Wednesday, April 30, 2008

1998 Remirez de Ganuza Reserva

The 1998 Remírez de Ganuza Reserva was classic Rioja - light lots of spicy oak on the nose, figs, crisp cherries, some subtle floral notes and a meatiness that showed later on. Oaky on the palate as well, with velvety tannins and really nice acidity. Still evolving over the night, it could go for a few more years. Great pour, but a touch disappointing at this price point. Tasted blind here.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$68 (SAQ)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What's in a Vintage?

Hail damage, source: Chateau Masburel

Pros will endlessly debate the relative merits of a given vintage, but how is the beginner or everyday wine consumer supposed to use the limited, and often contradictory, information on vintages. I have been thinking about this a lot since my (mostly) blinded "mini-vertical" tastings earlier this year (more to come).

Of course vintages matter. Wine is an agricultural product. If vintage did not matter then your oranges from Florida or Spain and your grapes from California or Chile would taste the same year after year. But they don't. But do they matter enough in the context of wine for you to give it any thought? Here are some simple rules on vintages I like to follow when buying wine:

#1: Forget knowing the good vintages, know the really bad vintages.

Many of you may know a wine know-it-all who can rhyme off the great Bordeaux vintages, but is that useful? Most wine regions have been in production for decades, centuries, so the winemakers can even out modest vintage variations, and if they don't the wine quality suffers little. But really difficult conditions may be insurmountable - tread carefully, as shops, winemakers and restaurants are quite likely to have a big stock of these off-vintage wines and the prices for a lesser vintage may not be discounted (the shortage of good grapes lowers the incentive to discount). Don't avoid them, you just need to exercise more caution and use the next rules. Knowing the critically acclaimed vintages can only lead to wallet pain, and some highly-rated vintages at release may lose their lustre in the longer run, resulting in a highly devalued futures order...(some vintage charts: 123)

#2: Trust your favourite winemaker.

A "bad" vintage is a statistical number, simply meaning that "the majority" of winemakers had difficulty in a given year, but not all. Most wine regions are vast, spanning thousands of square kilometres/hectares/acres/miles - vineyard-to-vineyard and village-to-village variability is high. What was bad for the Medoc may have been a good year in Pomerol, for example. Winemakers may also work to keep a house style, cutting production and selling lesser grapes in those off-vintages to preserve the quality of the brand. One example I like to use is the 2002 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico - in 2002 the house decided not to make its top bottling (the Castello di Fonterutoli), leaving the top grapes for the regular Chianti Classico, resulting in a wine that was equal to or better than some greater vintages.

#3: Warmer climes are different.

Germany, Alsace, Burgundy, and Canada, to name a few, are cooler climates, operating at the very fringe of vinifera tolerance (perhaps to be negated by global warming). Thus vintage-to-vintage variation is more difficult to manage than for wineries in South Africa, California and Australia, for example. An obsession with vintage is probably not necessary for some regions, critical for others. Follow the points #1 and #2 above and #4 and #5 below for the higher variability regions.

#4: The vintage may be less important than the food.

Most wine is paired with a meal. Off-vintages provide different flavour profiles than celebrated vintages, often lighter-bodied with better acidity. You can use this to your advantage, pairing these wines with foods that better fit that flavour profile. While celebrated vintages may produce spectacular wines these wines may overpower your meals - it has been said that top chefs only allow off-vintage wines on their lists so that the wine does not overpower their cuisine.

#5: Listen to your shopkeep or sommelier.

Store employees and sommeliers have the opportunity to taste so many wines - they will be the first to find the good stuff in off-vintages and they will find inexpensive gems from celebrated years.

David, a wine consultant in the Philly area, warned me not to fall into the vintage chart trap, but I really just focus on the bad ones - a humble statistician trying to put the odds on my side. Trust your own taste, or those of someone you trust.

Off to pick up my 2005 futures now...cheers!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday Night Bubbles

Ok, so I ripped off Brooklynguy with the title, and to add insult to injury this post features an industrial product from a big champagne house, but I'm gonna give him lots of links so I think he'll forgive me.

To celebrate nearly two weeks of terrific weather I opened the NV Piper-Heidsieck Rose Sauvage Brut. It sported a simple nose of raspberry toast, nice bitter persistency and a fine mouse on the palate - smooth and elegant, something the big houses are very good at. We picked up this bottle on our trip to France last year - funny how the wine scored higher AT the winery? Paired nicely with some grilled calamari smothered in a tomato-basil marinade.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20

Price: €31.20 (winery)

I am a champagne amateur - for the real deal head over here. I promise not to do it again, Neil...(damn fine picture, though)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Red Wine from "Other" France

Cam hosted our third "Boys Only" (previous 1,2) formal tasting with an "Other France" theme - red wine from France, but no Rhone, Burgundy or Bordeaux. You would think that the creative juices would be flowing but it was a Languedoc-heavy night, featuring two from Pic St-Loup and one from Corbieres. I brought the only Loire red, nothing from Southwest France...too bad.

The crowd favourite was the host's 2004 Ollieux Romanis Cuvee Or (30% carignan/30% grenache/30% mourvedre/10% syrah), a wine Cam picked up at the Salon des Vins. Dark chocolate and leathery dark blackberries on the nose, some vanilla and oak as well. So elegant on the palate - very smooth, soft and juicy, but this modern-styled wine had a very short finish and was lacking in complexity vs. the others - my third place wine.
14% alcohol, Score: 17/20, Price: C$37 (SDV).

A very close second (and my favourite) was Chris' 2001 Chateau de Lascaux "Les Secrets" a 50:50 grenache/syrah from Pic St-Loup, my favourite Languedoc appellation. A beguiling nose of black cherries and violets, tar and wet stones, black pepper and liquorice as well. Acid, tannin and fruit in harmony, a very long finish, this should benefit from a few more years in the cellar.
15.4% alcohol, Score: 17.5/20, Price: C$46 (SAQ)

Third was my Loire red, the 2003 Domaine des Roches Neuves "La Marginale", a cabernet franc from Samur-Champigny. On the nose one of my partners said this wine "smells like a joint", but unfamiliar with the term I preferred "vegetal and leafy green"..., with smokey blackcurrant and floral scents. Velvety smooth tea-like tannins, very elegant and well balanced, it stood out like a sore thumb amongst these hot climate grenache/shiraz wines and held its own, pairing particularly well with the venison terrine. Beautifully textured and the longest finish, this needs to sit for a few more years.
13% alcohol, Score: 17.5/20, Price: C$38 (SAQ)

A near consensus last place was Pramod's 2001 Chateau Cazeneuve "Roc des Mates", a syrah (80%) with the balance grenache/mourvedre from Pic St-Loup. Rather tired on the nose - plummy cooked fruit, earthy, with some pepper and smoke, another taster described it as canned tomato sauce (Chef Boyardee to be exact). Smooth, but uncomplex and a touch hot on the palate. A disappointment, as I supplied this to Pramod and have had good success in the past - must have peaked two years ago, or I have a storage problem...
14% alcohol, Score: 15/20, Price: C$27 (SAQ)

All wines were blinded and decanted prior to the start. I had tasted three of these wines before so I wasn't completely blinded, but time does play tricks with the memory and I got the two Pic St-Loup wines mixed up.

Oops, almost forgot the dessert! The 2002 Cave de l'Abbe Rous Helyos (Banyuls) was a dessert wine made from 100% grenache. Meaty dark fruit and almonds on the nose, beautiful texture - luxurious soft and velvety tannins and dark berry fruit - a worthy competitor to a fine port.
16.5% alcohol, Score: 17.5/20, Price: C$51 (SAQ)


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Another Under $12: 2007 Robertson Chenin Blanc

No snow in Montreal - this note appears from the "lost files" - my reflections on table wine mentioned this Chenin Blanc, I finally found the notes.

2007 Robertson Chenin Blanc: a simply appealing nose of green apple, lime and some grapefruit as it warmed and opened up. Soft, yet fresh and minerally, wet stones rolling across the tongue, then fading quickly. Surprisingly interesting. Says Chenin Blanc on the label but I could swear that there is some Sauvignon Blanc in there. My style, a great buy at this price.
cork. 11.5% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: C$9.85 (SAQ)

Monday, April 21, 2008

2005 Donnhoff Weissburgunder & Grauburgunder

Every time I walk into a wine store I see a head-to-head tasting. On this occasion I saw a pair of German whites from Dönnhoff - same vintage, different grapes, and neither a Riesling. Even better, they both hail from the German wine region of Nahe, a region I have never tasted before. And Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)? These are rare, both accounting for less than 5% of German plantings.

Both wines exhibited a marked earthiness and omnipresent mineraliness on the nose, but the 2005 Dönnhoff Weissburgunder -S- showed more honeyed-apple scents while the 2005 Dönnhoff Grauburgunder -S- sported lemon peel and floral aromas. On the palate both were extremely elegant, soft and luscious, and neither wine betrayed the high % alcohol. In particular the Weissburgunder was more flavourful and better structured with nice acidity, while the Grauburgunder was softer, more perfumey. These were stunning bottles, and one of the first "WOW" moments I have had with a white wine in quite some time. 
cork. 14% alcohol
Scores: 17.5/20 (Weiss), 17.5/20 (Grau)
Prices: C$42.25, C$43.75 (SAQ)

The employee at the shop warned me that these were rather "different" vs. any other German wines I had previously tasted, but I'm not so sure - while the grapes and the 14% alcohol were unusual, there was an acidic structure and minerally backbone that was very German.

Over the past year I have spent more time on German wines (easy because my wife loves 'em), but my coverage is shallow. If you're interested in German wines I suggest a visit to Barry's or Lyle's - both sites have been an inspiration for my journey into German wine and both provide excellent coverage of all things vinous in Germany.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

2003 "Tour de Rhône": Cornas, St-Joseph, Rasteau and CDP

I love experimenting with wine, rigorously experimenting with wine. Which leads me to tonight's "Tour de Rhone", a blinded comparison of some top wines from this diverse region - same vintage, four different appellations, three different winemakers, and all at broadly similar price points.

The northern Rhone red wines (Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, St-Joseph) are typically 100% Syrah, and that was the case with tonight's two wines. With sky-high prices for Cote-Rotie and Hermitage I settled for a Cornas and a St-Joseph:

The 2003 Tardieu-Laurent St-Joseph (100% Syrah) was the crowd (but not my) favourite, exuding spicy tea, nuts and new oak on the nose, violets and blackberries as well. Medium-bodied and very dry with crisp fruit (easily the least fruit-forward) and woodsy tannins, I found it a bit "simple" vs. the Cornas and Rasteau and a bit heavy on the oak. 
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$47.25 (SAQ)

Also from the north, the 2003 Delas Freres Cornas Chante-Perdrix (100% Syrah) was a tremendously interesting wine, constantly changing and showing off fresh notes and layers - cherry coke, wildflowers, wet stones, damp forest undergrowth, leather, cloves, caramel and liquorice on the nose - very cool. Liquorice, crisp cherries, wet wood and a minerally palate, really elegant with a very long finish. Probably my favourite (and the most expensive...), put it away for five more years if you can wait.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$49 (SAQ)

Southern reds are typically blends of grenache, syrah and mourvedre, and that was the case with tonight's Chateauneuf du Pape and a village wine from Rasteau:

The 2003 Tardieu-Laurent Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Villages was anything but a humble village wine. An attractive nose of white pepper, plums, grenadine, white flowers, ferns, vanilla, and coffee. Beautiful on the palate - crisp acidity, dense velvety tannins, gravelly cherry fruit, beautifully textured with great length. A fantastic 'village' wine - maybe it was the 80 year old vines? This is a serious wine (blinded, I thought it was the Cornas).
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$42.75 (SAQ)

Everyone's least favourite, the 2003 Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf du Pape, was all cooked fruit - a cherry/rhubarb pie with cream on top - some floral notes. Decent on the palate, but hard to get over the hot raisiny fruit. Especially disappointing given that it is currently one of my Top 50 cellar picks...A good drink on another night, but not in the presence of these other greats. Drink now.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$35.25 (SAQ)

Hats off to Tardieu-Laurent for producing elegant, well-structured wines at both ends of the Rhone Valley, and while pricey I think they were great values given the quality inside the bottle. All wines paired very well with marinated lamb chops fresh off the grill. 

Thursday, April 17, 2008

2001 Archipel

It is easy to be skeptical when a billionaire mass-producer of wine establishes a series of high-end wineries. Jess Jackson, of Kendall-Jackson fame, has built a stable of boutique wines including Cardinale, Lokoya, Hartford FamilyVérité and tonight's Archipel - names that sound like they came straight from the focus group. But the skepticism is unfounded - I have tasted a number of wines from five of these wineries and, in my opinion, they are amongst the best that Napa and Sonoma have on offer.

A "Meritage" blend of Cabernet (62%), Merlot (30%) and Cab Franc, the 2001 Archipel sported a nose of fine cigars, violets, dark berry fruit, green pepper, vanilla, and new oak, some plums as well. Attractive, but what really impressed was the palate - dry, green tea-like tannins and exquisite acidity (something missing from too many new world wines). Structured, complex and well balanced, it seems to me the product of a talented vigneron working with young-ish vines. Enjoyable now, but should be cellared for a few more years.
cork. 14.1% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$58 (LCBO)

As an aside, while Archipel has its own winemaker (a Bordelais, Olivier Rousset) and its own website, the tasting room is located at Verite and the bottle says "Grown, produced and bottled by Vérité". The Verite tasting room was a highlight of my Sonoma trip last October.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

2003 Moulin Lagrezette (round 2)

It is always fun to re-taste a wine after a period of time to see how cellar age and fading memory combine for a new experience. Nearly 14 months ago I tasted the 2003 Moulin Lagrezette, and it appears time has been good to this rather inexpensive wine from Cahors (the second wine of Chateau Lagrezette). Rather simple and austere at first, this brooding wine took a little time to open up - leading with meaty and cheesy aromas, later revealing smoke, mint, dark berry fruit and some "green" notes I missed last year. Crisp, spicy, with dry tannins and a good bitter persistency, more complex this time around. Definitely not a $16 Argentinean Malbec. A pleasant surprise - who'd a thunk a cheapo Cahors would benefit from a bit of time in the JoeCave? I recommend a short decant (~30 min.) for this.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 15.5/20
Price: C$16.60 (SAQ)

For more details on the Cahors appellation visit my piece on the Wines of Southwest France.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

2001 on the Right Bank - Pomerol and St-Emilion

The big melt is on - the snow (a near record >350cm fell on Montreal this winter) is nearly gone, and the arrival of milder temperatures and the clear path to my barbecue are cause for celebration...steak and Bordeaux!

Tonight's rib steaks were paired with two "right bank" wines for another of Joe's blinded, head-to-head comparisons - a St-Emilion versus a Pomerol from the unheralded 2001 vintage.

On the right bank merlot reigns supreme, and both of these wines were no exception. The wines of Pomerol are known to be soft and lush, while the wines of St-Emilion typically use more cabernet franc, and are known for cedary, herbaceous and mineral notes (1).

The 2001 Chateau Moulin St-Georges (St-Emilion) was peppery, leathery and herbaceous, with nice rose petal and minerally notes on the nose. Awkward at first despite a one hour decant before dinner, it softened up to show good acidity, nice minerality and a velvety texture. More interesting than the La Pointe below, it will need a few more years to sort itself out. 
cork. 13.5% alcohol
est: 70% merlot, 15% cab franc, 15% cab sauv
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$57 (LCBO)

The 2001 Chateau La Pointe (Pomerol) was exactly how I pictured a Pomerol - elegant, soft, luscious and expansive, with a generous serving of silky tannins. Attractive, but subtle and less complex than the St-Emilion - earthy, truffley, smokey cheese, perfume and dark cocoa powder. A well made, textbook Pomerol, also needs a few more years. 
cork. 13% alcohol
80% merlot, 10% cab franc, 10% cab sauv
Score: 17/20
Price: C$64 (SAQ)

My fellow tasters described the wines as austere - the wines were definitely not fruit forward -evolving over the evening and pairing very well with the grilled meat. After reading some brief notes on characteristics of St- Emilion and Pomerol all tasters easily identified the provenance of the wines.

Personally, I preferred the structured 'edginess' of the St-Emilion, but it is easy to see why people spend vast sums of money on Pomerols - typically more accessible in their youth vs. the wines of the Medoc, I have found them very easy to enjoy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Words of Wisdom

My good friend Barry has some vinous words of wisdom...I always have room for a couple of glasses with a friend (and Aligote for Barry). Cheers, Barry.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

2005 Steltzner Claret (Old Reliable)

There is something special about a wine that consistently outshines its peers. Steltzner's "Claret", a Napa Valley Bordeaux blend, is one of those wines. A great pour year in, year out, it is terrific because I can name dozens of more expensive Napa reds that are less enjoyable. So why does Steltzner toil away in obscurity? Alder and I wonder...

The 2005 Steltzner Claret sported dark berry fruit and black pepper on the nose, some cocoa, leather, and an earthy/flinty-ness. Nice fruit, not cloying, with dusty tannins and decent acidity. A lingering finish hints at a few more years in the cave, but drinking very well today. Simple, but flawless, a great pairing with simply prepared veal medallions in a light mushroom sauce.
cork. 14.2% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$29 (Opimian)

PS - tasted the 2004 Steltzner Claret last year, and toured the winery in the fall of 2006.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ready, or not? 2001 D' Arenberg Coppermine Road

Wines that have vastly different scores from different reviewers can become a flashpoint for discussion, but tonight's discrepancy between tasters was not in the scoring but WHEN you should drink this wine. According to the Wine Spectator's Harvey Steiman the 2001 Coppermine Road is "Best from 2004 through 2008". Wait a second, I have six of these! Are they past their prime? But Parker wrote in 2003 "...tremendous upside potential, it requires 5-6 more years of aging, after which it will last for two decades" - it should be barely hitting its stride, with decades ahead of it!

So, what did our intrepid tasters say? Well, after a one hour decant it was drinking very well right now. Definitely not past its prime, and hinting at many more years of pleasure. But it was very hard for anyone to envision this wine keeping for another 20 years. The verdict - both were wrong - it has not yet peaked, it was not too early to drink and can't picture this in 2028.

The nose of the 2001 D'Arenberg Coppermine Road was not overpowering, subtly showing wet forest, pepper, violet and blackberry amongst a host of pleasing aromas. Soft, supple and spicy on the palate with a distant hand of fine tannins, this definitely has a few good years ahead of it. But 20? Not so sure, but with 5 more bottles I am willing to try.
cork. 14.5% alcohol. ~60 min decant
Score: 18/20
Price: C$59 (SAQ)

Oops - almost forgot the 2003 Vasse Felix Cabernet in the picture - see notes here.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A Fixin for More 2005 Burgundy...

The Fixin appellation lies just north of the more famous Gevrey-Chambertin appelation and is one of the most northerly villages in Burgundy. A small appellation (just over 90 hectares of vineyard), the wines have not achieved the fame of its neighbour, with no Grand Crus and only a few Premiers Cru vineyards. Wine from the appellation may carry the label Fixin or Côte de Nuits-Villages.

Generally speaking, Fixin is not known for compelling wines, but can be a source of values (in that "alternate price universe" of Burgundy). It was this limited knowledge of Fixin as a source of values and the great 2005 vintage that led to this purchase.

The 2005 Domaine Berthaut Fixin was a touch perplexing - slow to evolve, the patient observer was later regaled with scents of earthy truffles, leather, smoke and flint, and late-appearing raspberry notes. On the palate this old-school Burgundy was very austere, almost hollow, but well-balanced and showing velvety tannins, focused acidity. Give this wine some time to open up, but probably best to stick it away for a few years.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price C$34.50 (SAQ)

Yes, there is a 2005 Nicolas Potel Santenay in that picture - I have raved about in the past (1,2).

Friday, April 04, 2008

Barbera vs. Sangiovese vs. Lasagna

For Lasagna, and most Italian dishes, I instinctively reach for Italian wines. But what works best? I typically grab a Barbera or a Sangiovese for a tomato/pasta dish, but are these really interchangeable? Time for an experiment: two identically priced Italian reds from the same 2001 vintage, mano a mano vs. our homemade lasagna. And tonight's homemade Lasagna served up a cacophony of flavours - homemade tomato sauce, ground beef, cooked spinach, melted cheeses - could either of these wines stand up to this?

The answer is yes - the sangiovese took on this monstrous dish, while the rather delicious barbera wilted under the onslaught:

The 2001 Villa di Capezzana comes from the Carmignano appellation, and for those of you familiar with Chianti this is a rather different take on Sangiovese. Gravelly wet fur, with a deep violet, truffle, blackberry and sour cherry, coffee and spicy tobacco notes - an olfactory joy! Elegant, complex, with luxurious woodsy fruit - fruit, acid and tannins in perfect harmony. This terrific, classically-styled tuscan pour tamed that lasagna.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: $32.50 (SAQ)

Make no mistake, the 2001 Pio Cesare "Fides" (Barbera d'Alba) was an excellent wine. Very nice smokey, earthy and tarry notes on the nose, subtle dark cherries and currants as well. The palate was oaky and spicy, with subtle tarry fruit, thinner and a touch more rustic than the Capezzana, but when confronted with this flavourful dish all the flavours faded revealing tar, and little else. We enjoyed this bottle after dinner, at which time we all complimented this terrific wine - osso buco, anyone?
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$33 (SAQ)

So, two great ones but only one great pairing...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

WBW #44: 2004 Bernard Baudry Chinon

I doubt this will be an original, such a well-known, well-regarded producer (I see Dr. Vino just wrote on Baudry, Brooklyn one year ago), but it was my first experience with Baudry...

On the nose the 2004 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon was all mushrooms and black earth (and an old baseball mitt?), or a cooked green pepper stuffed with mushrooms and cheese and seasoned with nutmeg - more attractive than it sounds, and very nice for sniffing. Thin, and awkward at first, it opened up to reveal copious acidity, spicy cherry fruit and an appealing silky texture. This was classic Loire Cab Franc. Better when cooler (approx. 16-18 Celsius), it paired nicely with shredded pork tenderloin and noodles in a mild, sweet, soy-based sauce.
cork. 12% alcohol. decanted ~30 min.
Score: 16/20
Price: $21 (SAQ)

For those looking to try Loire reds this Baudry was prototypical, but for a few dollars less you can have the Chateau de Fesles - I like both (at cellar temp), but stylistically different.

A special thanks to Gary Vanyerchuk of Wine Library TV, and the gang at Wine Blogging Wednesday.