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)