Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Night with Eden

Getting together with my buddy Eden is always great fun - Eden is a recovering Shiraz-oholic and a blank canvas upon which I can impose my views of the wine world. And he has a particular interest in 'a great value'.

Given his propensity for Shiraz and love of a great value I have over the years tried to guide him towards the South of France, like tonight's 2007 Hecht & Bannier Saint-Chinian (Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre). A delightfully wild -dare I say rustic - nose of leather and smoke, meaty black cherries, almonds and some vanilla notes add to the pleasure. A crisp, intriguing, medium bodied wine, pairing nicely with some grilled steaks. Score: 17/20, Price: C$22.95 (LCBO)

Spain is replete with value, but my taste buds were thinking "quality" so I also picked up a bottle of the 2005 Torres "Mas La Plana" Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine enjoyed many times in the past. Another hit tonight - a beautiful grenadine nose, with cedar and lots of violet. Elegant, sophisticated on the palate, incredibly smooth, silky tannins and a long, crisp, sour cherry finish. Wow. Score: 18/20, Price: C$44.95 (LCBO)

To round out this quirky flight I picked up a higher-end Argentinian wine, as Eden is well versed in the great values coming out of Argentina. The 2002 Alpha Crux from Mendoza's O. Fournier is an intriguing blend of Tempranillo, Malbec and Merlot. A powerfully meaty, gamey, nose - you could smell the tannins - allowing only glimpses of the delicate fruit underneath. Perhaps awkward is a better word, with dense grainy tannins tannins biting into the palate...such an incredibly long finish, and after a few hours still hinting at the greatness inside. I nabbed a few bottles to stick in the cellar, it will be very interesting to revisit this one in a few years. Score: 17.5++/20, Price: C$39.95 (LCBO)

Wow, what a night! I guess I need to open some Sassicaia to top that...(stay tuned)

Friday, November 19, 2010

NV Tissot Indigene Cremant de Jura

I have a lot of respect for the Tissot house in Jura (1,2), so it was a no brainer to pick up this sparkling offering for a test run. The N.V. Domaine Tissot Crémant du Jura "Indigène" was a sparkling amber hue - caramel and tart apples on the nose, yeasty as well - like an apple beer with a hint of baking spices.

Tangy grapefruit and a touch metallic on the palate, not as soft or as balanced as a good Champagne, but I loved the wild flavours...I am curious if some bottle age will soften the rough edges? I'd better find another bottle.
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$23 (LCBO)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chinese Wine?

Western wine markets see little Chinese wine, so little that many of us could be forgiven for thinking there was no such thing. But OF COURSE there is such a thing, and it took my brother in law's keen eye in the SAQ to pick up this offering (note: SAQ has 3 Chinese wines listed on their website).

Grape wine has been produced in China for millenia, although it seems to have gone in and out of fashion. Today there are over 800 wineries and the industry is experiencing double digit growth in production. China is now the world's sixth largest producer of grape wine (1), and according to a recent report (The Future of Wine, by UK wine merchants Berry Brothers and Rudd) could produce wine to 'rival the best of Bordeaux'. (2)

The Bordeaux reference fits nicely, as my introduction to Chinese wine begins with Cabernet Sauvignon. Holy Green Pepper, Batman! The 2006 Dragon's Hollow Cabernet Sauvignon was so green peppery that it took a little while for some other notes to reveal themselves - some Cocoa and cheese rind, green wood, and dark fruit in the background - but not a great nose. The odd nose did not carry to the palate - very smooth, but also very vegetal and tart. I think my bro-in-law summed it up: "Tastes ok, but smells bad".
cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 13/20
Price: C$14.75 (SAQ)

My take - young vines, probably picked early, which is unsurprising in an industry experiencing such growth (i.e. lots of new plantings) - I have noticed this with young vineyards in Canada and the U.S.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Looking for Piemontese Terroir

Enough talk (1,2) about Barolo and Barbaresco, it is time to tell you how the tasting went.

So, was our group of five tasters, blinded, able to correctly divine the thread of terroir in this small selection of top Piemontese offerings? Well, no. In fact none of our group paired the two Barolos and two Barbarescos together, although two of us put the 1998 and 2000s together. (does vintage trump terroir in Piemonte?)

But there was no disappointment tonight, as we collectively enjoyed some tremendous wines:

On our left was the 2000 Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis. A nose of sour cherries, vanilla and some metallic notes, the fruit turning darker as the wine opened up...but always delicate and light, somewhat reserved vs. other Sandrone Barolos I have tasted. Dry, sour cherries mingled with fine tannins on the palate - delicate and very well balanced, yet with tremendous length and presence. Such elegance could only be the product of Luciano Sandrone.
14.5% alcohol, Score: 18/20

The 1998 Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa was a revelation. Enjoyed previously, but I didn't expect it to show so well amongst such illustrious peers. A nose of vanilla and black cherries, roses, a dash of black pepper and metallic notes (characteristic of both barolos tonight). Silky smooth with substantial tannins and a beautiful, never-ending finish. Bravo! (I thought it was a Barbaresco)
14.5% alcohol, Score: 18.5/20

Another terrific effort tonight was the 1998 Prunotto Barbaresco Bric Turot. Very flinty on the nose, with vanilla and cinnamon, some tar and black pepper ... late appearing notes of almonds and cooked cherries signalled an older wine. Very dry, with soft velvety tannins and a slight metallic aftertaste. A beautiful long finish, simply gorgeous, and very Barbaresco.
13.5% alcohol, Score: 18/20

The 2000 Moccagatta Barbaresco Bric Balin was the odd wine of the evening, and the only one everyone was completely wrong on. A stark nose - tarry, very tarry in fact, with noticeable oakiness, black earth, tobacco and cheese rind. While the first three wines were tremendously polished, the Moccagatta was tart, tannic and harsh, kinda "in your face". Crisp, with a very, very, long finish - it certainly has the acid and the tannins for aging - I think I will open my other bottle in another 10 years.
14% alcohol, Score: 17.5/20 So we didn't find terroir tonight, as the relative harshness of the Moccagatta screamed "young Barolo" and left everyone looking elsewhere for Barbaresco. Tonight I paired the 1998s and the 2000s together, which made me think that our research would have been better served by removing a variable and pouring wines from the same vintage...

Finally, I should mention the 2001 Pio Cesare Barbera "Fides" that served as our "starter wine" tonight, beautiful, as always (1,2).

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Fast Facts: Barolo and Barbaresco

Source: Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Roero

Despite the near legendary status of these Piemontese wine regions, it is actually very difficult to find good stats in books or on the web. Just as these monstrous wines are slow to reveal their secrets, so too is the producer consortium, it appears, which seems ok with an Italian-language only website...

Hopefully these quick facts will save you some searching:

(awarded DOC in 1966, promoted to DOCG in 1980)
Langhe hills southwest of Alba
Eleven communes: Barolo, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglio Falletto, Novello, Grinzane Cavour, Verduno, Diano d’Alba, Cherasco, Roddi
Varieties: 100% Nebbiolo
Vineyard Area: 1714 ha / 4286 acres
Production: 10 million bottles
Aging: Three years minimum (at least two years in oak), five years for Riservas

(awarded DOC in 1966, promoted to DOCG in 1980)
Rolling hills east and northeast of Alba
Three communes: Barbaresco, Neive, Treiso
Varieties: 100% Nebbiolo
Vineyard Area: 680 ha / 1680 acres
Production: approx. 2.5 million bottles
Aging: Two years minimum (at least one year in oak), four years for Riservas

Soils in the Barolo/Barbaresco region are predominantly limestone-rich marls. Note that there are over 800 producers in the two regions, with an average vineyard size of just 5 acres, and average annual production of just 10,000 bottles!

Sources: Oxford Companion to Wine, Vino Italiano, Wikipedia and other

(PS - consider this post a work in progress - please feel free to share any sites/books that could fill in some additional details)

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Danger, Wine Tasting

My daughter had a warning for my guests last night. No need to worry, no one was Tazer-ed who didn't deserve it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Barolo and Barbaresco, What's the Difference?

Source: Wikipedia

Are Barolos and Barbarescos perceptibly different? Shouldn't the same grape (Nebbiolo), grown in appellations less than 20km apart, produce nearly indistinguishable wines? This Friday I once again seek to answer the question I posed more than two years ago - is there a defining difference between these wine regions?

Most books and web sites describe the wines made from the earlier-ripening (typically) Barbarescos as softer, elegant, more approachable. I like Bastianich/Lynch's comment in Vino Italiano, The Regional Wines of Italy:

Traditionally, Barbaresco was thought of as finer and more feminine than Barolo, the "queen" to Barolo's "king."

Most other writers feature a similar line of broad characterization - Barolos are heavier, more tannic, and require more cellar time to soften up, while Barbarescos are more approachable, perfumey, refined.

Of course, these comments are generalizations - with a plethora of producers working miniscule plots (not to mention different techniques in the winery) is it truly possible to define "Barolo-ish"? And will our small sample of '98 and '00 bottlings from Barolo and Barbaresco (four bottles) give us enough information to find that "sameness"? (Or will we simply drink a lot of wine)

I will let you know after Friday....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Do Whites Age? Lopez de Heredia and Chateau Musar

Ok, so my last post on aging dry white wines was pretty lame - after all those whites barely four and five years old. Big deal? Fine, here's some really old s%$t - a 21 year old Rioja, and a "youthful" 9 year old from Lebanon...

The 1989 Lopez de Heredia Rioja (white) Dark, dark amber amber in the glass...dusty, minerally, on the nose...papaya, dried apricots and fresh lemons in support. Youthful, with crisp citrus and creamy almond - surely the vintage on the label is a typo? Terrific structure, elegant and complex with a terrific finish. Vintages has a few more bottles on line (and for $4 less than I paid) - buy some.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$59 (LCBO)

The 2001 Chateau Musar (white) was more yellow gold, visually not showing its age despite nine years in the bottle. But it was more oxidized on the nose, with almonds and melted caramel, buttery. Softer, creamier on the palate with luxurious, spicy (nutmeg) finish - terrific, if only slightly less structured than the Lopez de Heredia above.
cork. 12% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$35 (LCBO)

Wow, what an education - astonishingly good, well-aged, dry whites from Spain and Lebanon - and surprisingly affordable! I'm going to clear some place in the cellar..

(PS - I have to thank
Neil for plugging the Lopez de Heredia - if it weren't for him I would never have responded to this recent Vintages offering...cheers, Neil)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Do White Wines Age? An '05 and '06 from Rioja

Do dry white wines "age"? The answer is yes, of course - any wine book will tell you that certain whites can improve with some quality time in the cellar.

But who actually gets to taste aged dry whites? Recall your last trip to your favourite resto - how long was the 'vintage white' section? Probably didn't have one. Did the sommelier recommend a five or ten year old white "from their cellar"? Probably not. And chances are that your buddy with that 4000 bottle cellar only has a few sweet German wines in his/her "white" section (if there any white wines at all).

So this mythical wine - the Well-Aged Dry White - became a bit of a quest for me a few years back. Realizing that the wine shops and restaurants would not satisfy this curious corner of my wine mind, I made a concerted effort to squirrel away some whites - Aussie, German and Alsatian Rieslings, some Chablis, some Champagne, and tonight's two bottles of Spanish Viura...

The 2005 Palacios Remondo Placet started all funky, seemingly tired and past its peak, but wow - did this ever open up - dried apricots, dark caramel, butter cream, canned pears and guava, some almonds and floral/soapy notes. The first sip mirrored the first nose - tired, past its prime - but as it opened some tangy citrus and minerality showed up, revealing tremendous finish and persistency for old wine ... wow, she's still got it! Even more impressive, it tasted better on day 2 and day 3.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20

The 2006 Palacios Remondo Placet barely showed any sign of age - crisp and fresh from the get go, adding funky papaya, soapy floral, citrus peel and quince. Notably minerally on the palate, with tasty bitters, difficult to find a more delicious, smooth, and complex white - with enough acidity and minerality to indicate that it is nowhere near its peak.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20

There is no doubt that a few years in the JoeCave did not harm these wines, with the '05 gaining nuance and '06 seemingly newborn. And Palcios Remondo has made a tremendous case for Rioja whites from the Viura grape.

But four or five years is not "age" - for that you have to wait for my notes on a 20 year old white Rioja...

(both were impeccably paired with a homemade seafood paella)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

A Father's Day gift from my kids, and proof that wine is still top of mind around here...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Salon des Vins

Despite my reservations I actually enjoyed myself at this year's Salon des Vins. Kinda odd, as it was exactly what I expected - crowded, overwhelming, and too much "so what, I can get that anywhere" - maybe my expectations were set to such a level that I was bound to have fun...

Yes, it was crowded on a Friday night, but I didn't really have any trouble tasting the wines I wanted to taste (and talking with the Industry folk can be hit and miss anyway). Yes it was overwhelming, but by keeping focused I manged to explore some new stuff...

The highlight of the night was a tasting with Jorge of Catena wines. Readers know I love Catena, from the great price:quality Alamos line, the great value Catena line to the uber-awesome Catena Alta series - Catena's wines consistently meet or exceed the quality of competing wines at similar or even higher prices. There is something to be said for consistency and an addiction to quality!

Jorge first poured for me a cross section of his Malbecs - the Alamos Seleccion, the Catena Malbec, the Catena Alta Malbec, and his latest offering - Catena's ultra high end "Malbec Argentino". The Seleccion is no slouch (see here), the Malbec a house favourite, and the Alta - stupendous! You really need to taste a Catena Alta Malbec to realize that the true potential for serious Argentinian wine based on this grape that is far beyond the fruity $10 offerings most consumers associate with Argentina. And if that wasn't enough, we tried the Catena Alta Cabernet and the Nicolas Catena Zapata. That Nicolas Catena is seriously good stuff, amongst the best "Meritage" wines I have EVER tasted. Note that Jorge will return to Montreal this fall for a tasting at Westmount's Wellhouse (more on Wellhouse in a future post).

We also had a really great time at the Bonny Doon booth. I have always liked Bonny Doon's more rebellious take on California wine - yes, he has playful marketing like so many other wineries, but he also has serious old world tendency in his wines - lower alcohol, more modest fruit, fresh and reserved wines. First we tried an odd Nebbiolo offering, crafted from grapes that were half raisinified (a la Ripassa/Amarone) - an odd nose and just to raisiny for me. The Birchino Malvasia was a delicious find - very floral, flat and flavourful, perhaps an American take on VdP Cotes de Gascogne. But the star was the Le Pousseur - the best Shiraz I have had at this price point (~23$), it will be released at the SAQ in early May - watch for this!

Another great find was the Constantia Glen "Saddle", a Cab Sauv/Cab Franc/Merlot blend - the only wine that made it home with me tonight.

A couple of oddities - a Rosso Gaglioppo, for example - and a serious disappointment at the Marc Anthony booth where I paid serious $$$ for a pour from a cooked bottle of the Falesco Montiano - when I complained he said it just needed to breathe. I'll remember that as I go to stock my cellar next time...

My main regret was not having more time to scope out some quirkier wines, but I think I'd need a few hours on my own to really poke around the show and taste quirkier things (I tend to drive people - i.e. my wife - crazy with my "intensity" at these events).

That's all to report, two more years to go....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Montreal's Salon des Vins

The Salon des Vins, Montreal's biennial wine extravaganza, runs this week from Thursday, March 25th to Sunday March 28th. Two years ago I was nearly giddy with excitement, but this time around I'm rather "uninspired", as the thought of muscling my way through vast crowds in desperate search of some undiscovered gem seems tedious, the prices can be steep for rather modest pours, and forget about having time to talk to the producers - they're too darn busy.

But I cannot ignore it completely - the list of producers is not so bad, and you can buy stuff at the show that is simply not available in local stores. Two years ago I went for three of the four days, but this time 'round I'll simply stop by on a Friday and hope it is not too frustrating...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2002 Elderton The Ashmead Cabernet

I show a lot of love here for Elderton, so it was a bit of a no-brainer for me to pick up this 2002 Elderton "The Ashmead" Cabernet Sauvignon. Very Barossa - vanilla, cloves and tobacco on the nose, lots of fresh, ripe blackberries, violet and flint, spicy oak and green pepper. Incredibly soft and smooth on the palate, it started simple but filled out over the evening, offering spicy fruit and silky tannins. A beautiful, long finish, rather fresh for the age, but left me wanting something more...
Score: 17/20
Price: C$69 (SAQ)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Two Takes on Cahors

For my 41st birthday I thought I'd break out of a rut and try something quite random - two random bottles of Cahors, that is. Not entirely random, as these bottles offered two entirely different takes on Cahors and held the promise of something very different from Argentine Malbec.

The 2006 Chateau de Gaudou sported a traditional label and a Decanter silver medal, so I had no idea what to expect. Very austere, Bordeaux-like, so green and earthy with gobs of leather and spicy new oak, late hints of vanilla. Crisp, fresh, and lengthy - far to light and elegant to be a Malbec!
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$23.25 (SAQ)

The 2007 Un Jour sur Terre intrigued me, as the back label spoke to this wine's aging in clay, not oak. That's right, malbec with NO oak. What that gives you is a big nose of ripe blueberries, (much fruitier than the Gaudou above) with intriguing notes of wet stones, mint and oregano, liquorice, and hint of vanilla. Much crisper and lighter than the fruity nose suggested, feeling hotter and just slightly less balanced on the palate. So very different from every Malbec you've ever tasted...
Cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$25.50 (SAQ)

Monday, March 08, 2010

2006 Cumaro Conero Riserva

A definite oddity, the 2006 Cùmaro Conero Riserva was a Christmas gift that has been sitting in the cellar as I had no idea what to serve it with. I gave up tonight and opened it for a wonderful pairing with a prime rib roast. An enticing, satisfying nose of currants and old leather, cigars, damp earth, wet stones and a hint of vanilla. Rather rustic on the palate, with dry, sour curranty fruit. A great food wine - light, crisp and minerally. Delightful without being overpowering, definitely more my style these days, but big fruit lovers may wish to look elsewhere.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: gift

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Washington State Merlot: 2003 Wilridge Merlot Red Mountain Klipsun Vineyards

We don't get much wine from Washington State in Montreal, so when my travels took me to Seattle I thought I'd sample some of the local offerings. Seattle's Tasting Room, located in the Pike Place market, had a quaint, but serious ambience - perfect for an extended stay, but I only had time to grab a few bottles and run....

The staff was rather busy serving tasting customers and didn't offer much assistance with the wines on offer, so I was left to random picks and some customer suggestions (lots of helpful winos there!). Tonight's Merlot made it into the bag as I have taken to buying wine in reverse order of alcohol content, and this 13.7% bottling was probably the lowest alcohol red in the shop (and conveniently selling at a large discount to the rest of the offerings).

The 2003 Wilridge Merlot Red Mountain Klipsun Vineyards was a wonderful surprise, with fresh, earthy fruit, green pepper, milk chocolate and cassis on the nose. Spicy, and a bit rough around the edges at first - a shag carpet of tannins - but it sorted itself out with some air. Smooth, balanced, a nice long finish...a lot of heart put into this. And this merlot did NOT taste 7 years old, still fresh and vibrant, it never got flabby. Cellarworthy? A rare question at this price point - wish I had some more to find out!
cork. 13.7% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: US$19 (Tasting Room Seattle)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

2006 Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin "Combe aux Moines"

My buddy Cosme is legendary for his love of Burgundy, so it was no surprise that he brought one by when I invited him over for a drink. His 2006 Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru "Combe aux Moines" Vielles Vignes was tremendously complex on the nose, with notes of cola and green nuts, wildflowers, strawberries, pencil shavings, cocoa and a hint of honey. Ample velvety tannins - drier than most burgs - with a notable minerality. Very fresh, and very well balanced, another gem from Cosme!
Score: 18/20
Price: gift

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Castelgiocondo Brunello Vertical

Ever since he visited my cellar in December, my buddy Guy and I have been plotting an evening of Brunellos. According to Guy we had a complementary vertical of the Castelgiocondo, but that wasn't really true - I had the "regular" Castelgiocondo, while he had a bottle of the higher-end (and pricier) "Ripe al Convento". An "imperfect" vertical, but a perfectly enjoyable blinded tasting!

The 1999 Castelgiocondo was showing its age - a pretty nose of prunes and leather, vanilla and cherries. Soft and silky smooth, a palate of minerally cooked fruit. Delicious, but simpler than the other two. Drink now. cork. 14% alcohol, Score: 16.5/20

Guy's 2000 Castelgiocondo Riserva "Ripe al Convento", the estate's top bottling, impressed with a complex and ever-changing nose - flint, violet and tobacco, some fresh cherries and fruity hard candy. Delicious cherry fruit and a long, long, finish of soft, velvety tannins. Very balanced, nearly flawless. cork. 15% alcohol, Score: 18/20

The 2001 Castelgiocondo had a big dose of tobacco and smokey ashes, vanilla - a tad too heavy with the oak. Younger, fresher, cherry fruit with a beautiful finish - everyone's 2nd favourite and a winner considering the price differential vs. the Ripe al Convento. cork. 13.5% alcohol, Score: 17.5/20

A wonderful evening of wine (all in their prime), paired beautifully with great friends and a tasty prime rib roast.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2004 Olivares Dulce Monastrell

My first bottle of this was a gift from my friend Andreas, but after an unfortunate accident I HAD to go out and replace it (it was a Mourvedre dessert wine from Spain, for crying out loud!).

The 2004 Olivares Dulce Monastrell (Jumilla) was rather odd for a dessert wine - blueberry jam and almond liquer (amaretto), pruney and some aromas that could easily have been single malt scotch. Soft and and pruney on the palate - an odd juxtaposition of sweet, syrupy fruit and dense, grainy tannins. Nice, with a very long finish, but just a bit too sweet.
cork. 16% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$30.25 (SAQ) 500mL

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Exploring the Reds of St-Chinian

St-Chinian is the 4th largest Languedoc appellation, with 3300 hectares under vine. The reds, approximately 90% of production, are fashioned from the grapes Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault and Lledoner Pelut grown in hillside vineyards trapped between the Mediterranean and the mountains. While the climate and grapes point towards big, heavy wines, tonight's offerings were surprisingly light - only one had 14% alcohol.

My brother-in-law picked up this 2007 Le Secret des Capitelles in Ontario, a blend of Grenache and Shiraz. A terrific nose of peppery cooked meat, leather and blackberries, violets and sour cherry, some wildflowers, rubber and ink - very complex for a wine at this price. Hot and peppery with a lengthy finish, it softened up as it aired out, but it was not as balanced as the Hecht et Bannier below. But what a great price! I may have to cross the border to get a few more bottles.
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Cost: C$14.95 (LCBO)

The 2006 Les Fiefs d' Aupenac sported a "Decanter" sticker on the bottle, which was good enough to entice me into an experiment. This wine was a "St-Chinian-Roquebrun", from the village of Roquebrun in the St-Chinian region. Mostly (60%) Syrah, with some Grenache and Mourvedre, it was less complex than the others. Deeper, darker, with peppery meat and leathery notes, some blackberries, creme brulee and violets to follow. Softer, hotter (cherry liqueur came to mind), with a good, fruity finish.
cork. 13% alcohol

Score: 16/20
Price: C$19.95 (SAQ)

I loved this 2006 Hecht et Bannier, a négociant-éleveur specializing in the Langueoc-Rousillon offerings. The nose starts off slowly - nice, but subtle. A little air and it opens beautifully, showing minerally black earth, peppered meat, vanilla and grenadine. Probably the smoothest and best balanced, with a soft velvety touch, yet tight and minerally at the same time. A plum and blackberry finish that felt lower alcohol than the others. Did I say very very very well balanced? Drink now.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$24 (SAQ)

It was a perfect blind tonight, as all were random selections and never tasted before this evening. Be forewarned, as my preference for the H&B not shared by the others who preferred the fruitier Aupenac.

Key take away? A fairly random sample of St-Chinian shows wines that recognize the big fruit available, but the winemakers have deftly crafted this fruit into more balanced wines than I have seen in other Languedoc appellations - give these a try!

Friday, February 12, 2010

2008 Moulin de Gassac "Elise"

"Un Vin Comme Autrefois" declares the label of the 2008 Moulin de Gassac "Elise" Vielles Vignes, a Merlot-Syrah blend from the Vin de Pays de l'Hérault appellation. A mouthwatering nose of ripe blackberries enveloped by a distinct, green earthiness, with some vanilla and new leather added later on. Soft and grainy, with a smokey, flinty finish. A terrific wine for decanting, the oxygen helped this open very nicely over the evening - blinded this wine could fool many into thinking they were drinking a much more expensive wine.
Cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$15.45 (SAQ)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Two takes on a 2000 Barbaresco

So Guest Blogger sends me a message: "did we buy the '00 Moccagatta together? had a btl last night. outstanding."

Well, Lloyd was correct - we did order the 2000 Moccagatta Barbaresco Bric Balin together, a Vintages special release in 2005. How did these bottles fare in our respective cellars? Here are two sets of notes:

"Drank with my wife 01-10, really shone. Nose is a light bouquet of roses, violets and tar with some Indian spice. On the palate, medium weight, exceedingly smooth with more tar, coffee and cinnamon, extracted fruit with cherry dominant and a subtle, well-integrated acidity. Fine, drying tannins left me begging for a prime rib. Very long - at least 30 seconds - on the finish. Could've been mistaken for an old burgundy. Wow. 18+ on the Joe scale." - Lloyd

Joe's bottle, Joe's nose, came to similar conclusions - a nose of violets and black cherries, creamy and earthy, with an inky/rubbery undertone. Really impeccable balance, silky smooth with woodsy tannins, tasty bitters and a nice long finish. Just kept opening up over the evening, lovely. Score: 18/20
Cost: C$54.95 (Vintages)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

2007 Brazilio Syrah Cabernet

Another surprise from my brother in law, a Brazilian wine. Brazil?!

The 2007 Brazilio, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet, started smooth, quite tasty, but I sensed it would fall apart like so many inexpensive wines do after they get some air. An earthy and rustic nose, adding cedar, leather and black cherry notes over the evening. A smooth, dark berry finish - nothing flashy, but it didn't fall apart either. Surprisingly good, and a steal at this price.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 15.5/20
Price: C$13.25 (SAQ)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

2008 Martin Codax Salterio Albarino

Albariño is Spain's big secret, for now. The signature grape of Galicia's Rías Baixas wine region, I never think to buy these - but I have never been disappointed. The pretty label grabbed me this time - wow, what a nice surprise!

The 2008 Martín Códax Salterio Albariño (Rias Baixas) tempts with notes of papaya, buttery croissant, apples and flowers. Soft and appley on the palate with a distinct minerality, not crisp but the minerals hold it together quite well. A delcious sipping wine yet flavourful enough to stand up to turkey kebabs...lots of fun!
plastic cork. 12.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$16.95 (LCBO)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Guest Blogger visits Bistro à Champlain

Guest Blogger Lloyd returns with this write up of Bistro à Champlain...

Since returning to Montreal 20 years ago, wine fanatics have bragged to me about Bistro à Champlain on Lac Masson about an hour north of Montreal. Apparently, an excellent bistro with an outstanding wine cellar. I wrote it off to locals promoting the local, and put it off as long drives and lots of wine are hard to match up.

But last July, in need of a meeting place between Montreal and points further north, we connected with dear friends for a memorable dinner at this venerable spot. I can't believe I waited so long.

First, this was more than just a great wine may be one of the most impressive cellars anywhere in North America. It boasts among the largest collections anywhere of DRC magnums (see photo), numerous verticals of first growths back to the 40s, and a broad range of offerings from the old world in its 35,000 bottles (unbelievable CDPs, Burgundy, Hermitage - the full set of Guigal's "La La"s - and smaller but outstanding collections of Barolo, Super Tuscan and Napa). Yes, 35,000 bottles. And that cellar is made all the more exciting by its builder and host, Dr Champlain Charest, a radiologist turned restaurateur with a gift for storytelling and a depth of wit that matches his collection.

We started with a 1993 d'Angerville Clos des Ducs, recommended by our waiter with a clear and deep knowledge of the incredible offerings. He considered the '93s to have really come out, and that they were under appreciated on the whole. He guided us through our selections in the context of our food order, and made subtle suggestions on that order ensuring great matches between food and wine. The d'Angerville was bright berry in colour, almost luminous. The nose started subtle, but was bolder as it warmed from cellar temp, all cut flowers, morning-after campfire and spice. Surprisingly full-bodied, on the palate it was ripe plums, cherries and a hint of black fruit. Great complexity with a note of stones and lingering minerally, dusty tannins that, after 45 mins, were leaving a long and light aftertaste. Really wonderful stuff! 18.5 on the Joe scale.

We followed with a 1982 Talbot, a selection of my good friend Robbie, who had tasted one years back and proclaimed it a hidden gem. Hard to disagree. Right out of the bottle this wine was spectacular. Purple with only a bit of bricking at the edges, the nose was an assault of black tea, truffles and leather. Hints of liquorice. Full-bodied and even a bit creamy as it warmed up, at 27 years of age the tannin has melted perfectly into a sea of dark fruit, earth and something meaty. Round and soft, there was some chocolate there, that sung for close to a minute. It hurt to see the end of the decanter. Who knew that a Talbot could be that impressive - or long-lived! 19+ on the Joe scale. The plus, as we downed this so quickly, I'm certain this would've continued to improve!

I can't say enough about this dinner and our host. Though I did not note the prices of these wines, I will say that the price for both was below recent auction values for each. Bistro a Champlain's list is incredibly reasonable for the unique - perhaps unmatchable - offering. I did not take notes on the '93 d'Yquem - an 'open bottle' for the evening special of seared fois gras - but it was delightful and a perfect match for the dish (and served complimentary by our host!). Do not miss the tour of the cellar graciously offered - and annotated - by Dr. Charest, truly a collector's collector and a man who, after years at this, never tires of discussing his passion. Bistro a Champlain is undoubtedly worth the trip...but book one of the many neighbourhood B&Bs and enjoy it fully!

Editor's Note: It has been two years since my buddy Lloyd has provided me a guest blog, but I might forgive him if he takes me here for some DRC...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2004 Marchesi Pancrazi Casaglia Rosso Toscano IGT Colorino

Who drinks Colorino? A 100% Colorino? What the heck is Colorino? All very good questions, and the reason I bought this 2004 Marchesi Pancrazi Casaglia Rosso Toscano Colorino IGT ...

Colorino is a minor Italian grape variety, mostly known for the secondary role this grape plays in Chianti (mainly to add colour) - the Tuscan equivalent to Bordeaux's Petit Verdot?

Aptly named, as the Marchesi Pancrazi Casaglia was a very dark, inky purple in the glass. Very earthy, with notes of plums, sweet vanilla, nutmeg, and brie cheese on the nose. A silky smooth texture, very dry and lingering...tannic, but not heavy, with a deceptively long finish...surprisingly light given the inky darkness and big nose. Terribly unique, very interesting... (and we all had blue teeth).
cork. 14% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: C$39 (LCBO)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2008 Gemtree Bloodstone Shiraz Viognier

It is rare that my buddy Eden sends me a frantic wine email screaming "you've got to try this!", so I couldn't ignore his plea...

The first thing that leaps out at you is just how very, very smooth this 2008 Gemtree Vineyards "Bloodstone" Shiraz Viognier is. Big, classic, violet and blackberry on the nose, notes of allspice, butterscotch, and freshly cut wood as well. Smooth, soft, and beautifully textured, with silky tannins and a light, fresh finish (only a touch hot). Perhaps I simply have an affinity to the McLaren Vale? I thought it was just d'Arenberg...
Screwcap. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: C$17.95 (LCBO)

Great catch Eden! This wine just made it into my house wine rotation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

American Sangiovese, 2004

Drinking Napa Sangiovese feels historic, like I am drinking the last of dying breed. Napa Sangiovese extinct? Hardly. But while my terminal diagnosis for Napa Sangiovese has no facts to back it up, I certainly get the "sense" that the "Sangiovese Experiment" will soon perish under the Napa Cab steamroller...

It would be a shame if the steamroller eliminated this Steltzner offering. The 2004 Steltzner Sangiovese Riserva (Stags Leap) coulda been straight from Chianti - lighter and fresher than the Luna below, with classic tobacco, green ferns, black pepper and flint. A soft velvety texture held together by crisp cherries, such delicate tannins and a delicious finish. Purchased on my '06 trip to Napa, from a Napa winery that keeps me from losing hope...
cork. 13.6% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: US$38 (winery)

This Luna offering seemed oddly familiar... undoubtedly straight out of Napa, the 2004 Luna Sangiovese Reserve showed a very nice, very modern, nose of big, ripe, jammy cherries, smokey vanilla and sweet cocoa, mint and liquorice. Jammy on the palate, coating the tongue with big, hot fruit, but redeemingly delicious tannins and a lengthy finish. Really opened nicely, just sooo different from the Steltzner above.
cork. 15.8% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20
Price: US$60 (winery)

Both tasted blind, it is really a battle of old versus new - you decide.

(PS - note the serious price differential)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Belguardo Poggio Bronzone Vertical

A vertical tasting - tasting different vintages of the same wine - is one of my favourite wine tasting activities. Sometimes with vintage notes in hand, sometimes not (like tonight), I sip these mysteries and try to picture the weather of years past in a distant land...dilute (rains at harvest), green/vegetal (earlier harvest), raisiny (extreme heat)...wines typically give us hints to the climate in which they were raised. Except for tonight, where this "accidental" vertical of four Tuscan vintages gave nearly identically wonderful expressions of Sangiovese.

Accidental? Most of the verticals in my cellar are carefully assembled, but this was a funny discovery (or perhaps a sign of aging) - four different vintages of this wine from Mazzei's Belguardo Estate! Mazzei has been pushing the promise of the Tuscan Maremma for a few years now, and judging by tonight's wines the Maremma is more than promising.

Tonight's favourite was the 2001 Belguardo Poggio Bronzone - beautifully complex on the nose, with earthy, charcoal notes, some cocoa powder, liquorice, basil and old fruit as well. A carpet of velvety tannins carries crisp, minerally cherry fruit to the palate. Poised, a very nice finish, nearly perfect if the oak was more subdued. Score: 17.5+/20

A nose of minty cooked fruit and the 2004 Belguardo Poggio Bronzone nearly passed for the oldest. Terribly interesting, later adding notes of sour cherries, roses, and cooked sausages. Silky tannins and raisiny, cooked fruit awkwardly danced across the palate - kinda odd at first, but it developed nicely. Bottle variation? Wish I had another '04. Score: 16.5/20

The 2005 Belguardo Poggio Bronzone was a lovely wine, with flinty sweet black cherries, and tobacco notes - a touch spicy. Juicy, tart and lighter bodied than the others, with a very long smoky finish, even a touch nutty. Very well balanced...Score: 17/20

The 2006 Belguardo Poggio Bronzone, was an impetuous youth - big smokey and leathery aromas with a heavy dose of toasty oak, fleshed out with roses and dark berries. Tangy, earthy and very smokey, with a deceptively long, minerally, finish. A bit over-oaked, but otherwise showing many signs of greatness. Score: 17/20

A great flight of Sangiovese (more similar than different), I can only speculate on the subtleties of these vintages - the 05 seemed touch dilute (rain?), the '04 hot and raisiny (hot and dry?). It is noteworthy that all were 13.5% alcohol, not showing the trend I see in my cellar with wineries showing increasing alcohol in consecutive vintages.

While there was not a bad wine in the bunch, a lighter touch with the oak would be appreciated by this palate...

Monday, January 04, 2010

2004 Caparzo "Le Grance" Sant' Antimo

I was pleased to see that for this year's holiday bash more of our friends decided to bring wine. Not that gifts of wine weren't offered in the past, but I definitely sensed some apprehension as they all know I am a wine fanatic. What they don't know is that I always love to try something new, even if the wine doesn't work out...

Tonight's wine was an intriguing gift from my good friend Marcus - intriguing because Tuscan Chardonnay is not exactly commonplace, and Marcus has been carefully aging this Tuscan Chardonnay, the 2004 Caparzo "Le Grance" Sant' Antimo, for a few years. But Marcus' bold experiment was a good one - bright amber in hue, with a nose that screamed "breakfast!" - apple danish, to be exact - adding some oxidized floral and minerally notes, wet hay and caramel. A deceptively soft texture, yet stark and minerally, with flavours of oxidized bitters - a white in the vein of those from the south of France. It has aged well, but is now at its peak.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 16.5/20