Sunday, July 27, 2008

White Bordeaux? 2007 Chateau Bonnet Blanc

Chateau Bonnet. Source: winery

I don't drink dry white Bordeaux very frequently, and I don't think I am alone - I rarely, if ever, see other bloggers talking about these wines, and I never hear the sommeliers recommending them. Yes, just 7.8% of the Bordeaux vineyard is dedicated to the dry whites of this region (typically a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc), but somebody must like these - the prices are rarely cheap.

Thinking about this I walked home with a bottle of the 2007 Chateau Bonnet (white), a rather modest, but decent, producer of inexpensive Bordeaux reds. This wine, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (50%), Semillon (40%) and a dash of Muscadelle, greeted me with a pleasing, but simple, nose of white grapefruit and dried apricots, some lavender-soapiness as well. Soft and gentle with mild acidity, this was a fresh, balanced and easy-drinking white. More enjoyable than my score implies, but not compelling, a pretty good price.
screwtop. 12% alcohol
Score: 15/20
Price: C$16.65 (SAQ)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Argentine Shiraz? The 2005 Catena Shiraz

Argentinian Shiraz? If it were another maker I might have passed, but Catena is so good that I couldn't resist a taste at the Montreal Salon des Vins (and a few bottles made it home) ...

The nose of the 2005 Catena Shiraz leads with leathery notes, followed by fresh red fruit and dark berry undertones, then some spicy oak. Simple, but oh so nicely structured on the palate, with crisp cherry fruit framed by fine acidity, a modest alcohol level for a New World shiraz. Just a little over the top with the oak, perhaps, but not offensively so - a must buy.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: ~C$20 (SDV)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

2005 Gary Farrell Chardonnay

My good friend and occasional guest blogger Lloyd is not a big white wine guy, so when he raved about this 2005 Gary Farrell Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) I had to pick up a bottle. A modern-styled California chardonnay that sported a terrrific nose of lemon cream, buttery green apples, spicy and vanilla-y oak, fresh cut grass...some floral and sulphury notes as well. Luscious on the palate, with pretty lemon and nice minerallity, but very hot and low in acidity, which made it seem a tad flabby and unbalanced. In the same vein as the Beringer Private Reserve, but not in the same class as the Montelena (1,2) IMHO. 
cork. 14.2% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$37 (SAQ)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Perfect Foil for Lamb Steaks?

With Marcus coming over for an impromptu tasting I quickly scrambled for a theme. In such situations I usually focus on the wines, but tonight it was decided that the food should be front and center. Thus, our four intrepid tasters sought to evaluate which of tonight's wines (Bordeaux, Barbaresco, Toro - all served blind) worked best with grilled terriyaki lamb steaks.

There was no consensus as to the best pairing, but the wine that generated the most commentary and discussion was the 2000 Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga (Barbaresco). Light cherry red in the glass, with a wonderful nose of Jaguar leather, rose petals, rubber, black cherries, liquorice, truffles, damp cedar, and a hint of vanilla. Exquisite on the palate - silky green tannins, ample acidity, crisp fruit, terrific length - polished, with everything in harmony. This beauty was enjoyed here previously... 
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$65 (SAQ)

Our Bordeaux was a "second wine" from a "lesser" vintage, but it was a worthy competitor to our Italian gem and an equally good pairing for tonight's meal. The 2001 Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac) impressed with a complex nose of leather, violet and blackberries, some white pepper, green pepper, and dark tea as well. Crisp dark fruit on the palate framed by strong acidity and well-integrated oak, very poised. I had a bottle of this when it was younger, and I am stunned at how much this wine has improved - this was terrific Bordeaux, purchased at an incredible futures price...
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$49 (LCBO futures)

Our poor Spanish entrant was nobody's favourite, on its own or as a pairing with the meal. The 2001 Quinta Quietud (Toro) was dark purple in the glass, with gobs of spicy new oak on the nose, dark berry fruit, tobacco and cloves, meaty with a late greenness. Thick, dry tannins with good fruit, a great wine but it came off a touch flabby and unpolished in the presence of its distinguished peers. Enjoyed earlier this year...
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$30.75 (SAQ)

A couple of notes: (1) Both the Barbaresco and the Bordeaux were in contention for the best pairing tonight, with all tasters back and forth regarding their preferred wine for tonight's meal - trust me, both work. (2) While the Carruades de Lafite sported a modest price, I see prices on the internet FOUR TIMES higher than what I paid - that was one incredible futures buy, I only wish I dove deeper into that 2001 release.

But there is more - Marcus, ever the glutton for punishment, invited my entire family to his house for a Portuguese wine tasting...stay tuned.

Friday, July 18, 2008

2006 Montecillo, A White Rioja

Marcus may have disappeared from the Blogosphere, finding fame and friendship on Facebook, but he still likes to slum it with the Blogger folks who prefer their anonymity to the "HERE I AM" world of social networking. Marcus joined the family for dinner and we opened an inexpensive white wine to prepare our palates for some big reds. This 2006 Montecillo White (Rioja) featured a simple, but enticing nose - crisp lemon tart, pears - but elegant on the palate, with fresh acidity and lemon bitters. Flavourful, clean, fresh and balanced, rather nicely done at this price point.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$15.70 (SAQ)

Stay tuned, when Marcus, Joe et. al. answer the question "Which wine (Barbaresco, Bordeaux, Toro) works best with a steak off the grill?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

2005 Rieslings from St. Urbans-Hof

Been on a bit of a Riesling bender as of late, a huge increase in 2008 vs. prior years. Not sure why that is - I've always liked riesling, but maybe my deeper dive into the German stuff has me hooked...

Anyway, tonight's wines were a follow up to a great experience with a St. Urbans-Hof Piesporter a few months back. You see, the SAQ stocks a lesser St. Urbans-Hof Riesling, but the labels are nearly identical. Seeking to replace that great bottle I accidentally bought the lesser St. Urban-Hof Riesling - realizing my mistake I went back to buy the single vineyard bottling for yet another head to head:

The 2005 Weingut St. Urbans-Hof Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett (M-S-R) was just as compelling as the last time: powerful notes of petrol on the nose, floral and flintey/gravelly, pears, subtle honey, and an unidentified foreign spice. More structured than its inexpensive sibling below, with a sturdy acidic frame and subtle effervescence. It held up nicely over two days, and I suspect it could benefit from some time in the cellar.
cork. 9.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$22.65 (SAQ)

Despite the lower price point, the 2005 Weingut St. Urbans-Hof Riesling (M-S-R) was no slouch. A honey-glazed slab of granite on the nose, lemons and a touch of green as well. Soft and flavourful on the palate, green and chalky with more modest acidity, it was less structured but perfectly enjoyable - a terrific value. It may be better than the Piesporter without food, a perfect summer sipper. 
cork. 10% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$14.85 (SAQ)

German rieslings rock - I always thought you had to pay too much for the good stuff, but I am finding some terrific stuff in the $20 -30 range, and todays $14 special proves you can move even lower - throw away your Pinot Grigio!

Monday, July 14, 2008

2004 Domaine du Cros "Cuvee Vielles Vignes"

I skipped over the French appellation of Marcillac in my review of South West France due to limited availability - the SAQ site lists just two wines in the whole province. But this Marcillac comes via NYC, as I recently hooked up with Lyle Fass of Rockss and Fruit for a "wine exchange" - two German whites from Montreal in exchange for whatever Lyle thought I might like.

Marcillac is a small appellation that lies east of Cahors. The appellation is dominated by red wine, and these wines much contain at least 80% of the local variety Fer Servadou (aka Mansois, Braucol). 

The 2004 Domaine du Cros "Cuvee Vielles Vignes" exhibited a vegetal nose, with white pepper, blackberry fruit, meat, old leather, damp forest undergrowth and tarry/smokey aromas as well. Extremely impressive on the palate - beautifully textured with a soft, velvety mouthfeel and good acidity, an incredibly long finish. Lyle referred to this wine as "refined rusticity" and I heartily agree, but my wife simply exclaimed "Mmm, I like that!" - no better compliment that that. I highly recommend this wine to lovers of Loire reds. A wine to buy by the case, I wish I had a few more bottles...
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: gift

Check Lyle's review here, many thanks for this one.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Milos: A Worthy Tasting Menu for a Birthday Treat

I don't write up a lot of restaurants, and when I do sing a restaurant's praises it is usually buried in a tasting note, but I was sufficiently impressed that I thought I should shout out this legendary Montreal institution.

Milos is high-end Greek, spanning the globe with locations in Montreal, New York and Athens. Now I've lived in Montreal for 14 years and I have never tried this place, despite numerous glowing recommendations. The reason for this oversight is simple - my wife hates seafood. The mere mention of Milos resulted in a "Milos? Oh great, maybe they will have a chicken breast for me". But I also think we sheltered a bias against high-priced Greek food - I mean, Greek is fast food (souvlaki pita, gyros), right?

Well, the surprise arrival of a babysitter on my wife's birthday sufficiently disarmed her, and her suspicious glare was greeted with a "But honey, I heard that they have really AWESOME lamb". It was a freebie, and she was kind enough to go along with it...

The restaurant had a pleasant, natural, Mediterranean feel to it with beautiful paintings and white stucco, and with fresh a evening breeze at 27 Celsius and wide open windows we could have been in the Greek Islands...

Feeling rather adventurous, my wife and I went for the tasting menu, which featured a selection of unpronounceable Greek wines (some of which were private imports) to pair with a carefully selected flight of Greek specialties. 

The first dish was the grilled octopus, stunning in its simple treatment (olive oil, onions, peppers) and grilled to perfection - no rubbery tentacles tonight. The star of the night, I could have had this for a main course (next time I might!). This was paired with a glass of 2006 Domaine Gerovassiliou, a white blend of Assyrtiko and Malagousia (50:50). 

Next up was a succulent plate of "crab cakes", perhaps a misnomer as these were a long way from cheap east coast variety, with great balance in the spiciness and not too oily (the menu claims 95% crab meat). This was paired with the 2004 Domaine Katsaros Chardonnay

My main course was a plate of grilled shrimp, skillfully paired with the 2005 Biblia Chora Areti, a wine fashioned from 100% Assyrtiko. 

Even dessert was to die for, with the freshest, most succulent, melt-in-your-mouth Baklava I have ever tasted, delightfully paired with a Greek muscat dessert wine, the widely available NV Samos Muscat dessert wine.

As a wine guy I would have to say that none of the wines, standing on their own, "wowed" me per se, although the Assyrtiko-based wines by Gerovassiliou and Biblia Chora were particularly impressive - I do think the Greeks should play up the indigenous varieties (i.e. Assyrtiko) rather than falling into the "Chardonnay trap". But with this stunning meal the pairings were perfect, a fine reflection on the sommelier who obviously put some thought into this - I would rather have a great pairing than a great wine that doesn't work with the meal in front of me. Even the glassware was spotless and odourless (yes, I sniff the empty glasses), with a new set of glasses for each new wine.

As a food guy, I was extremely impressed. I appreciate balance in my meals, as in my wines, and everything was done just right. I especially commend the chef both for the freshness and quality of the seafood, and for the meticulous preparation - too many seafood restaurants just can't get that perfect texture with seafood. Milos did (Cafe Ferreira can, but that's for another night), and for that reason alone seafood lovers should rush to this fine establishment.   

But that comes with a price caveat - Milos did not come cheap. But impeccably grilled seafood (lamb for my wife), perfectly matched wine and exemplary service don't come cheap. 

A hearty bravo! I will be back, and next time my wife will ask to go.

Friday, July 11, 2008

2007 Domaine Maby "La Forcadiere"

Tavel is famous for its roses. This was one I had never seen before, so I was very excited when my sister-in-law dropped by with this pink beauty. The 2007 Domaine Maby "La Forcadière" (Tavel) had a nose of raspberries, lemons, and white flowers, with a delightful earthy green-ness. Refreshing, luscious, dry raspberries on the palate, but a touch hot as the alcohol level showed through. A very good example of a fine Tavel, and it warmed up to 'chambre' quite nicely.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$17.95 (LCBO)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

2007 Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling

Just a few more days of inactivity on this site and I will end up in Ed's list of Absent Friends, so it is appropriate that I start my comeback with an Aussie wine - an unexpected surprise in the "oh, what the heck" category.

An enduring curiousity about Aussie riesling (Ed's fault) led me to experiment with the 2007 Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling (Adelaide). A very pretty, complex and evolving nose: all floral and peachy at first, later showing green apples, fresh cut grass, papaya, fresh limes - even some late-arriving honeyed-petrol notes. Dry, crisp, steely and minerally, a touch awkward at first but later sorted itself out quite nicely and may have showed better if not paired with sausages - something fishy would have been nicer. 
Screwtop 11.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$19.95 (LCBO)

Riesling has been a dominant theme on this site for the past few months, and there's gonna be a LOT more....

And yes, I am still drinking, still writing, but just a little slow with the "publishing" part ... will catch up soon, cheers!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

1998 Coppo Barbera d'Asti Pomorosso (Magnum)

Ok, who buys 10-year old Barbera, a magnum no less, for the princely sum of $136? Crazy Joe, of course! (Thanks Barry)

Not sure what I was going to get when I opened this, but the 1998 Coppo Barbera D'Asti "Pomorosso"  was NOT what I had expected. Complex and interesting on the nose - new leather, smokey white pepper, and spicy oak, vanilla and tobacco, green nuts and black cherries. But astonishingly fresh on the palate and showing no signs of age, with light, bing cherry fruit, copious acidity, and palate-pleasing tea bag tannins. Extremely well balanced, this terrific wine softened and opened up over the evening, and the fine acidity sliced through a meaty bison steak - that amazing acidity and ample fruit and tannin point to more time in the cellar (for the magnum).
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$136 (SAQ)

Overall, I never expected this to age so well, pair so well with bison, or have such a nice acidic backbone (keep tasting, keep tasting, keep tasting...)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The End of the World

My last post featured Unibroue's Don de Dieu, a beer that is unfiltered and triple fermented. Aside from a more robust, complex and full bodied beer, the triple fermentation (>60 days, much more malt) results in substantial bottle sediment and a very high alcohol content. I even read that once the bottle is opened the fermentation continues, resulting in an even stronger second half of the bottle!

But while the Gift of God is a unique malt beverage, my favourite pour from this beermaker is La Fin du Monde - similar in style, but more complex - a touch spicier and hopier on the nose with a nice soft custardy palate, yet tangier and more refreshing - this worked well with a plate of german-styled sausages. This is a wine-lover's beer, with enough complexity on the nose and palate to educate and entertain - and it can even be kept in the cellar (maker recommends three years)!
cork. 9% alcohol
Cost: C$4.50 + tax (750 mL)

This could be my favourite beer, right up there with the Chimay Grand Reserve, but there are so many others... (like my wines, it depends on the mood). Note that are numerous web reviews of this beer (i.e. Beer Genius) - a testament to its "wow", in my opinion.

CONSUMER ALERT: Guzzling a big frothy mug of 9% alcohol beer is a dangerous proposition - goes down easy, and you may think "I only had two beers, I can drive now." Wrong, this stuff really goes to your head.

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine..."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Gift Of God

My obsession with wine has pushed beer aside for the most part, but not completely, and with beautiful patio weather it was time to crack open a (rather atypical) cold one.

One of my greatest-ever New Year's Eve celebrations was a Belgian beer tasting at the Brooklyn Brewery (including a magnum of Chimay Grand Reserve at Midnight), and since that time I've always had a soft spot for the Belgian-styled beers.

Quebec's Unibroue is a unique "micro-brewery" in North America, perhaps the first and certainly one of the few that have adopted Belgian, not British or German, beermaking traditions. They even sell some of their beers in 750mL bottles, sealed with a cork. Tonight's "Don de Dieu" is a beer made in the style of the Trappist beers, and wears the label "Triple".  Yeasty wet barley and scotch whiskey on the nose, sweet and creamy on the palate. An incredibly soft mousse, a beautiful mouthfeel, and a delicious hint of bitterness, but it quickly vanishes on the palate. A great Belgian imitation and certainly easier to find (and cheaper) locally than the Belgian stuff.
cork. 9% alcohol
Price: C$4.50 (750 mL)

Note: if you are a pilsener/lager fan and have never tried these Trappist-styled beers, they are VERY different from anything you have ever tasted - you will probably retch and pour the rest down the sink the first time, but keep at it and I think you will grow to like these.