Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Great Party

Earlier this month I made some suggestions for party wines, and for our annual Christmas party I followed those closely. But unlike last year's party I had to "tighten the belt", so I served a more modest selection of wines for our guests:

NV Codorniu Clasico Brut Cava (Spain)
2007 Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon Yellow Label (Australia)
NV Bistro Mundo Tempranillo (Spain
2006 Meia Encosta (Portugal)
2006 Crasto (Portugal)

The bubbly starter was a huge success, with many guests sticking to the Codorniu for the entire evening (good thing I had a few extra bottles!). I didn't even bother offering a white this year, thinking this bubbly would serve both roles, and it did so ably, pairing perfectly a spread of homemade quiche, pesto lasagna, curried chicken and various cheeses and charcuterie. Available locally for just $13.65 this wine is a steal.

For the reds I had a bit of fun our guests, blinding the wines and giving the guests a few "simple" tasks: (1) pick out the box wine, (2) guess the cabernet, and (3) guess which was the most expensive. They were also asked to pick a "favourite". The most lively discussions of the evening took place in the vicinity of the four mysterious decanters - just the way I like it!

Now a few comments on the wines. The Meia Encosta was the least favourite and was nearly everyone's pick for "the box wine". This was unexpected as I was rather complimentary of this wine a few weeks back. I even opened a bottle after this event and my wife (blinded) loved it. Perhaps it was the competition, but I stick with my original assessment that this wine "...could be the king of mid-week wines."

The Spanish Bistro Mundo Tempranillo was a "table wine success", generating no major comments, positive or negative, and the decanter emptied at a healthy clip. This wine melded into the background, pairing quite well with the food on offer. Can you ask for more from a box wine?

The crowd of novices and aficionados easily picked out the Wolf Blass Yellow Label as the Cabernet Sauvignon, and it was the favourite wine of the evening for nearly half of my guests. Historically a staple in my household, I haven't had it in years - I forgot how good this inexpensive Aussie Cab was. Even better, the SAQ had a blowout two weeks before Christmas - I picked up a few bottles for just C$13. A steal at that price, and even at the current price of C$17.95 this wine is highly recommended.

The Crasto was the crowd favourite, but it was 50 - 100% more expensive (C$20.15) than the other wines on offer. Easy drinking and flavourful with a fabulous nose, it was a touch flabbier than I recall from a previous tasting but still delicious.

Overall, a great night of wines, capped off by a 2000 Bouscasse Vielles Vignes for the stragglers. And I have a few refinements to my party suggestions for next year.

Happy New Year to All!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2007 Alamos Chardonnay

I have sung the praises of Catena's wines but said little about their entry-level Alamos line of wines. With such praise for Catena's Chardonnay, I wondered if I could save a few bucks on their Alamos Chardonnay and get nearly as much pleasure? Almost...

The 2007 Alamos Chardonnay had nice ripe apple and lime notes on the nose, some flowers and a hint of vanilla. A luscious, creamy mouthfeel, very flavourful with spicy apples, this was a nearly flawless modern-styled chardonnay (with a more modest alcohol content vs. other new world chards).
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$15.65 (SAQ)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

2003 Red Bordeaux: Croix-Mouton, Clarke and Pibran

There are obvious dangers in discussing a particular vintage for any wine region - a variety of micro-climates, differences in harvest conditions and even different points of view on harvesting make generalizing about a vintage hazardous. However, I have tasted a number of 2003 Clarets (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) over the past few years (2003 was my first, and biggest, year participating in the futures game) and I think I can make a few broad comments on the vintage.

While the 2003 Bordeaux reds were trumpeted by some writers at the time, it has become a controversial vintage. I have read some commentary saying that the wines don't have the structure for aging, while other writers were concerned that the wines are too hard and will take many years to sort themselves out (if ever).

The first word that comes to my mind when I think about 2003 is 'accessibility' - most of the wines I have tasted are ready to drink today after a short decant. I am of the opinion that this is not a classic vintage and that these wines are not for aging - there has been a tendency to riper fruit, higher alcohol and low acidity. While some have said that the tannins in the '03s could be unripe, or even harsh, I am finding them soft and velvety for the most part (exception below) and in a blind tasting of Bordeaux I suspect some might think a few Californian wines were slipped into the mix. Given the riper, more accessible, less structured wines that have been produced in this vintage, I suspect 2003 will ultimately be viewed as a tragedy by the experts - a vintage for Claret lovers to forget.

Which brings up an interesting point - do all Clarets need to be 'cellar-worthy' to be enjoyed? Perhaps that is the joy of variable vintages - some vintages deliver wines of incredible depth, structure and aging potential, while others deliver every pleasures to pour while your treasures age? That is my view of 2003 - there were some great, but not classic, wines produced for oenophiles to savour while waiting for their 2000s to mature...

Here are some notes on three 2003s that are on my list of Top 50 Cellar Picks:

The 2003 Chateau Pibran (Pauillac) is a modestly priced Claret that I have been buying regularly since I first tasted the 2000 vintage. A gorgeous nose of violets and cloves, damp undergrowth, fresh ground pepper and ripe blackberries, tea and smoke. Crisp and spicy on the palate with chalky tannins, well-balanced but slightly dilute, it took some time to soften up in the decanter but opened up beautifully - Lloyd said it "screamed for a steak". Score: 17/20

The 2003 Croix-Mouton (Bordeaux Superieur) is an outlier to my comments above - very flinty, with strong liquorice and vegetal notes, also showing some leathery dark fruit, violets and damp undergrowth on the nose. Structured, with crisp, minerally and smokey fruit, but rather angular and needing air time to soften up. A classic Bordeaux that should flourish with a few years in the cellar. Score: 17/20

The 2003 Chateau Clarke (Listrac Médoc) was a modern-styled wine with a big nose of vanilla-y oak and leathery ripe blackberries, some pepper and flinty notes. While not as jammy as the nose suggested, it was round and luscious with peppery fruit and woodsy tannins. Easy drinking after a short decant but it got flabby quickly. Drink now. Score: 16.5/20

Friday, December 26, 2008

2007 A.J. Adam Riesling Kabinett

Back in June I met fellow blogger Lyle Fass in New York City for a wine exchange - I passed him bottles of Donnhoff's Weissburgunder "S" and Grauburgunder "S", and he gave me a bottle of Marcillac and tonight's wine, the 2007 A.J. Adam Riesling Kabinett. A hint of flowers on the nose when first poured, revealing notes of honeyed limes, apricot, quince and wet stones as it warmed. A textbook palate: soft and slightly off dry, with a limey, tangy texture, a subtle effervescence, good acid and fine minerality. Simple but incredibly well-balanced, polished, and flavourful.
Score: 17/20
Price: barter

Lyle pitched this as a great value and from the prices I can find on the web I would agree - many thanks!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bordeaux and Beet Soup on Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve, time for some Christmas Eve Borscht!

The menu was nearly identical to last year's Christmas Eve celebration so I was inclined to Pinot Noir, but I had a problem - we had eight adults for dinner. With a cellar of nearly 500 bottles you would think that this was no problem at all. Unfortunately, I have a healthy collection of nearly everything - singles and doubles of nearly every grape and region from around the world - but very few runs of three or more (most of which are not yet ready) -- PANIC!

So, my love of quirky wine bites me in the behind...certainly no Pinot Noir to serve this thirsty crowd, but a search of my cellar unearthed four bottles of the 2003 Chateau Reysson Reserve, a Cru Bourgeois from the Haut-Medoc. The notes are nearly identical to 18 months ago, but it was even softer and more elegant - a lovely and relatively inexpensive Bordeaux at its peak.

This wine got me to thinking about the 2003 Bordeaux vintage...more soon.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Taste of Jayer-Gilles

The wines of Jayer-Gilles command relatively high prices and garner good ratings considering the modest appellations these wines come from. But they are hard to come by as this is a small domaine with limited production, so I was lucky to score a few I guess...

The 2004 Jayer-Gilles Hautes Côtes de Nuits was cheesy and musty at first, pretty dark flowers, raspberries, truffles and mushrooms, cloves, and some smokey oak notes. Elegant, light and flavourful on the palate with a bitter finish. Classic red Burgundy and terribly interesting - a touch heavy on the oak, but otherwise perfect.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$47.75 (SAQ)

The 2005 Jayer-Gilles Côte de Nuits-Villages was slatey, minerally, and slightly perfumey on the nose: pretty floral and vanilla, cinnamon and tea, damp forest and wild berries. Very tight and very minerally on the palate, tangier and crisper than the '04 above and it held up better over the evening. Both ethereal and profoundly deep, with an impressive finish that tells me this will blossom over the next few years in the cellar.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5+/20
Price: C$52.70 (SAQ)

An impressive pair of well-made wines from Burgundy's lesser appellations, and I have a few more of each for a future re-match.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut

Source: Laurent-Perrier USA

Many wine drinkers, myself included, reserve the Champagne for special occasions. But not tonight - tonight this fine bottle of bubbly helped to celebrate a 'little victory'.

For the price I have always considered the NV Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P to be one of the great values amongst big house Champs so I was pretty enthusiastic about opening this NV Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, a Valentine's gift from my significant other. A pretty salmon colour in the glass, it showed a simple nose of yeasty white grapefruit with a hint of rasberries. An elegant, soft mousse on the palate with bitter grapefruit, a minerally tang and fresh acidity, it showed much better as it warmed up but remained rather uncomplicated. Apparently this is the world's best-selling rose bubbly - I can see the charm, but I would expect a touch more complexity at this price point.
cork. 12% alcohol

Score: 16/20
Price: gift

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blaufrankisch and Turkey: 2005 Heinrich

Blaufränkisch, sometimes referred to as Lemberger, Franconia and others, is Austria's second most widely planted red wine grape. I did not taste this grape in my Quest for 100, so tonight's wine further adds to my credentials as a taster of quirky grapes.

This wine was a selection of our good friends, Tara and Peter, who invited us over to celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving a few weeks back - a timely pairing idea for your upcoming turkey feast.

The 2005 Heinrich Blaufränkisch was green and earthy with peppery raspberries, heavy with meaty and leathery notes. A soft, silky texture and nice dusty raspberry fruit on the palate...fresh, but with mild acid and modest tannins. Very intriuguing, and a perfect match for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
glass cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$22.15 (SAQ)

Peter also served a Beaujolais, the 2005 Collin-Bourisset Moulin-à-Vent des Hospices - very smooth and polished, with raspberry jolly rancher and truffles, some flinty and old leathery notes, but this soft wine of candied fruit just didn't work with the turkey for me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Aussie Shiraz, Spanish Syrah

My good friend Ash, a founding member of our tasting group, stopped by on a Friday night for some wine and conversation. I had a Bordeaux standing up in the cellar for this occasion, but Ash arrived with Spanish Syrah, forcing a last minute change in plans...

When I wrote my post on palate drift a few weeks ago it was Aussie Shiraz that was most on my mind, so I opened this 2004 Torbreck "The Struie" with some trepidation. Very aromatic, it grabbed my nose and smacked me over the head with gobs of smokey toasty oak, blackberry, and violet...later unveiling notes of liquorice, cinnamon and wet coffee grounds. "Oh crap, not again, soft and jammy" I thought, but not this time. A tremendous palate full of contradiction: brawny yet elegant, robust and flavourful yet fine, luxurious velvety tannins but not definitely not 'soft' - all a prelude to an incredibly long finish. Drink after a decant today, but I recommend more time in the cellar. Yes, this blew away my expectations, but I remain disappointed - so close to perfect if Torbreck would just tone down that oak ...
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$52 (SAQ)

Ash pulled out a surprise for me, spoiling me with a Spanish Syrah that I had meaning to buy. You see, this wine is made by the same winery that provided a rather intriguing single varietal Petit Verdot for last year's "Oddities Tasting". The 2003 Marqués de Griñón Syrah had an equally interesting, but more subdued, primal nose - meaty and pruney notes mingle with liquorice and black pepper, some rubber and ripe black cherries arrive later in the evening. The palate was crisp, gripping, and a touch more awkward, the tannins softened to velvet over the evening. An incredibly long finish, this wine needs time...
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$37.25 (SAQ)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

2007 Borsao, White and Red

I made a number of suggestions for party wine in a recent post, but you could do much worse than these inexpensive, widely available, Spanish offerings:

The white, the 2007 Borsao Seleccion Joven, hails from the Campo de Borja appellation, a Spanish appellation best known for Garnacha but with many authorized varietals including Tempranillo, Mazuela, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Macabeo, Chardonnay and Moscatel - this white was 100% Macabeo (Viura). Very creamy, with some white flower and green, earthy notes. Very smooth, luscious, and balanced with no rough edges, impressive at this price.
plastic cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 13.5/20
Price: C$13.15 (SAQ)

The red, a 2007 Borsao (Campo de Borja) is a blend of Grenache (70%), Syrah (20%) and Tempranillo. A nose of dark berry fruit, tart and cedary, with some smokey and leathery notes. Light bodied, with mild tannins and oaky crisp fruit, but not overoaked. A bit awkward and unbalanced at first but it softened over evening. Enjoyable, but not memorable, a decent pour at this price. I wonder how this would stack up to these Portuguese treasures (1,2) in a blind tasting?
plastic cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 13/20
Price: C$11.65 (SAQ)

Both of these were simple, but simple is not a criticism - at this price point what I really look for is a wine that is flourful with no"rough edges", and these delivered. Great for a party!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Fourth Annual BYO at A L'Os

My tasting group has been the cornerstone of this blog, pushing the envelope on wine prices and styles and in the process educating my palate in ways a wine class could never achieve. But the reason our group has continued for more than five years is that this is first and foremost a group of friends.

This friendship, and wine, brought us together for our Fourth Annual "grand tasting" at a BYO Restaurant, Montreal's À l'Os. No scoresheets tonight - just great food, conversations and vinous treasures from our respective cellars:

1988 Château Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien)
1999 Pio Cesare Barolo "Ornato"
2001 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa)
2002 Domaine Chevalier Père & Fils Corton "Le Rognet"
2003 The Standish (Barossa)
2004 Domaine l'Aiguelière Côte Rousse (Coteaux du Languedoc)
2004 no. 2/3 Trio Infernal (Spain)
2004 René Rostaing Côte Rôtie "La Landonne"

But before I get to the wine, I want to say a few words about what was the most impressive Montreal BYO I have ever had the chance to dine in. Very French in style, but what impressed me was an obsession with balance - of flavours and textures - that signify a chef with complete dedication to his trade. An impressive soup of cauliflower and watercress to start - beautiful creamy texture and balance. This was followed by a blood pudding that was insanely light and fluffy, served on a bed of cooked apples and a dab of cream on top (it looked like a dessert) - Wow! The main of filet mignon with seared foie gras (an error - I asked for the mushrooms - but I didn't complain about the freebie) - simply flavourful and stunningly textured, surely the greatest steak (and foie gras) I have ever had. And I couldn't pass on a dessert of fresh figs and balsamic vinegar ice cream. All with impeccable service (despite a rowdy crowd). This was, without a doubt, THE best table to pair with your cellar that I have dined in in Montreal (but noticeably pricier). A hearty shout out to the chef!

Oops, nearly forgot the wine:

Our first pour was Pramod's 2001 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve (Napa). Rather predictably high-end Napa on the nose, with spicy vanilla, violets, dark berry fruit, white pepper and gobs of oak. Somewhat atypical on the palate - a big tannic wallop up front, but rather lighter and more elegant than the nose suggested - should soften up nicely with cellaring. Great, but I don't remember a lot of discussion around this one.

Next up was Lloyd's ancient 1988 Chateau Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien), a fourth-growth that is showing very well as it enters its third decade. It didn't go over well at first - some cellar stank I guess - but that blew off to reveal a sublime blend of mushrooms and prunes, cedar and old leather, black earth and vegetal notes. Elegant, light and earthy on the palate with crisp fruit and spicy oak - for me it was the most memorable, and most food-friendly, of the evening...ahhh, old Bordeaux....

Next up was Cosme's 2003 The Standish (Barossa), one of Australia's top shirazes. Meaty blueberries, tar and liquorice, flinty vanilla, violet and cherries on the nose. Luscious and well balanced with big, velvety tannins and a never-ending finish, but a touch fruitier and more extracted than my current preferences. I, and most of my peers, were rather ho-hum on this one tonight.

A wine that did generate a lot of discussion was Ash's 2004 Domaine l'Aiguelière Côte Rousse (Coteaux du Languedoc) - big stinky cheese notes (in a good way), spicy new leather, and slate on the nose, a delicious velvety texture with crisp fruit and a lengthy finish. I would say "Bordeaux-esque", but perhaps less polished (in my opinion) than some of the other wines tonight. I expect that will be resolved with some cellar time...

Next up was another controversial wine, Cam's 2004 no. 2/3 trio infernal (Priorat). Made from 100% carignan, this modern-styled wine showed leathery dark berries, tar, and minty alcohol. Lighter-bodied with a modest finish, I found the alcohol just too hot, but otherwise no rough edges. I have to agree with David's QPR comments on this one. Drink now.

Since nobody was scoring I declare my 1999 Pio Cesare Barolo "Ornato" the "winner" - hah, I finally won! A gorgeous nose of tar and rose petal, black pepper, and flinty blackberries. Muscular - an elegant muscular - with a very long finish, it was the first decanter emptied.

As if that weren't enough we poured Chris' 2004 René Rostaing Côte Rôtie "La Landonne" for the finale. Candy and flowers on the nose, tea and wet stones as well. Elegant, with crisp fruit and a minerally palate - a deceptively long finish, will be amazing in a few years.

I forgot to mention the 2002 Chevalier Corton, a wine that showed up hidden under Cosme's chair (insurance in case no one brought a Burgundy, I suppose - Barry could sympathize). He relented and shared with all, but I didn't take notes as I thought this was the 2005 we had recently.

I won't cover Chris' Hungarian dessert wine - it was DRY! Sorry, that's like salami for dessert. It may have been good, but I was SO not in the mood for that.

Whew! Did I say this was a great evening?

(BYO 2007 at Yoyo, BYO 2006 at Bistro l'Entrepont)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Wine Selections

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

The Holiday season is upon us, and with many thirsty guests parading through the house how will you spread Christmas cheer after Scrooge just put a lump of coal in your stocking?

This post is not about saving money on wine per se - there are many writers out there pitching inexpensive wines in these trying times. But beyond the challenge of serving buckets of wine to a hungry crowd without breaking the bank, Holiday gatherings require other important considerations:

Will your inexpensive wine taste good in a plastic wine glass?
Will it work at room temperature?
Will it pair with canapes and egg rolls, dips and cheeses, pizza slices, nuts, etc.?
And - most importantly - will it please the wine neophytes AND your snobby wine friends (especially when they know you have a fine, well-stocked cellar)?

There are no easy answers to these, but here are some thoughts on navigating these shoals:

1) Bubbles: Dry bubblies are food friendly with a variety of cuisines, and do not have to be expensive. Plus, nothing says 'party' like a glass of bubbly. I also expect that your wine snob friends will raise less of a fuss with good, inexpensive bubbles. Spanish cava tops my list for inexpensive "boules", but bubblies from the non-Champagne regions of France also offer some tremendous values (Check out Neil's blog for bubbles at a variety of prices)

2) New world and old world: Fruitier, modern-styled wines are great sipping wines and tend to be appreciated by recreational winos, but your knowledgeable friends may pass and switch to beer. I suggest trying to find a middle ground - try an old world wine maker with a more modern winemaking style, or a new world winemaker with a more traditional style. A good shopkeeper should be able to point you in the right direction, and if they look puzzled just leave (or see my list below...)

3) The "Red": Fruity Aussie Shiraz and Argentinian Malbec are all the rage, but my personal recommendation is for Cabernet Sauvignon as your red choice for the evening - easy to find, a well-chosen cab should be flavourful, reasonably versatile while and withstand the warm environment, and will probably better please both the rookies and the afficianados. A very close second would be a good Portuguese red (typically made from obscure, indigenous grapes) - these can be inexpensive, versatile and well structured, but availability for some readers may be an issue. Inexpensive Spanish wines made from Tempranillo would be a third choice.

4) The "White": Guests may pour the wine chilled, but in the heat of the party these will warm up fast so you need a versatile grape that will work at warmer temperatures. I love the versatility of Chardonnay in this setting, but I find the cheap stuff falls apart when warm. Thus, I have to go with a Sauvignon Blanc - South Africa and Chile have some nice, inexpensive SB, New Zealand will be a bit pricier, but there are some inexpensive French SB as well.

Here are some holiday picks that take into account my guidelines above, price and availability.

Cheap bubbly ideas:

Codorniu Clasico Brut Cava (Spain)
Freixenet Cava Cordon Negro Brut (as suggested by Debs) (Spain)
2004 Sieur d'Arques "La Bulle de Limoux" (a bit pricier) (France)

Cheap white ideas:

Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc (S. Africa)
Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc (Chile)
"Les Jamelles" Sauvignon Blanc (France)
Domaine du Salvard Cheverny
Carmen Chardonnay (Chile) (one cheap Chard that can take the heat)

Cheap red ideas:

Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile)
Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile)
Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon (Argentina)
Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon Yellow Label (Australia)
Portuguese Reds (1,2)

If you are not hosting a party, note that many of these suggestions would make ideal good gifts to bring the hosts of other parties.

Feel free to post some of your own ideas for wine that works when served in bad glassware, at the wrong temperature, and paired with rather wine unfriendly foods...(or send me an email for more ideas)

And remember - drink in moderation and don't drink and drive.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

1998 Alain Paret Saint Joseph Rochecourbe

Did I mention that I like gifts? Well this was an interesting one - how did my sister get a hold of a 10 year old St-Joseph in Northern Wisconsin? And why is it in a Bordeaux bottle?

This wine, the 1998 Alain Paret St-Joseph "Rochecourbe", comes from a northern Rhone appellation known for Syrah-based (the white grapes Marsanne & Roussanne are allowed, up to 10%) reds that tend to be lighter-bodied and earlier drinking than those of its more famous neighbours, Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. An absolutely gorgeous nose of black earth and meaty old leather, with aromas of dried strawberry, truffle, vegetal and brie highlighted by pretty violet & lavender notes and a deft use of oak. A delicate wine with crisp acid and silky tannins, very focused, clean and fresh, this could be the most food-friendly Syrah I have ever tasted. Those of you who love traditionally styled old-world wine will love this wine, and you could stick this away for a few more years as it is aging gracefully. (Neil, you think you're not a syrah fan, but this is one I know you would like...)
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: US$30 (gift)

Well, I don't have an answer to the strange bottle or how this aged St-Joseph made it to Northern Wisconsin, but a special thanks to my sister who picked out this winner because it said 'Joseph' on the label.

PS - we opened a 2003 Vieux Lazaret Cuveee Exceptionelle - riper and fruitier, a decent pour, but it paled in comparison to the 2000 vintage and tonight's Saint-Joseph.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

2005 Mascaron par Ginestet

I love it when friends bring gifts of wine, especially when it is one of their personal treasures - critics and shopkeepers aren't the only ones to make great finds!

Tonight we go to Bordeaux for my first taste of the famed 2005 vintage, a gift from my good friend Eric. Eric has been raving about the 2005 Mascaron par Ginestet, and for good reason - lovely violet, currant and blackberry notes leap out of the glass, some prunes and an earthy greenness in there as well. Terrific on the palate, with really nice density, a velvety texture, juicy fruit, minerally black earth and a lingering finish. This Merlot (60%)/Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) blend is a big winner at this price point, and a reflection of just how good 2005 was for Bordeaux. Give it a short decant or stick it away for 2-3 years.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20

Price: C$17.80 (SAQ)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wine I SPY!

Those of you with kids know exactly where this is going:

I spy a unicorn, an orange slice,
two stars, two keys, a pyramid, and two knights

Four crosses, two angels, two saints, DIAM,
A butler's friend, wine barrels, and two heads of a ram.

Let me know if this is too easy. A special bonus for finding the fifth cross and wine crystals... (to be honoured on your next visit to my cellar)


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What's Wrong with German Wine?

Source: Schmitt Sohne USA

Over the past year I have become a big fan of German wines. Not Barry's Spätburgunders - too rare outside of Germany - but those made from their signature grape, Riesling.

I picture my wine buddies right now - is Joe delusional? Who drinks this stuff? Certainly very few of the people I know with an interest in wine - beginners, well-to-do collectors, blog writers - ever talk about it. But sales are growing - German exports to the U.S. doubled every year from 2002 to 2006, and I can't believe all of this is ending up in Lyle's cellar! Somebody is buying, so where is the "buzz"? Certainly it is not for lack of critical acclaim:

"Fine dry German wine must represent some of the world’s best bargains." - Jancis Robinson

"I was struck by how high many (German wine) prices have gotten in U.S. retail dollars ... yet I was also repeatedly amazed at outstanding, sometimes even extraordinary Riesling that still seems under-valued." - David Schildknecht

"I can’t help but think that dry German rieslings are singular in their own way, combining grace, delicacy and power in a way that nobody else’s dry rieslings can do." - Eric Asimov

I could fill a page with critical acclaim for German wine, so my title is misleading - there really is nothing wrong with German wine at all! More than a millennium of wine history and a dedication to quality has ensured Germany's place amongst the world's great wine regions. 

So I guess my real question is, if it is so good, where is the "buzz" beyond the ivory towers of the wine intelligentsia? In my travels across North America, from the high-end restaurants to your neighbourhood bistros, there are few (if any) German wines on the lists, and I cannot recall the last time I heard a sommelier plugging a German wine. And a quick review of most wine shops in North America seems to confirm this - you have to work hard to find anything beyond a smattering of selections (or worse, they are well stocked with the cheap, sugary stuff). 

I guess I should have an answer to my question but, like most of life's important questions, there is no simple answer. Some have suggested the daunting German language labels are to blame, but Italian and French labels don't seem to scare anybody. Another hypothesis I have heard is that Germans make sweet wine, whereas North American palates seek dry white wines. But German wine production and consumption is overwhelmingly dry, so why are they sending us the sweet stuff?

Seems like a "chicken and the egg" problem - we don't buy it so they don't ship it, and the little bits they do ship are hiding behind bottles of cheap, sweet plonk so we leave the store with American, Canadian, Australian, Alsatian or Austrian Riesling instead. The wine world is subject to waves of fashion, and I predict that renewed interest in Riesling will soon lead to a wider "buzz" around German Riesling.

If I've piqued your interest, head over to Lyle or Barry's sites, Germanophiles with a deep knowledge of and love for these wines.


(PS - I have never tasted the cleverly marketed wines of Schmitt Sohne, but I love those "Take Home a Little German" ads)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ah-So! (Saved again)

There are hundreds of gadgets for the wine afficianado, but a cheap - and absolutely necessary gadget (in my opinion) - is the cork retriever. The gadget on the left in the picture, it may also be referred to as a cork extractor, a twin prong cork puller, the "butler's  friend", or the "Ah-So".

Normally used to rescue an ancient, decrepit cork from a very old bottle (usually quite successfully), tonight this gadget ably removed a modern, plastic cork from a cheap Spanish wine after the waiter's corkscrew (right) and the basic (centre) corkscrew both failed me.

Looking for Holiday gifts? Give your favourite wine fanatic a cheap, thoughtful gift that will save them once a year - Ah so!

PS - Using one of these take some practice. Try it out on a few cheap bottles before you try to rescue the cork from that 1945 Chateau Latour...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Single Vineyard Rieslings of Germany and Alsace, by S.A. Prum and Dopff et Irion

My visit to Montreal's Salon des Vins in March was a whirlwind of tasting activity, but two whites stood out at that event - tonight's Alsatian "Grand Cru" Riesling and a Mosel Riesling from the famed "Wehlener Sonnenuhr" vineyard. Now I love Alsace whites, and I love German Riesling, but I never thought to taste them head to head - tonight we paired these two gems with a spiral ham...

The 2004 Dopff et Irion Grand Cru Schoenenbourg Riesling (Alsace) was quite earthy on the nose, with lemons, peaches and sweet honeysuckle over a hard, flinty core, noticeably greener than the Prum below. A juicy, flavourful palate, delicately held together by steely acid and sturdy minerality. Drier, sharper and crisper, this very polished white would have paired better with whitefish than tonight's sweet ham.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: ~C$30

The 2005 S.A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenhur Riesling Kabinett (Mosel) showed honeyed petrol notes and was a bit spicier, earthy and flinty as well. Effervescent and slightly less dry than the Schoenenbourg with a lingering minerality, it was indescribably fuller and lighter at the same time. A touch simpler in my notes, yet this was the wine that everyone kept reaching for - and a much better pairing for this meal.
cork. 9.0% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: ~C$24 (SAQ)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Big Fun - Magnums of Sassoalloro & Vieux Lazaret

What is the purpose of an oversized wine bottle? Your first thought might be that if you buy an over-sized bottle you would get a discount, but that is not the case for fine wines. So it's an ego thing, right? Possibly - opening a gigantic bottle of wine for a big event is impressive, and they look so darn good in the cellar. But there is a practical side to this largesse - larger wine bottles are more "age-worthy". So I've collected a few of these for future special occasions (i.e. one for each of my kids' "vintages"), but sometimes I just cannot wait...

Lloyd suggested I pick up a bottle of this 2004 Jacopo Biondi Santi Sassoalloro, a modestly priced "super-Tuscan" in a party friendly magnum. Deep, dark cherry red with big leathery and tobacco notes - rose petals, black currants, rosemary, ink, and cooked meat on the nose as well. Crisp, juicy fruit and big, earthy tannins with a long, luxurious, velvety finish. The only tragedy was opening this too early. A fantastic price for an age-worthy magnum - other super-Tuscan makers should be nervous.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$57.60 (SAQ)

This wine won a CDP tasting in 2005 so I picked up a pair when the SAQ released it in a magnum format. The 2000 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Cuvée Exceptionnelle (Châteauneuf-du-Pape) sported a wonderful nose of "beef au jus" and cooked fruit, berries and white flowers, nuts, leather, white pepper, and damp forest undergrowth. On the palate were meaty tannins and slatey blackberries all held together by crisp acidity. Polished, with a silky smooth texture, it started simple but gained complexity over the evening - very smooth, very well done. May go a few more years, but nice today after a good decant.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$81 (SAQ)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

2005 Elderton "Friends" Shiraz

As the price for Elderton's "Estate" Shiraz has moved up in price, Elderton's "Friends" bottling (using grapes from independent Barossa growers) has filled in as their entry-level wine. Yes, I'm a big fan of Elderton's wines, and this was another winner. The 2005 Elderton Friends Shiraz was a classic Barossa Shiraz: an expressive nose of violets, black earth and ripe berries at first, later adding musk, leather, pepper and flinty notes. A rich palate of ripe, dark fruit, while firm tannins and wet stones add structure and a lingering finish. Well done! 
screw top. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$19.95 (SAQ)

Friday, November 14, 2008

1999 Elderton CSM

It is a great feeling when you grab something from the cellar that has been sitting for a few years - the perfect day has arrived! Purchased in 2004, this lonely bottle of 1999 Elderton CSM (Cabernet, Shiraz, Merlot) was opened to celebrate...well, nothing actually, I just wanted to impress my in-laws. Big, black pepper and blueberry aromas, tarry flinty notes, a late greenness, cedar and a hint of violet. Crisp acid danced on the tongue and silky, woodsy tannins coat the palate and remain for minutes. Flavourful, reserved, and a judicious use of oak for a Barossa - a tragedy I didn't buy more of this.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$39.95 (LCBO)

PS - Elderton has changed the name of this offering to "Ode to Lorraine" in 2002.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2006 A et P de Villaine "Les Montots"

Aubert de Villaine's wines appear here frequently (1,2,3,4), I just wish it was more of the DRC...alas, I possess the bank account of a mere mortal! Fortunately the SAQ always seems to get the more reasonably priced wines from his own Domaine, but they sell out quickly so I have to keep an eye out for them.

If one word could describe the 2006 A et P de Villaine "Les Montots" it would be "subtle"... subtle earthy and leathery tobacco notes at first, then floral, raspberry and cocoa powder creep up on you - flinty and truffley as well. A crisp, sharp acidity greets the palate but the spicy, slatey, raspberry fruit sliced through a roast chicken. A touch rough around the edges, but like a ghost it sneaks up and envelops you with its complexity. A modest finish, not sure how this will fare in the cellar (I have two more for a future experiment). I rated the 2001 slightly better, perhaps a reflection of the more challenging conditions for red Burgundy in '06.
Cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$37.25 (SAQ)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

2006 Leon Beyer Riesling Reserve

I would guess that when I first "got into" wine that 80% of my whites came from Alsace. Well, times have changed - it has been a year since I last posted on an Alsace wine as German whites have taken up the slack.

The 2006 Léon Beyer Riesling Réserve had a pretty nose of cherry blossom, pear, lemon meringue and dried apricots, very minerally with a hint of petrol. Steely and crisp on the palate with a light, refreshing greenness. A simple but a very effective riesling at this price.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$17.80 (SAQ)

...once again I am cursed with a surplus of wine notes and a deficit of time...

Friday, November 07, 2008

2002 D'Arenberg Dead Arm

I couldn't help thinking about my comments on palate drift as I wrote up my notes on this d'Arenberg Shiraz. After all, d'Arenberg's wines were amongst my first loves and have been consistently recommended here - but with a sizable collection of d'Arenbergs in my cellar have I "drifted" from first love?

The 2002 d'Arenberg "The Dead Arm" Shiraz shows a terrific, complex nose of violets, vanilla and truffles, black cherries and currants, oak, flint, and some smoked sausage. Still quite tannic, with peppery, juicy fruit on the palate - incredibly balanced, not overboard on the fruit. I have not drifted too far from this wine, the five other bottles simply need to rest in the cellar for a few more years...
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$50 (LCBO)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

2006 Moillard Macon-Aze

I've had some success with the inexpensive whites from Burgundy's "Mâcon" appellations - Mâcon-Loché, Mâcon-Lugny, Mâcon-Villages - so it was a no-brainer for me to try a bottle of this wine from Mâcon-Azé. The 2006 Moillard Mâcon-Azé delivered: notes of lemony cream and yeasty ripe apples, some oak, bananas and chalk. Rather stern on the palate, but with a soft underbelly - riper than a Chablis yet better structured than those recent Mâcon whites. I highly recommend this for my Ontario friends.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$16.95 (LCBO)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

2005 Bella Vineyards Zinfandels from Dry Creek and Alexander Valley

Zin lovers have little reason to visit this site - with notes on over a thousand wines I can only point to a half dozen Zinfandels reviewed here. Not sure if it is the grape, or the style that winemakers use to express the grape these days, but I generally find them fruity, flabby and alcoholic. Despite that intro, a successful tasting of Zins at Bella Vineyards last year led to a few bottles of Zin coming home with me, and since I couldn't go to Sonoma this year I have to settle for revisiting the treasures in my cellar... 

The 2005 Bella Vineyards Big River Ranch (Alexander Valley) was the superior wine, in my opinion. A stunning, complex nose of flinty blackberries, rose petals, black earth, spices (pepper, nutmeg and cloves) and much more. Uncharacteristic depth and a lengthy finish for this varietal, with spicy blackberries and velvety tannins to please the tastebuds, the heavy alcohol barely noticeable. This certainly has potential...I have one more bottle for a future date.
cork. 14.9% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: ~US$35 (winery)

The 2005 Bella Vineyards Lily Hill Estate (Dry Creek Valley) is more of what you expect from a Zin - hot, meaty, blueberry jam on the nose, vanilla and violets as well, with a soft (it started crisp but quickly went soft) generous palate and gripping finish. A "fruity, over-the-top" Zin, but much better than other "fruity, over-the-top" Zins. Luscious and flavourful, simpler than the "Big River" above - ready to drink now.
cork. 15.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: ~US$35 (winery)

Look, the winery is scenic, the wines are great, and you can't get them anywhere else - a must see for anyone planning a Sonoma visit. Cheers!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cheap Portugal: 2006 Meia Encosta

Exploring the world's obscure grapes has resulted in some positive surprises, with Portuguese wines amongst the pleasantest surprises. Working with a unique slate of grapes this legendary producer of sticky reds is fashioning some great dry, red wines. From cheapo to mid-priced to high-end I have been very impressed, so a recommendation from the local SAQ was all I needed to take home this $10 wine.

The cherry red 2006 Meia Encosta (Dão) showed a nice nose of smokey bacon fat, pencil shavings, raspberry, and new leather. Simply textured, with crisp, juicy berry fruit, good structure and a short, smokey finish, it won't win any tastings but could be the king of mid-week wines.
Cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Cost: C$10.45 (SAQ)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Taking on the Northern Rhone

Our tasting group, the inspiration for this blog, has been meeting for five years now. Over nearly 40 formal tastings we have torn apart and dissected most of the world's key wine regions and grapes in blinded, theme-based tastings, but we have never critiqued the syrah-based reds of the northern Rhône. This glaring omission was corrected tonight, with eight tasters taking on six of the region's greats.

After warming up our palates with some fine Burgundies we turned our attention to these northern Rhône treasures: four Hermitages, one Côte-Rôtie and one Cornas, ranging from 3 to 19 years of age. We even had a Parker 100-point wine at the table...

Some nights our group can be quite consensual, but other times our individual rankings are all over the map - tonight was one of those nights:

The winner of tonight's tasting was the youngster, Ash's 2005 Delas Frères Côte-Rôtie 'Seigneur de Maugiron', a wine ranked amongst the top 3 for most tasters. A youthful nose of spicy fresh berries, white pepper, violets and a flinty earthiness. The palate was a velvety carpet of dark berry fruit - fruitier than most of tonights offerings - but with a pleasing long finish and a nice minerally, acidic backbone. My third choice amongst this impressive flight of wines. I wonder if you threw this into an Aussie tasting, would anyone call it out as French? Score: 18/20

Consistently ranked first or second amongst the men, but last place rankings from the ladies resulted in a second place showing for Pramod's 1999 Ferraton Ermitage 'Le Méal'. It took a while to open up, ultimately revealing pretty floral, nutmeg, and old leather notes, earthy blackberries, flint, vanilla, and much more. Very, very elegant on the palate, perfectly balanced with supple tannins and a fine seam of acidity. Polished, with a never ending finish, very easy to enjoy today after a lengthy decant but I think it could be a decade or longer before we see the full potential. My second place, bravo! Score: 18.5/20

Third place (but my favourite of the evening) was Lloyd's 1989 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage 'La Chapelle'. Cam insisted on the scent of 'vomit' on the nose, but I was thinking cooked plums and dark berry fruit, violets and blackberries, leather, fern, hazelnut and flint. A great nose, but it was near perfection on the palate that separated this one for me - silky smooth tannins and fresh acidity held it all together, and despite nearly twenty years in the bottle it was still fresh. An extremely long finish, this has the stuffing to go at least another decade or two in the cellar. An absolute joy to taste one of Hermitage's legendary bottlings, perfectly aged. Score: 18.5/20

Fourth was an impressive showing for my inexpensive (in this crowd) Cornas, the 2003 Delas Frères 'Chante-Perdrix'. Someone suggested a nose of post-coital sweat, but I preferred fruit candy and flowers (pre-coital?), hay and earthy/mushroomy notes. Fresh, balanced, but simpler than the others with a shorter finish. Score: 17/20

Fifth was Cam's 1999 Ferraton Ermitage 'Les Dionnieres'. Meaty and ashen on the nose, firm gripping tannins but a touch hot on the palate. Rather awkward, could soften up and sort itself out with some cellar time. Score: 17.5/20

The biggest story of the night has to be the last place finish (first place amongst the ladies) for the 2003 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage, a wine Parker rated 100 points. What?! Actually a pretty good nose of ripe (overripe?) blueberries, blackberries, orange, cardamom and tea, liquorice and hazelnut...and LOTS of heat. The palate presented big juicy fruit and firm gripping tannins...and heat. So fruity and awkward, it just didn't show well tonight. I concede that it may simply be 'closed', but I doubt this will ever present a perfect score in my books. All of tonight's wines were 13% alcohol except for this one, which clocked in at a very noticeable 15%. Score: 17/20


For me there were many sides to this evening: a wine that was expected to be compelling (the La Chapelle), a pleasant surprise (the le Meal), an overacheiver (the Chante-Perdrix) and a surpising downside (the Chave).

That Chave surprise was not just ours - Larry Meehan over at Gang of Pour expressed shock at this wine, and Parker's link to Neal Martin's view was an 88 - in line with my 17.

So why were the men and women so diametrically opposite the men on the le Meal and Chave? I'm not going to touch that one.

PS - for my Montreal friends, that le Meal is being cleared out by the SAQ, on sale for C$71. Not cheap, but you rarely get a chance to get such a compelling, aged Hermitage for this price - I think the critics missed this one.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Warming Up for Hermitage: Two Burgundies

The format for a meeting of my tasting group is pretty standardized: first we sit down with a glass of 'warm-up' wine to set the mood and get the palate ready while we let the main panel of wines air out in their decanters, then we move to the dining room to dissect a theme-based panel of wines, blinded, using a rank order method to crown a 'winner'. Each taster gets a clean glass for each wine to be tasted, sheets for taking notes, and a spread of complementary food is served to enjoy with the wine.

Usually the warm-up wine is a cheap version of the main event wine, but tonight Lloyd decided to warm up the palate with two not-so-cheap Burgundies, wines worthy of their own write ups.

I started with the white, a 2001 A et P de Villaine "Les Clous" from one of my favourite producers. Ripe green apples and a nutty almond extract on the nose, creamy, yeasty, and mushroom notes as well. While the nose hinted at age the palate was crisp, stern, and minerally, with a green earthiness - surprisingly fresh at 7 years of age, I loved this cuvee once again, but the buttery chardonnay crowd disagreed with me...
Score: 18/20

With the crowd surging towards the Hermitages I nearly forgot to try the red warm-up, a 2003 Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee 'La Colombiere'. After 30+ mins in the decanter it was spicy Dr. Pepper, wet ashes, candied raspberry, damp wood and old leather and old leather on the nose, very well put together. Velvety ripe fruit and very minerally on the palate, a very nice wine.
Score: 17.5/20

Seriously, two great Burgundies before a Northern Rhone extravaganza? Its gonna be a good night...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Friday Night Burgundy: 2005 Chevalier Rognet et al

My good friend Cosme invited me over on a Friday evening "for a glass of wine". A rather innocent invite, but there was more than a single glass of wine on offer and this was no ordinary wine. You see, Cosme's palate has drifted over to (and is now stuck in?) Burgundy, which is good news for me...

Cosme has been a huge buyer of the '05 vintage, and started us with the 2005 Domaine Chevalier Père & Fils Corton "Le Rognet" Grand Cru. An unbelievably gorgeous and powerful nose, so fragrant that I was able to smell the wine while holding the glass at my waist and walking outside on a cool fall evening! Pretty truffles, sweet raspberry, spice (nutmeg or cinnamon) and ashen notes, simply beautiful. Tangy acid, silky tannins and minerally rasperries danced across the palate, lengthy but a bit tightly wound. So young, fresh and drinking so well today, but this wine needs time to unwind in the cellar and should be even more beautiful in a few years. Score: 18.5+/20

After this delicious pour we turned to Lloyd's 1998 Le Macchiole "Paleo", unfortunately a corker - too bad, there was some good stuff hiding in there...So Cosme returned to his cellar and pulled another Burgundy, the 2005 Bouchard Pere et Fils Beaune "Clos de la Mousse" 1er Cru. Sharp on the nose, with spicy oak and smokey new leather, sulphury raspberry notes as well. The earthy palate of velvety tannins was tight, awkward, at first, but it opened up nicely in the decanter. Should also benefit from some cellar time. Score: 17/20

A special thanks to Cosme and Rebecca for the delightful selection of cheeses and terrine that were a perfect match for tonight's Burgundies.

(PS- perceptive readers may have noticed a legendary J.L. Chave Hermitage in the background of my (shitty bberry) picture above, the theme for Saturday's get together of our tasting group. Stay tuned...)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palate Drift...

Palate drift is a fancy way of saying that some of the wines that you used to love are less enjoyable than they used to be. Maybe your first love was a fruity Zin, a buttery Chardonnay, or a jammy Shiraz, or even the big, brooding wines of Barolo - where your first love came from doesn't really matter, but at some point you decided to see the world and leave your high school sweetie behind.

You see, drinking wine is very different from tasting wine. When you drink you pour, you taste, you say "mmmm, I like", and then you move one. Tasters are different - sometimes you sniff a glass for a half an hour or more pondering it: What is that aroma? Where have I smelled that before? A hot or cold vintage? Judicious use of oak? Flowers, which ones? And then the tasting...swirling, analyzing, critiquing...tearing apart in your mind a liquid that is part art, part natural chemistry.

There is nothing wrong with 'drinking' wine, but once you move from drinking to tasting you have cut yourself from your moorings and set your palate adrift. The symptoms are noticeable - signing up for a mixed case from your wine club, forcing dinner guests to drink from two glasses to compare wines they've never heard of, or an attempt at the Wine Century Club - these and other wine 'deviances' are signs that you have found some new love interests in your freshman years of wine.

Adrift, the great fear for a wine aficionado is that your cellar could hold dozens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of bottles that are no longer 'your style'. Every time you reach into the cellar, you guiltily walk past 'that section' and say "maybe tomorrow", or even worse you say "I wonder how much I could get on auction for that". The relationship is not only over in your mind, you need to formalize the breakup.

So is Joe's style drifting? Absolutely, but it may not be instantly obvious if you look at my scores. I am clearly losing my taste for modern-styled fruity wines - not wholesale abandonment, but a definite reduction in both the frequency of purchase and the frequency of uncorking. In my scoring of wine I try to be style agnostic and focus on quality, i.e. is this a good representative of the style and region. So a fruity wine may be complex and balanced so I score it well, but only by reading my notes you realize that something is amiss. And this is not just happening here - nearly all of my wine friends and fellow bloggers have commented on wines they no longer drink.

In the end we me may drift back to where we began, taking the knowledge that we have gathered on our journey, tearing apart the wines we used to love and finding a new appreciation for them. But undoubtedly many of us will never return.

What prompted this reflective moment? Eminent blogger Barry picked up on my limited enthusiasm for last Friday's The Bull and the Bear - I am adrift, Barry, and enjoying the journey right now.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

One Hundred! 2004 Donnafugata Tancredi

Sometimes your first experience with a new grape or wine region is plain awful. That's natural - it's new, and maybe it wasn't to your liking. But there are so many producers out there, how do you know whether you hate the grape or hate the maker? Well, you'll never know until you taste more of that grape/region, but I find too many wine enthusiasts just plain give up right away. 

Me? I never give up on a grape or region. The eternal optimist, supporter of the underdog, I am always hoping to find that one good wine that proves myself and everyone else wrong. But when I have a disappointing experience with a grape/wine region I do the counterintuitive thing, I buy the most expensive bottle I can find - after all, if they can't make a good wine from that grape at $30+, maybe they should just give up, right?  With that in mind, and despite all of my trashing of Nero d'Avola, I thought I'd give this 'misunderstood' grape a chance to shine in the climactic finish to my quest to taste one hundred grape varieties

The most expensive Nero I could find for this day was the 2004 Donnafugata Tancredi (Contessa Entellina), a blend of Nero d'Avola (70%) and Cabernet Sauvignon. My previous experiences with Nero (and Sicilian reds in general) have been less than stellar, with most presenting leathery wall of dense, jammy fruit and little structure. But tonight's high stakes bet paid off - a first pour into the decanter and my nose was greeted by a wall of meaty black cherries (confirming my fears, I thought), but in the glass it provided an unexpected "green-ness" - green beans, peppers, and pine lumber, later some flintiness and tarriness - earthy volcanic ash as the night progressed. Incredibly crisp and focused, so unexpectedly stern and unjammy, flavourful but light at the same time. Blinded I might have thought a Loire red. My expectations were low, and this wine blew them away -  a pleasure to pair with meals and nice over the next three evenings, and would probably age well over the next few years.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5+/20
Price: C$33.75 (SAQ)