I learned something new today - in Bouzeron, a Burgundy appellation, the wines are made from "Aligoté"... This was rather embarrassing for Joe (trying to impress his in-laws), but it was an enjoyable wine nonetheless.

On the nose the gold-hued 2005 A et P de Villaine Bouzeron was rather earthy and mushroomy at first, very subtle, reluctantly revealing some Granny Smith apple, white grapefruit, lemon peel, fresh cut grass, petrol and "wet bark", but not as complex as the chardonnay below. This was a beautiful white on the palate, very crisp with bitter lemon and nice mineraliness, I wrote WOW. This could probably age, but is very nice now. Quote - "This tastes like I am eating the grapes right off the vine". A better match for the salad, but perhaps not as good a pairing with the poultry. For what it's worth, this bottle disappeared first.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: $23.85 (SAQ)

The 2005 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay comes from the Casablanca Valley, and is Casa Lapostolle's top cuvee. Shiny gold in the glass, the nose started out all bananas, lemon and butter, also showing some smoke and nearly-burnt toast. Rich and lemony on the palate, with nice acidity and some bitter mineraliness, it was more thick and juicy than the Bouzeron. This was a very nice "New World" styled chardonnay, and a better match for the dinner.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: $33 (LCBO)

So there you have it - Joe drank Aligoté thinking it was chardonnay. My suggestion, check out Bouzeron - a different take on white Burgundy, and a notch above Bourgogne Aligote.