Monday, November 26, 2007

Super Super Tuscans

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Breaking the Rules with Inexpensive Burgundy

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

2006 Domaine du Salvard

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Essence vs. Solitar

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oddities Night...or Freakshow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 16, 2007

What is "Odd"?

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

2005 de Villaine "Les Clous" - WBW #39

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 12, 2007

Dinner with Brooklynguy at AOC Bedford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cibo Bistro & Wine Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vintages Release - November 10th

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

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

Large Format (1.5L)

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

Baby Bottles (375mL)

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

Other Great Ideas

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


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

Happy Shopping!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Acela Express - "High Speed" Wine

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 03, 2007

1998 Fontanafredda Barolo Vigna La Rosa

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

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

Barbera D'Alba, Nebbiolo D'Alba

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

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

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

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

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