Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obscure Wine Regions: Vinsobres

You know it is an "Obscure Wine Region" when information is sparse. Looking for details on the appellation of Vinsobres in the Côtes du Rhône I checked my trusty "The Oxford Companion to Wine" and found one short paragraph, while my other wine book simply mentions it in a list of Côtes du Rhône Cru villages. Not surprising, as the village of Vinsobres was first rewarded appellation status in 2005 and annual production is a small 26,000 hectolitres. Vinsobres is like most of the villages in the Côtes du Rhône, with the wines (only reds from this appellation) made from Grenache (min. 50%) and Syrah and/or Mourvedre 25%, with other varieties (mainly Carignan and Cinsault) allowed up to 25% maximum.

This village is amongst the most northerly villages in the Côtes du Rhône, and this seems to come through in tonight's wine, the 2005 Jerome Quiot Vinsobres rouge. Fashioned from Grenache and Shiraz, it was a stark, brooding wine - lighter-bodied but with dark, meaty/leathery notes, I was thinking southwest France - maybe a good dose of Carignan (I did not read up on Vinsobres before I drank the wine) - but it also reminded me of some Northern Rhône offerings. A pleasing finish, nice balance, no jam here. Very enjoyable but not as complex as the Rhône wines from top appellations. No surprise I liked this so, as the Quiot family also owns the Vieux Lazaret that I have been raving about (1,2,3). No scoring, just drinking tonight, but probably 16.5-17 points here.
cork. 14% alcohol
Price: C$20 (SAQ)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

La Colombe: Sauternes and Foie Gras

My last trip to La Colombe was stunning - fantastic food and a trio of stunning wines. But for tonight's meal my good friend Andreas put a bit more thought into the wine pairings, reviewing the menu before we went and bringing wines he thought would work well.

Like Sauternes and Foie Gras? Apparently a miracle pairing, but I rarely take part in either - I HAVE been missing out! The 2001 Château Bastor-Lamontagne was a very nice Sauternes - peaches and cream, tangy grapefruit, and a hint of sweet spice on the nose. Soft with tangy peaches on the palate, minerally and green - a magical pairing with a "foie gras poêlé" Score: 17/20

For my next course I ordered the snails in a mild blue cheese sauce, which I paired with a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc - the dish and the wine were independently delicious, but these did not work together very well (any thoughts on what to pair with this one?).

My contribution for the evening was a 2002 Yalumba "Hand Picked" Shiraz+Viognier, which I attempted to pair with a large duck breast with a berry sauce on top. With a nose of plummy lavender, vanilla, peppery blackberries, smokey leather and slate it seemed a good match, and it was, but it was not as balanced as I had hoped - a touch more awkward on the palate than I recall from one year ago..., Score: 17.5/20

Andreas contributed a main course wine as well, the 2003 Morgante Don Antonio Nero d'Avola, which was a logical choice for the gamey comfort food featured at La Colombe. Notes of basil, tobacco and cedary plums on the nose, and plum, plum, plummy on the palate. Light and grainy in texture, but a touch hot and slightly unbalanced. You are unlikely to find a finer, more elegant, example of Nero ... another great match, for venison. Score: 17/20

With dessert wine for an appetizer, what do we do for dessert? Icewine! A hometown wine that I picked up last summer, the 2004 Taillefer Lafon Icewine delivered earthy, appley "Werther's" candy on the nose and spicy, tangy caramel apples on the palate. Very flavourful, some cripsness but bit cloying, Score: 16.5/20

I highly recommend, once again, a visit to La Colombe - a top notch BYO Restaurant in Montreal. And if you haven't tried Sauternes and Foie Gras, you just don't know what you are missing...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Obscure Wine Regions: Empordà

Wine drinkers probably think of a dozen or so wine regions constantly, and are conversant with many dozens more, but there are so many "obscure" little corners of this planet covered with vines, just waiting for me to explore... Of course, "obscure" depends on where you live - I've never seen a wine from Swan Valley but Ed has had a few of those, and Barry would have no trouble finding a wine from Nahe - so you will have to accept that these are "obscure" from an "East Coast of North America" perspective....

Tonight's obscure wine hails from Spain's D.O. Empordà (Costa Brava). This wine region, bordering on the south of France, comprises just 2,000 hectares (a fraction of the approx. 1.2 million hectares under vine in Spain) with ~80% of those plantings being grenache or carignan (garnacha/garnatxa or cariñena). Given that limited production, it is not surprising to see so little wine from this appellation in foreign shops (Quebec's SAQ liquor monopoly stocks just one).

You could easily imagine the south of France in the nose of the 2007 Espelt Saulo (Emporda) - it started with jammy, dark fruit, later adding some funky sausage, cheese, and tobacco. The palate felt hotter than the 13.5% on the label, but it was light and airy, not dense, with a modest finish. A touch awkward...rustic, edgy...but quite enjoyable at this price point.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Cost: C$14.85 (SAQ)

Friday, April 17, 2009

2003 Grand Veneur and Grand Veneur

One of my favourite blind tastings is to compare a winery's regular bottling to their top cuvée, so tonight I uncorked two '03 Châteauneuf-du-Papes from Domaine Grand Veneur.

The 2003 Domaine Grand Veneur "Les Origines" was rather typical CDP on the nose - violet, pepper and blackberries, some eucalyptus and leathery cooked fruit as well. But it was the palate that showed its heftier price - more depth, complexity and a lengthier finish than the regular bottling below, with crisp earthy cherries and a silky, luxurious, mouthfeel. A touch hot, but nicely done.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$57 (SAQ)

The regular 2003 Domaine Grand Veneur was no slouch, even a touch more complex on the nose - the same violet, pepper and blackberries, but with prunes, wet stones, black liquorice and cloves. Clunkier on the palate - jammy, velvety, and thinner - both in the glass and on the palate. Not as polished as its pricier sibling, but the difference was oh, so small...(and with $20+ separating these two, this remains one of my Top Cellar Picks)
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$35 (SAQ)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Birthday Chianti: 2007 Gabbiano

For my 40th birthday my four year-old went shopping with my wife and insisted on picking up a bottle of wine "for daddy". Now I suppose I should be a bit concerned that wine was the only gift on her mind when she thought of me, but let's be honest - it was the gift that I wanted (she usually gets me a shirt).

You will, of course, note that the 2007 Gabbiano Chianti had a "pretty horsey" on the label - no Wine Spectator or Parker driving her purchase! Strong herbal and tobacco notes, musky and medicinal aromas, and a lingering nose of wet pottery. Stark, lighter bodied, with tart cherry fruit, this was a crisp and very minerally Chianti that was meant for food. An intriguing, lingering finish, more rustic than polished (and I mean that in a good way).
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$14.65 (SAQ)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

No Joke: 2007 Dan Akroyd Cabernet Merlot

Expectations play a big part in our enjoyment of wine. Presented with a Canadian red wine, produced by a comedian famous for his roles in such classics as Ghostbusters and Trading Places, well...let's just say the expectations were very low...

It was hard not to be impressed by the 2007 Dan Aykroyd Cabernet Merlot (Niagara), especially considering the price point. Green pepper and smokey blackberries on the nose, a light, crisp (good acidity), and earthy depth, but definitely not jammy, no rough edges...reminded me of a well-made entry-level Bordeaux. I'm thinking "steak-frites" would pair beautifully. Did I say this was less than $15? I will be buying again.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$14.85 (SAQ)

Hats off to a good Kingston boy, putting his name on a nice bottle of wine!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

2004 L. Muzard et Fils Santenay Gravieres

So, a Christmas gift finally made it out of the cellar...all barnyardy and truffley, the 2004 Lucien Muzard et Fils Santenay Gravières kept it simple, some raspberry and flint. Quite tangy and minerally, a bit edgy at first but soft and nutty as the evening developed. Not as complicated or finessed as a top Burgundy, but worked wonderfully with a duck comfit.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Chinon at the Liverpool House

Chris, one of my wine buddies, practically lives at Montreal's Liverpool House, a bustling bistro/pub/oyster bar on rue Notre-Dame. I see the attraction now - a deliciously eclectic menu, peppered with deviant takes on classic bistro fare, and set in an unpretentious and welcoming pub-styled atmosphere that makes you want to stick around for another drink after dinner...(and we did)

The 2005 Château de Coulaine "Les Picasses" (Chinon) had a tremendous nose of spicy black earth and green pepper, later some blackberry fruit...floral and flinty, some vanilla. A velvety earthy texture, soft and grainy, but perhaps a touch riper, soft and not as crisp as I expect in a Chinon. Very tasty, with some length that hints at cellaring. I think this could be a good transition wine for those who like New World Cab Franc and are looking to try an Old World rendition.
cork. organic. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20

The fun didn't stop with the Chinon, as we switched to the 2005 Georges Descombes Brouilly for after dinner sipping...terrific Bojo, but after my haunting Morgon experience recently I just sip, and enjoy...