Saturday, January 20, 2007

More January Reds(8): Italy Chianti, Australia Cab Sauv(2), Australia Blend, Argentina Shiraz, France Blend, Italy Valpol, Argentina Blend

ST HALLETT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2004, Barossa, Australia, 14.5% XD, #015164 $19.95 (Tasted January 31, 2007)

A Vintages release on December 9, 2006 and described as "While the Barossa Valley area is often noted for its Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon vines have also thrived there for over a century. St Hallett's winemakers Stuart Blackwell and Matt Grant employ a combination of traditional techniques with the latest technologies to craft this quintessentially Barrosan Cab. Stuffed with cassis and berry fruit flavours with notes of mint and chocolate this medium full-bodied wine is ready to drink with hearty venison stew or old-fashioned pot roast." My notes: Worth every penny and more for the deep ruby, warm plummy nose and rich minty, black currant softened by a luscious berry edge flavour. Long legs on the glass and a texture that smacks the palate with subtle tartness, a fine tannin and smoothness suggesting a natural fruit sugar, but of course it's DRY. A super sipper - seems a shame to have anything with this unless it's a well, not meaning 'well-done' but to your liking, grilled T-bone or prime rib roasted crusty with herbs. To match this red's fullness the entree should be rich or full flavoured. Could be cellared for five or so years but is drinking nicely now. A real value and there appears to be tons around as of this tasting.

ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2003, Vendemmia, Italy, 13.5% XD, #930966 $23.95 (Tasted January 30, 2007)

The Vintages release date wasn't given - the description is "This wine offers a superb starting point to explore rarified corner of Chianti without having to stretch your budget or fight firm tannins. Rocca delle Macìe aims to create wines that are enjoyable now. Though there is a silky tannin grip here for balance, the aromas and flavours of plum, raspberry and violet dominate." The website says "... Sangiovese (90%), Cabernet (5%), Merlot (5%).... vinified according to traditional Chianti Classico methods. The wine ages in French oak barrels of 35hl capacity for two years and is then refined further in the bottle, for a minimum of three months. ... ruby red, becoming garnet with age. Flavours are intense and persistent... etc." My notes: A lightish mid-ruby colour with a slight rose edge. Let air twenty minutes or decant. The nose has some remnants of red berries, perhaps plum - 'violets' is stretching the imagination. The initial swallow has a spirited brightness complementing red cherry flavours and a dry tannin. The finish continues to be bright with the fruit fading quickly leaving a dry, although much softer, fine tannin feel. A classic Classico... european in style and flavour, light- to medium-bodied emphasizing the winemaker's use of blending and oak ageing rather than featuring luscious fruit. Have with a red pasta dish or with hamburgers, pizzas, cloved ham steak or rack of lamb. No benefit in cellaring - a commercial drink-now and not a value imho.

ELDERTON 'THE ASHMEAD FAMILY' CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2004, Barossa, Australia, 14.5% XD, #009175 $28.95 (Tasted January 29, 2007)

A Vintages release on December 09, 2006 described as "Ripe and appealing for its red berry and herb flavors and supple texture, which lets the juice flavors linger attractively against a swarm of refined tannins on the long finish. Best from 2008 through 2013. Rated 90/100. (Harvey Steiman, Aug. 31, 2006)." My notes: A breath of mint among the berry, cherry and tobacco humidor aromas from a deep violet ruby colour. A silky smooth texture with a well balanced fruit - black cherries, black berries - spice and soft tannins creating a flavour complexity. The finish is very long with fruit fading to a light tobacco edge with lingering soft tannins. An excellent cab sipper, medium-bodied and balanced fruit, or pair with hors d'ouvres: smoked oysters, italian meats, french onion soup, a spicy red bean chili, or with red meat entrees from rack of lamb, seared sirloin tip, a pot roast. A value? I think so, although not in the habit of buying $30 reds. Lots available as of this tasting.

KILIKANOON KILLERMAN'S RUN GRENACHE/SHIRAZ 2003, Australia, 15.0% D, #009225 $18.95 (Tasted January 28, 2007)

A Vintages release on December 9, 2006 described as "The bargains continue with the 2003 Grenache/Shiraz Killerman's Run (60% of the former and 40% of the latter), which was aged in old American and French hogsheads for two years prior to being bottled unfiltered. Its dense ruby/purple color is accompanied by plenty of sweet kirsch and blackberry fruit intermixed with damp earth and pepper. Fleshy, with excellent intensity and a long, heady finish, this superb Australian red is a fabulous bargain. Moreover, it should drink well for 4-5 years or longer. 91/100 Robert Parker Jr., Oct. 2005." My notes: Two 2002 vintage Kilikanoon Killerman's Run wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz, were tasted in April and this adds to their success. A deep ruby...a smoky plum and berry nose warms the senses for the spicy flavours to come. A bit of cherry, mint, blueberry and almond blended with a brightness that fades so slowly into a long warm finish. A fuller bodied, slightly spicier G/S than the 2004 Jeanneret tasted last September and a few dollars cheaper. A very pleasant sipper by itself or with a flavourful cheese tray, shaved meats or sausage pieces, a liver pate on soft pumpernickel crusts or with rare to medium grilled beef entrees. Should be able to cellar this for several years although it's drinking well now. A real value.

LA PUERTA SHIRAZ 2006, Famatina Valley, Argentina, 14.3% D, #614636 $9.05 (Tasted January 24, 2007)

A new General listing described on the label as "..enticing rich purple, deliciously soft and fruity. It is packed full of exquisite ripe plum and black cherry flavours... completed with a touch of spice." My notes: One of four La Puerta's, the one with the blue label. Has a fresh cherry nose with some light oaky sidelights. The colour is a clear mid ruby with, in the right light, a fine violet hue and flavours hit the palate with firm, drying tannins and a plum/cherry blend, a vanilla note and a lightish body. The finish is somewhat overridden by the tannin but it still has an underlying seam of red cherry and some toasty notes. Somewhat thinner than an Aussie (my preferred shriaz sipper) - but for the money a good value. Would be OK with red meats: steaks, grilled ribs, T-bones, lamb shishkebabs for example. It would be interesting to cellar for two years to see where the tannin takes this very economical red. At the price - why not?

PERRIN NATURE COTES-DU-RHONE 2004, Cotes du Rhone, France, 13.0% XD, #948059 $16.95 (Tasted January 23, 2007)

A Vintages release on January 20, 2007 described as "Our Quality Assurance laboratory has determined that this organic wine contains 9 mg/l of free sulphur. An elegant and approachable blend of Grenache and Syrah, with an environmental conscience. The Perrin brothers of Château de Beaucastel fame have been practicing organic methods for decades, and this is one of their finest examples. In fact, the 2003 vintage was named by The Independent in London as one of the top 10 organic wines. Expect similar excellence from this ‘04." RP of Winecurrent gives it four and a half (of 5) saying "This is a very well-priced Côtes-du-Rhône that shows what the region can do at a very affordable price. It has big texture, intense dark fruit (plum, cherry) flavours with accents of black pepper and spice, and a fine seam of sweet fruit at the centre. The tannins are pretty firm and this will show best in a couple of years. But if you must drink it soon, pair it with red meat grilled medium-rare." My notes: Also available in 375mL released as #10363@$9.95. A mid ruby colour with a pinkish rim and showing thin 'legs'. Nice light plum and cherry nose, a slight pepper edge, flavours of an even blend of red cherry, trace of vanilla, fine tannin and spice - the initial oakiness goes quickly. The finish carries a cherry stone flavour along with tannin and nip fading slowly without sparkle or interest. Have with prime rib, rack of lamb, ham steak or braised chicken pieces. Cellaring wouldn't help, more of a drink-now. A quiet Cotes du Rhone red - not a value to me.

TOMMASI VIGNETO RAFAEL VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE 2004, Piedmont, Italy, 12.5% XD, #023259 $17.95 (Tasted January 21, 2007)

A Vintages release on January 20, 2007 described as "... This spectacular Valpol is sourced from the Vigneto Rafael, just one of their personally managed vineyard sites. The 2004 exhibits the best of the wine style with its forward cherry fruit supported by a lively acid/fruit finish. Match it to your fish course or veal tenderloin." VH of Winecurrent gives it four and a half (of 5) saying "This is a gorgeous wine from a producer that has gained world-wide and much-deserved recognition for fine wines at good value. This gorgeous offering begins with aromas redolent of Bing cherry and black raspberry. The flavour profile has cherry to the fore, ably supported by oodles of tangy zest and a ripe tannin structure. This meaty red best served with lasagna or pasta in a rich tomato sauce." My notes: One of the 'Single Vineyard' wines from Tommasi, 'Rafael' blends corvina veronese (65%), rondinella (30%) and molinara (5%) which spend eighteen months in large Slovian oak barrels. Colour is a mid ruby with a slight brick hue. Decant or let air for thirty minutes for best tasting, then a full nose of prunes, cherries and caramel wafts from the glass. Flavours are pronounced, an even acid to balance the sweet cherry followed by a bright cherry and light tannin finish, long and warm. A refreshing sipper or have with shaved italian meats, smoked chorizo pieces, flavourful cheesy vegetarian pizza, lightly spiced tomato or mushroom sauced pastas. Not much more to gain from cellaring so I'd call it a drink-now.

FINCA FLICHMAN EXPRESIONES RESERVE SHIRAZ/CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2004, Mendoza, Argentina, 15.0% XD, #017111 $15.95 (Tasted January 20, 2007)

A Vintages release on January 20, 2007 described as ".... From 28-year-old vineyards in Tupungato, the wine spends eight months in a mix of French and American oak. The nose has a lovely blackcurrant pastille and juicy cherry ripeness, with little nuances of violet and blueberry pie. On the palate this shows lovely fruit: it is dry and savoury, with tannins immediately gripping the sides of the mouth, and a coffee and woodsmoke oak note adding to the dry, food-friendly appeal. But the fruit really comes through, with a concentration of black berries and some clove and pepper notes, with a very nicely balanced and long finish. Very impressive.... (Tom Cannavan, Aug. 2006)." VH of Winecurrent gives it five (of 5) saying "This blend - 60% Shiraz, 40% Cab., packs an incredible punch and has it all: complexity, richness and delicate balance. It opens with a perfumed nose of black ripe juicy berry fruit, currant and nuances of spice - cloves and nutmeg. Flavours of bramble berry, creosote and kirsch drench the palate. etc." And Natalie MacLean gives it 89/100. My notes: Now with Sogrape, maker of Ferreira and Offley ports and Mateus wines, Finca Flichman has introduced the 'Espresiones' label to showcase the terroir of old vines. This blend is a dense ruby with a violet hue and has a warm aroma of peppery black currant - let air for twenty minutes to add spicy fragrances of clove, perhaps almond, and tobacco. A full, smooth texture swirls black currant, mint and ripe black cherry flavours, intense at first becoming more focussed as a long, dark chocolate, cherry and tar finish. A full-bodied sipper for a relaxed fireside read - too serious for a casual social. Pair with flavourful cheeses, liver pate, rack of lamb, T-bone or other grilled beef entrees. Cellaring for a few years should mellow out the tannins a bit more making this a value big red.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

January Reds(10): Chile Carmen, Australia Blend, USA Blend, USA Cab Sauv, Portugal Blend, Australia Cab Sauv, Australia Shiraz(2), France Blend(2)

ROSEMOUNT 'DIAMOND LABEL' SHIRAZ 2004, South Australia, 14.0% D, #302348 $13.95* (Tasted January 18, 2007)

A General listing (*until Dec 31, 2006, regularly $15.95) described as "Opaque purple colour; blueberry, blackberry aroma with toasty oak nuances; dry, full-bodied with rich, fleshy fruit character. Pepper steak; game dishes." My notes: Deep ruby with a garnet tint, aromas of spicy light blackberry and an oaky velvet tone. Flavours of the same blackberry nicely balanced with tannin and acid. The finish continues to have a lingering but now artificial blackberry against a background of earthy smoothness. This fades slowly as a sweetness creeps to the foreground. A sipper for social get togethers.... or an economical 'house' red. OK for red meat dishes, pepperoni pizzas, burgers, or at a restaurant where the overhead may limit choices - however, the flavours wash out quickly with seasoned or spicy foods. Not cellarable. A 'commercial' drink-now. Had a second bottle February 27, 2007 - The flavours were quite artificial... also the balance of fruit to body to texture was unnatural imho. Could not finish a second glass.

SANTA CAROLINA BARRICA SELECTION CARMENÈRE 2004, Rapel Valley, Chile, 14.5% XD, #640888 $14.95 (Tasted January 17, 2007)

A Vintages release on December 09, 2006 described as "This dry, full-bodied Carmenère offers terrific value. It's packed with blackberry and black cherry fruit as well as notes of tobacco and milk chocolate. Savour this hearty wine with meat loaf." My notes: A Mildara Blass venture with Santa Carolina. Let warm to room temperature... or it loses its fruit and has a full-bodied tannic dryness. Has a pepper and faint cherry nose and is a deep ruby colour. The flavour is predominately blackberry with some cherry in the background framed by tar, tight tannins and firm acid - no chocolate here, especially milk. The finish is mostly dry tannin with some blackberry but the fruit freshness fades into a earthy (tobacco) mouthfeel with a sharp edge - not a sipper. Have with red meats, rare to medium and it could stand a reasonable spice. Cellar for at least two years perhaps longer to iron out tannins... or skip this vintage.

WOLF BLASS RED LABEL SHIRAZ/CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005, Australia, 14.0% D, #311795 $13.95 (Tasted January 14, 2007)

On the General shelves and described as "Deep ruby purple colour; dry and full-bodied with medium tannins, ripe blackberry and oaky vanilla aromas and flavours; long finish. Serve with red meats grilled or roasted; strong cheeses." My notes: Deep ruby for sure with a purple hue and aromas of blackberries and smoke with not much else discernible unless you have a canine's sniffer. The flavours are blackberry, vanilla, white pepper and very well balanced with tannin and a soft nip. The finish has a bright fruitiness, very smooth and warm on the palate, fading slowly. A pleasant sipper or with a full flavoured cheese tray and italian shaved meats/sausage. Pair with any red meat dish: prime rib, T-bone, BBQ's back ribs - beef or pork, spicy meat pasta or pizza, hamburger with the works. A commercial drink-now cellarable for a year. Good value for a crowd or for dinner at the Keg.

KESTREL VINTNERS 'THE LADY IN RED' FIRST HOLIDAY EDITION (NV), Yakima Valley, USA, 13.8% XD, BC, $??.?? (Tasted January 13, 2007)

The website says "This is our first release of Lady In Red Holiday Edition. It is 41.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26.5% Syrah, 23.7% Merlot, and 8.3% Cabernet Franc thoughtfully combined. The resulting product is stunning.... This wine possesses a deep black color which fades to a red-purple hue at the edges. In the aroma you will find luscious ripe blueberry, cherry, blackberry, vanilla, toasted oak, crème brulée and spice. This wine boasts structure and balance. The lingering finish holds many layers of blueberry, cherry and dark berries." My notes: A deep ruby colour with a nose of warm oak, a touch of spice, vanilla and ripe blackberries. The flavours are a well developed berry-cherry blend, smooth with fine tannins and balanced acid. The finish as well carries a smidge of tannin to the roof of the mouth, a polite acid around the sides while soft fruit coats the tongue - moderately long. A reasonable sipper for a mixed crowd - its overall character matches the label - a cheery quaff-now. Pair with light meat dishes, game birds or turkey with sage stuffing.

IRONSTONE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2003, Lodi, USA, 13.5% XD, #571380 $8.95 375mL, (Tasted January 11, 2007)

A Vintages release on December 09, 2006 described as "Some Cabs promise a lot: this half-bottle size from Ironstone overdelivers both quality and value. Aged for 12 months in French and American oak, this medium-bodied, easy-drinking wine offers appealing blackcurrant and cherry flavours with hints of herbs, cedar and vanilla. Perfect with a rich, hot stew on a cold December night." The website says "... packed with black currant and spicy cherry with hints of herbs and vanilla. Subtle notes of eucalyptus, cassis, and cedar with just a touch of tobacco can be found in this rich yet approachable wine. Serve with rich stews, red meat and game. But our softer, fruit forward style also pairs well with grilled chicken marinated in herbs, flavorful pastas, mushroom and eggplant dishes. [a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (78%), Cabernet Franc (19%) and Merlot (3%)... twelve months in French and American oak]" My notes: There's some black currant aromas in the nose along with smooth French oak and spicy American oak. The colour is a light ruby with a lightness on the rim. Medium-bodied and smooth, without being full, sipper with a nice tart edge, flavours of very subdued black currant but bright. The finish is fairly short ending without much flavour. Not interesting as a sipper - have with light red meats: prime rib, lamb roasted or kebob'd, ham studded with cloves - was too light for a grilled ribeye. Not for cellaring - a commercial red and not recommended. The 750mL bottle is to be released as #537597@$17.95 on January 20, 2007.

ALENTEX PREMIUM 2003, Alentejo, Portugal, 14.0% XD, #021527 $14.95 (Tasted January 11, 2007)

A Vintages release on January 6, 2007 described as "Made with the indigenous Portuguese grapes of Trincadeira, Aragonez and Castelão, Alentex Premium is a great introduction to the fruit-forward nature of Portuguese wines. The warm climate creates wines with complex aromas of ripe berry fruit and vanilla tones from the judicious use of oak. A robust wine for flavourful meat dishes." RP of Winecurrent gives it four of 5 saying "You can't go wrong with this red if you're looking for something to accompany grilled red meats. This is a hearty, full-fruit number that delivers a range of dark fruit flavours, spiciness, and a nice degree of rusticity. It's dry with quite firm tannins and is well priced." The labels states "...shows a deep garnet fading lightly on the edges. ... complex red fruit and toasted vanilla characters... on the palate rich in ripe fruit, full-bodied and with a good tannin structure..." My notes: Let this air for twenty minutes... not because its nose is 'off' but it develops so delicately in the glass: equal parts red cherry and roses. An initial tartness on the lips but a dry berry flavour with light tannin and a vanilla note. The colour of deep ruby with a grenache rim, the finish fades quickly, is smooth on the lips and has a slight mineral edge. A medium-bodied red coming across as too light-bodied for its colour. A drink-now... not a sipper but better paired with red meats lightly seasoned, braised ribs, grilled tomato, cheese and sausage pieces with pita pockets.

DE BORTOLI GULF STATION CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2003, Yarra Valley, Australia, 13.5% D, #015529 $19.95 (Tasted January 9, 2007)

A Vintages release on January 6, 2007 described as "Nice rich, complex, fertile, forest floor aromas loaded with blackcurrants. Some cigar box development coming through. Intense savoury palate with tight acid and firm tannins. (4 of 5, Winestate, Sept./Oct. 2005)." RP of Winecurrent also gives it four of 5 saying "A lovely drop of Cabernet that goes very well with grilled lamb. The flavours are focused and concentrated. Look for blueberry, cassis and spice with great balance and firm tannins. It's drinking well now and will develop nicely over the next three years." My notes: The label claims a Gold medal at the Perth Wine Show in 2004. This has a soft nose of black- and blue-berries, earthy with a peppery edge. The colour is a dense ruby tinged with violet. Each sip has a sharpness that mutes the fullness of fresh dark berries which is the main flavour theme. This sharpness carries through and almost overwhelms the smooth fruit and fine tannin finish. Were it not for the firm nip this would be a super sipper... although if you are into aggressive reds its very interesting. Better paired with red meats, well seasoned and grilled or roasted, a savoury lamb shank or beef tenderloin marinated in herbs and garlic. Cellaring for several years should soften the acids and produce a wonderfully smooth, full-bodied cab sauv.

CHÂTEAU DE GOURGAZAUD CUVÉE MATHILDE 2004, Minervois, France, 13.0% XD, #958629 $12.95 (Tasted January 7, 2007)

A Vintages release on January 6, 2007 described as "This blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre exhibits fine aromas of blueberry, plum, pomegranate and clove. Dry and mellow, it has supple fruit surrounding a pleasant cedary intensity. Medium-bodied with a lingering finish, it is a fine choice for roast beef and stews. (VINTAGES panel, April 2006)" RP of Winecurrent gives it four of 5 saying "This is very good value for a red that delivers quite weighty and concentrated fruit flavours that are complex and layered. .. it's almost astringently dry with firm tannins. Pair it with red meat grilled medium-rare." Natalie gives it 86/100 saying "Peppery notes and black fruit. This wine would be perfect with a pepper steak." My notes: A see through ruby and a nose of delicate berries and cedar. Not a sipper as the flavours, although nicely balanced with acids and tannins, are ho-hum and the finish fades quickly to a brief chalkyness. Better with light to full flavoured red meats such as rack of lamb where a pleasing cherry-berry integrates nicely with the savoury flavours. It could cellar a year but it doesn't have much to develop and it's OK now so why not imbibe? A value 'house' red.

WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE SHIRAZ 2005, Coonawarra, Australia, 14.0% D, #433060 $19.95 (Tasted January 5, 2007)

Winestar comments: "Coonawarra. Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz has developed a reputation for producing this consistently top-quality shiraz. It has aromas reminiscent of ground black pepper, mulberry and raspberry through to blackberry on the riper end of the spectrum. Oak is used to mature and increase the wine's complexity but not to dominate its distinctive cool-climate Coonawarra shiraz characters." My notes: A Vintages release (no date given) of a Fosters company wine. A dark garnet ruby with equal shares of soft cedar, berry and pepper in the nose. Ripe black- and raspberries compose the full-bodied red with a balanced acid and tannin all giving a warm sensation to the palate with the flavours washing the senses. The finish is bright with a drying tarry edge following the fruit making this a sipper for anyone looking for a fresh, full red. Have with hamburgers, grilled red meats, marinated pork or lamb kebobs or a full flavoured cheese assortment. Should be able to cellar this several years. I enjoyed it now and think it's a good value.

CALVET CHATEAU SAINT-GERMAIN 1999, Bordeaux, France, 12.5% D #152587 $13.95 (Tasted January 02, 2007)

A General listing described as "Deep ruby red colour; black cherry, cranberry, mineral and dried herb aromas; dry, medium bodied with a flavourful finish. Serve with herbed crusted lamb, grilled veal or poultry." My notes: Let breathe for thirty minutes or decant and aerate for a light cherry nose and a lingering but light mustiness. A see-through ruby with a slight pink edge and flavours of light cherry/cranberry leading to a finish of bright cherry with a dry edge and fine tannins and leaving a pleasing roundness on the palate. A light- to medium-bodied meal red to be paired with prime rib, pork or lamb with a mild gravy over mashed potatoes and garden veggies. No longer cellarable. A non-intrusive european style red that's fully appreciated if drank leisurely.

Monday, January 01, 2007

January Whites(10): Canada P Gris, Australia Blend, Canada Chard, S Africa Viog, Canada Cider, Chile Chard, Canada Ries, USA Chard, USA SB, NZ Blend

SANDHILL PINOT GRIS 2003 (KING FAMILY VINEYARD), Penticton, BC, 13.5% D, #626002 $15.95 (Retasted January 24, 2007)

My notes: A Vintages release in June 2005 and last tasted in July of the same year with the note ".... The winemaker (Howard Soon) says that changes in King Family vineyard management in 2004 'gave more depth of aromas and flavour, balanced acidity, increased body and greater length'...." I suggested waiting for the 2004 vintage. Vintages never released the 2004 and BC wines seem to be scarcer than ever. The 2003 still has a pale yellow colour. The nose has a slight honey, a slight wildflower with some citrus remaining. Smooth and round on the palate with the citrus holding true... a long finish, bright, round and citrusy. With flavours and texture that would interest sippers, or have with seafood, crab cakes, or cocktail sausages it would be better still with white seafood dishes - was great with grilled breaded telapia fillets. Cellaring has changed this from a young fruity white to a smoother food complement.

CLOVER HILL SPARKLING WINE 2001, Tasmania, Australia, 13.0% D, #588236 $34.95 (Tasted January 24, 2007)

A Vintages release on September 2, 2006 described as "Ranked 'Best in Class' for its category at the prestigious 2005 International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. Fine pale lemon with good stream of bubbles. Lemon scented with dry cracker autolysis, showing chardonnay dominant fruit, balanced elegant and appealing with crisp lemony acidity on the finish. (Judging panel, 2005 International Wine & Spirits Competition)." The Taltarni website claims this has "an attractive Champagne hue of pale straw. A persistent fine, vibrant bead and gentle foaming mousse. The nose has a wonderful layer of complexity that see both fruit and yeast age characters enhancing each other. Hints of almond biscuit and toasty coconut characters derived from the aged reserve wine..... A very elegant, yet rich made complete by the length and breadth of flavours. The flavours of the citrus integrate beautifully with the bread dough from the wines time on tirage...." My notes: A blend of chardonnay(60%), pinot noir(34%) and pinot meunier (6%). A light blond colour, a soft mousse with a small number of fine bubble streams that follow. However, the mousse fills each sip and the senses with a creamy lemon/lime, dry on the palate and a light doughiness blending together as somewhat full-bodied. A great sipper... excellent with anything from French toast to fresh oysters or shrimp kebobs - wouldn't interfere with delicate crab cakes or scallops. Could cellar many years and still retain its freshness and mousseyness. Compared with 'Champagnes' this is at least equivalent value.

EASTDELL BARRELL FERMENTED CHARDONNAY 2003, Beamsville, Canada, 13.0% D, #651505 $18.95 (Retasted January 18, 2007)

My notes: Last tasted in June, 2006. Still a light golden with aromas of pineapple, lemon and slight floral and spice. A nice fullness and on the acidic side, some lemon and slight spice. The finish is strong, very tart, moderately long, and still predominately lemon leaving a sensation of dry succulence. If you like tart then it's a sipper - but not me. Better with a light cheese tray, Asian dishes, a Bento box or with grilled seafood: shrimps, scallops, or white fish dishes. Didn't survive roasted breaded chicken breasts. It could cellar several years but check regulary to see what the acid is doing (it seems to be increasing) - nothing special to expect so I'd drink now.

GRAHAM BECK VIOGNIER 2004, Robertson, S Africa, 14.5% D, #004119 $19.95 (Tasted January 17, 2007)

A Vintages release on September 30, 2006 and described as "This is a deftly crafted Viognier that blends wines from both Beck's Robertson and Franschhoek cellars. The wines were made using the same methods including 50% barrel fermentation and 50% stainless steel. The final blend was matured for four months in second-use French oak barrels before bottling. Expect a full-bodied, silky textured wine with apple and citrus fruit flavours perfectly in balance with the oak characteristics. Enjoy with crab puffs, pan-seared scallops or even a roast turkey dinner." My notes: A light straw colour, aromas of lemon, straw and apple introduce flavours of honeyed lemon and melon albeit with a grassy edge (distributors call it 'herbaceousness'). The fruit fades in a smooth finish leaving the grassiness and a distinct oil film on the lips. Not for solo sipping but excellent with braised shrimp, bacon wrapped scallops, crab cakes, flavoured cheeses or paired with creamy mushroom pasta dishes as well as a variety of white fish dishes. I'd call it 'commercial'... a full-bodied drink-now.

CIDRERIE DU MINOT SPARKLING CIDER, Hemmingford, Quebec, 5.0% MS, #612655 $14.95* (Tasted January 15, 2007)

A General listing described as "Clear straw colour and sparkling; aromas and flavours of fresh apple; off dry on the palate, with refreshing acidity on the finish. Serve with pork chops and apple sauce, or with glazed ham." My notes: *Price reduced to $10.95. A handsome bottle in keeping with a Methode Traditionelle bubbly albeit apple based rather than grape. Has a sweetness code of 4 but you wouldn't know it from the fine mousseux at the rim and the light spritz carrying through the sip. A light blond and a nose of cooking apples, crisp and unsweet - no usual yeasty aromas. The flavours are a bright, light-bodied apple with a refreshing but light tartness. The finish is short and somewhat bland, except for the spritz, compared with a grape based beverage. A universal social sipper... light in alcohol so can be quaffed liberally making it ideal for a summer patio refreshment. Something different and OK at the reduced price.

PUNTA NOGAL CHARDONNAY RESERVA 2005, Valle Casablanca, Chile, 13.5% D, #000760 $13.95 (Tasted January 10, 2007)

A Vintages release on January 6, 2007 described as "Punta Nogal uses carefully selected grapes from their estate vineyards in the cool Casablanca Valley to craft this deliciously concentrated Chardonnay. Half of the juice was fermented and aged in stainless steel, the other half in medium-toast French oak. The resulting wine has exceptional balance between the tropical fruit and toasty oak characteristics. Pair it with penne alla vodka or baked salmon in a cream sauce." The label states "...bright greenish-yellow in colour, with a complex, seductive nose that suggests banana, mocha and vanilla." My notes: A light golden colour with aromas of honey, grass and a delicate wild clover. A buttery, tart, taste of nutty lemon with the citric tang carrying through the long finish. A meal white although given a few years it may soften to a flavourful balanced sipper. Have with a variety of seafood or creamy vegetable pastas, lobster bisque, crab cakes, or a tray of fruit and mild cheeses. A good value lightly oaked chard although quite ascerbic as a drink-now.

THIRTY BENCH 'BEAMSVILLE BENCH' RIESLING 2005, Niagara, Canada, 11.4% D, #024133 $17.95 (Tasted January 8 2007)

A Vintages release on January 6, 2007 described as "Under the new ownership by Andres and the winemaking of Natalie Reynolds Thirty Bench shows off the character of its old vine riesling. Huge nose of petrol, apricot, honey and a squirt of lemon. Medium-full bodied, great grip and balance, with a mineral finish. Very focused. Reminiscent of top German estate riesling, or riesling from the Wachau region of Austria. Excellent length. Best now to 2012, maybe longer. Score - 91. (David Lawrason, Wine Access, Nov. 2006)." VH of Winecurrentt gives it four of 5 saying "This sports one of the new VQA sub-appellations. The lifted nose bursts forth with gorgeous aromas of mineral, floral and distinctive petrol notes. It is medium-bodied, extremely well balanced and provides a full flavour profile of zesty lemon, white peach and Anjou pear. The finish is tangy and medium in length. An extremely well-made Riesling from one of Ontario's revered producers." My notes: Lots of petrol aroma in this young riesling. Pale blond, as close to petrol as I'd like to try and having a cleansing lemon twist with each sip. The finish is dry, nutty retaining the citric tartness and ends with an apricot stone seam. Was OK with breaded chicken breasts grilled and served with fresh vegetables and roast potatoes. Should be equal with grilled telapia or salmon steaks. Seems to have several things going on at the same time - suggesting more than the grape was part of the process. I'd call it 'lopsided'. A few years cellaring may sort out. Less floral and fruity than a German Riesling but a reasonable replication at the right price.

LA CREMA CHARDONNAY 2005, Sonoma Coast, USA, 13.5% D, #962886 $26.95 (Tasted January 7, 2006)

A Vintages release on December 09, 2006 described as "La Crema emulates the great domaines of Burgundy by dedicating themselves solely to the production of great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like this one. With aromas of citrus fruit, pear, figs and toffee, this rich and soft white shows deft balance and has a long, lingering finish. Enjoy with pasta in a cream sauce or seafood risotto." The winemaker, Melissa Stackhouse, says "Fresh aromas of citrus, butterscotch and lemon peel open to appealing hints of jasmine and nutmeg. On the palate, rich buttercream, pear and citrus meld to create a plush, rounded middle, with toast and caramel adding richness and texture to the long, lingering finish." My notes: A faint aroma of citrus, pear and banana, a very light blond colour and flavours of light butterscotch, apple, and lemon with the emphasis on butter.... a texture that's hard not to like when sipping. The finish is fairly short but sufficiently memorable to look forward to the next sip. Pair with anything seafood, cold fresh oysters, a shrimp ring with sauce, or grilled lightly basted wtih garlic butter or natural. Should be able to cellar this up to four years. Available in half bottles as #728352 at $15.95. A higher price than a value but still a very nice mild chard.

ROBERT MONDAVI 'NAPA VALLEY' FUME BLANC 2004, Calif, USA, 14.5% XD, #221887 $24.96 (Tasted January 04, 2007)

A Vintages release on October 28, 2006 described as "Robert Mondavi originated this style of lightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc and dubbed it Fumé Blanc. The aromas include apple, sweet grass, mineral and light toast notes. It has a crisp, refreshing, fruity core and a soft, yet spicy finish, that makes it a perfect partner for grilled snapper or baked pasta." My notes: A frosted bottle gives a light but pleasing nose of pineapple and lime followed by flavours of light gooseberry-melon with a drying texture and a very long, fully rounded, fruity finish. Serve as a sipper or with seafood or mild cheese appetizers, or save for a dinner of shrimp kebobs, chicken thighs marinated in a sweet sauce (Presidents Choice), salmon or arctic char filets or a seafood pot pie with a bowl of chowder. Cellaring for a few years seems reasonable - longer may be stretching it. Couldn't find it on their website. A super white for a variety of occasions.

CLOUDY BAY PELORUS BRUT 2001, Marlborough, NZ, 12.5% D, #338459 $32.95 (Tasted January 01, 2006)

A Vintages release on September 30, 2006 and described as "Adds quite a lot of nuttiness and toast with a straw and hessian dry quality and a core of fruit. Very mouthfilling and rolling mousse, with lots of fruit. There's a citrus quality, but also a sense of mealy, nutty Cox's Pippin [apple] ripeness and good acidity. 89/100 (Tom Cannavan, May 2006). " Natalie MacLean gives it 89/100 saying "Great value. Very dry and toasty." My notes: A yeasty apple and firm citrus nose with volumes of large bubbles effervescing then fading to a fine rim. A sharpness and full spritz from the first sip, and light apple with pronounced acidity - didn't get 'nutty'. The finish is Granny Smith apple, smooth, cleansing and fairly long eventually ending somewhat flat. Should be paired with fresh oysters, grilled shrimp, roasted halibut or other unbattered seafood - wild fowl is also a possibility, and a sampling of mild cheeses. Not as round and fruity as I recall earlier vintages and XD rather than D. Not an exceptional bubbly for the price.

VQA or not VQA?

January 17, 2007 -
A popular source of extensive recommendations for economical wines, mostly available from the LCBO, is Billy's Best Bottles. A monthly E-Wineletter can be requested through Billy Munnelly's website .

The January 07 E-Wineletter asks the question:
"Do you think that a wine should conform to the accepted expectations of its grape variety, or can it be whatever the winemaker wants it to be? Must a wine be 'true' or can it be 'original'?"

My reply: A wine drinker that chooses his wines according to 'Fresh, Nice, Rich, etc.' doesn't have to be all that concerned with terroir, varietal aroma, flavour, and texture or body. Nor does he have to be concerned with a vintner's long heritage of planting and nurturing vines over good and bad vintages - all elements of a 'true' wine.

In fact, neither is his choice clouded by endless shelves of shifting LCBO stock. The wine taster, whether trained or intuitive, has already categorized the wines in such a manner and listed them in a handy book called
Billy's Best Bottles . This lets the drinker quickly match a wine to the moment, then relax and enjoy.

An 'original' wine, or as in the question 'whatever the winemaker wants it to be', would give more latitude to the winemaking process - and these days that is considerable. In fact, VQA accreditation doesn't limit the kind, amount nor number of additives that the winemaker has at his disposal - as long as he complies with the Food and Drug Act and uses 100% local grapes. So he can choose to let his vines be full of grape clusters - to increase volumes. He can choose to machine harvest rather than hand pick prime grapes - to lower harvesting costs. He can mix vineyard crops as long as he labels according to VQA specifications.

Doing all of these things compromises 'trueness' but it doesn't matter since the winemaker can add enzymes, imported yeast strains, nitrogen for colour and body, nutrients and tannins (from European grape skins) to normalize, as the 'biolab manual' recommends, the aromas, brightness and balance of 'whatever he wants it to be' whether true to the varietal or not. And VQA doesn't restrict nor monitor the addition of these materials nor does it require labelling to reflect this 'doctoring'..... nor do we know what vintners are doing in other countries since the LCBO doesn't ask and the vintners aren't telling..... but they are likely doing 'whatever the winemaker wants' - and that's to make money.

January 24, 2007 -
I thought I'd expand on an observation mentioned in my Favourites of 2006 - first, so some could rebut if I've missed something or, so some can at least be aware of it.

My concern is whether VQA accreditation is being usurped as a result of not keeping up with where technology is taking winemaking these days.

I've noticed a higher number of 'commercial' wines on Ontario LCBO shelves. I'm starting to sense a gradual but quickening change in winemaking as Corporations take over artisan wineries through mergers, the purchase of vineyards, and generally a shift in what used to be heritage devotion.

My specific concern is the introduction of 'additives' to many wines. It's not New versus Old World and it's far more extensive than switching from sugar to aspartame as in colas. Some of the wines I've tasted are like, if not Frankenstein creations, fictional characters from the Batman series: Riddler - 'can you guess the wine?', Joker - 'bad grapes but good chemistry. The jokes on you!'.

At first I thought these were simply the result of volume production methods ... compromises on grapes, volume blending and fermentation, and tailoring wines for certain markets. I then noticed what appeared to me as exaggerated characteristics: unusual aromas or - as I thought of them -lopsided noses, colours too vivid for the varietal, a glycerine mouthfeel, lemondrop acids, etc.

This week I Googled for the 'rules' for VQA accreditation... and found that as long as vintners used a minimum percentage of local grapes, a sample of their wines tasted OK to a panel, they complied with the Food and Drug Act and paid the fees, a wine could affix 'VQA' to its label. VQA appears not to restrict 'additives' to enhance the wine. I Googled for 'wine additives' and found reference to products for the wine industry sold by 'Gusmer Enterprises' - surely one of many such Companies. Their 'Wine Products Catalog' lists a collection of Yeasts strains, Enzymes, Bacteria, Nutrients, Tannins (from European grape skins), Oak alternatives, etc. each to improve, compensate or change the taste, textures, finish, colour and flavours of various varietal based wines. 

What I thought was a label of merit (VQA) and to some extent an assurance to consumers is becoming marketing hype. Some wineries are becoming chemistry laboratories importing ingredients in HazMat containers and still eligible to show 'VQA' accreditation. Without a change consumers will lose touch with the vitality of varietals, the terroir of vineyards, vintage variations and the heritage and artistry of winemaking. How can we avoid 'Riddler' when we pay for Opus? I think we need more specific rules for VQA and/or more definitive labeling, eg. 'This Wine Contains Only Local Ingredients'.

I have no idea if, how, or whether accreditation or labeling is recognizing this direction in winemaking in other countries - so Buyer Beware!

Favourites of 2006

My 'Favourites of 2006' are based on tastings throughout the year as documented in this blog. The basis for narrowing the hundreds of wines tasted to these few is not scientific - just my taste buds including my bias for New World style wines. If you have tried any of the wines and have similar conclusions - or not - it'll be based on your taste buds and bias. You can't be wrong and you can certainly differ.

Observations: During the past year the LCBO has dedicated more shelf space to Ontario wines. The best Ontario wines, I believe, are still available only from the wineries many being produced in volume too low for a listing. It pays to visit the wineries. Also there seemed to be fewer BC wines in 2006 which is a shame.... and there appeared to be more 'commercial' wines. To me 'commercial' wines are produced using grapes, additives (see and equipment to increase production volumes and to target specific markets. Often these wines have characteristics untrue to their terroir or vintage and corrupt the heritage of the vintners and wineries that originated them. In Canada, VQA - and its equivalent in other countries - is becoming corrupted.

There's no doubt that in 2006 there were more appealing wines that made their way to Ontario. But the successes seem to have increased the bottle price. Don't get me wrong... wineries should be rewarded for the care and nurturing of their vineyards and for their talent. If they were the primary beneficiaries all's well. Often the 'service' of offering a wine doesn't change but the reward to provide this service does. As consumers, we need to be shrewder in finding values amongst the thousands of LCBO releases. We can rely partly on the many faithful wine critics but their interests may not be entirely compatible with ours. No one's taste buds are infallible - hurried tastings, biases or preferences, business pressures, publication schedules, etc. make their job difficult. I simply ask myself after a few sips whether I'd buy more of the wine that's being recommended. As a result I've settled on a few critics that come closest to my tastes. I've also adopted a few rules of thumb:

- The leftovers from a Vintages release are there for a reason.
- For a General listed wine I look for an almost bare section on the shelf.
- Price doesn't mean a thing.
- Ratings aren't an indication of what you like.
- The main role of the LCBO staff is to sell wine.

I hope the following is useful in some way. Happy imbibing! Wino Will

Reds - of 203 Tastings (including 3 Sparkling and 41 Retastings):
Rodney Strong Cab Sauv 2003, USA, #226944 $19.95 (Dec 10)
Clos de los Siete 2004, Argentina, #622571 $24.95 (Dec 8)
Cremaschi Furlotti Family Limited Edition Cab Sauv/Syrah/Carmenere 2003, Chile, #014183 $17.95 (Nov 26)
Kaesler ‘Stonehorse' GSM 2004, Australia, #006551 $19.95 (Nov 12)
Rodney Strong Merlot 2002, USA, #497933 $19.95 (Oct 20)
Tommasi Valpolicella Classico Superiore ‘Ripasso' 2003, Italy, #910430 $19.95 (Oct 18)
Terreliade 'Nira' Nero D'Avola 2003, Italy, #688762 $15.95 (Oct 13)
Graham Beck Brut Rose 2004, Robertson, S. Africa, #004085 $21.95 (Oct 1)
Jeanneret Grenache/Shiraz 2004, Australia, B&W Wines $22.46 (Sep 7)
Gray Monk Pinot Noir 2004, Canada, #251835 $17.95 (Aug 27)
Vina La Rosa ‘La Capitana' Merlot 2004, Chile, #655209 $14.95 (Aug 26)
Margan Family Shiraz Saignee Rose 2006, Australia, #675447 $15.95 (Aug 16)
Beelgara Estate 'The Gun Shearer' Cab Sauv 2003, Australia, #684167 $17.95 (Aug 3)
Sileni ‘Cellar Selection' Pinot Noir 2005, New Zealand, #694901 $17.95 (Jul 26)
J. Lohr ‘Seven Oaks' Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, USA, #656561 $19.95 (Jun 23)
Corte Zovo 'Sa Solin' Ripasso 2003, Italy, #650713 $15.95 (Jun 21)
Juniper Crossing Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2003, Australia, #684019 $15.95 (Jun 14)
Richard Hamilton 'Gumprs' Shiraz 2002, Australia, #600122 $19.95 (Jun 10)
Elderton 'Friends' Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Australia, #595389 $17.95 (May 31)
Nepenthe Charleston Pinto Noir 2003, Australia, #682054 $17.95 (May 1)
Bolla 'Le Poiane' Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2001, Italy, 1#135293 $19.95 (Apr 15)
Deen de Bortoli Vat 8 Shiraz 2004, Australia, #621649 $14.95 (Mar 28)
Vina Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2003, Chile, #358309 $16.95 (Mar 26)
Vina Carmen Grande Vidure Cab Sauv Reserve 2003, Chile, #439166 $16.95 (Mar 19)
Tyrrell's 'Rufus Stone' Shiraz, Australia, #542100 $19.95 (Jan 21)

Whites - 171 Tastings (including 23 Sparkling and 26 Retastings):
Graham Beck Blanc des Blancs Premier Cuvee Brut 2001, South Africa, #907568 $20.95 (Dec 15)
Renwood Select Series Viognier 2004, USA, #018762 $19.95 (Dec 13)
Furst Lowenstein Riesling Kabinett 2005, Germany, #505461 $17.95 (Nov 11)
Calera Chardonnay 2002, California, #713313 $19.95 (Oct 30)
Hedges Cellars ‘CMS White 2004, USA, #008680 $16.95 (Oct 18)
Inycon Fiano 2004, Italy, #670810 $11.95 (Oct 12)
Elderton 'Unwooded' Chardonnay 2006, Australia, #906453 $14.95 (Sep 29)
Fairhall Downs Sauvignon Blanc 2005, New Zealand, #990580 $17.95 (Sep 7)
Vina La Rosa 'La Capitana' Chardonnay 2004, Chile, #685834 $13.95 (Aug 4)
'NCT' Warren Classic 'Piekan Vineyard' Chard 2004, Canada, Winery $27.95 (Jul 30)
Martin & Weyrich Chardonnay 2002, USA, #686097 $18.95 (Jul 5)
Villa Sandi 'Cuvee' Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Italy, #738542 $17.95 (Jul 2)
Anselmi San Vincenzo Veneto IGT 2005, Italy, #948158 $15.95 (Jun 30)
Kanu Chenin Blanc 2004, South Africa, #675421 $11.95 (Jun 10)
Ninth Island Sauvignon Blanc 2005, Australia, #606897 $19.95 (May 27)
Foss Marai Prosecco Extra Dry 'Blue Bottle', Italy, #729392 $17.95 (May 27)
Seifried Nelson Riesling 2005, New Zealand, #989541 $16.95 (May 13)
Mike Weir Estate Chardonnay 2004 VQA, Canada, #000026 $15.95 (Apr 3)
August Kesseler 'R' Rielsing 2004, Germany, #674002 $16.95 (Mar 20)
Villa Sandi Prosecco NV, Italy, #249722 $13.15 (Mar 1)
Santi Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie 2004, Italy, #637603 $13.00 (Feb 20)
Cardinham Riesling 2003, Australia, #694562 $15.95 (Feb 7)
Bortolomiol 'Selezione Banda Rosa' Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene, Italy, #664649 $17.95 (Feb 6)
Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2004, Canada, #321612 $15.95 (Jan 26)
Cave Spring Pinot Gris 2004, Canada, #621086 $16.95 (Jan 18)