Sunday, August 12, 2007

Are You Being Conned?

Each time you buy wine there's a strong possibility you've been conned. It's like buying a used car - if you haven't taken it for a test drive you're taking a chance. And I've heard odds such as one in ten to one in twenty for selecting a 'good' one off the shelf without a recommendation. You can't believe the salesman. You can't believe the label. Nor does price mean anything. For the best odds, follow a wine critic - just keep in mind they have their own tastes not yours. The business is full of talking heads, kilted comics, street buskers, mood matchers, blogging authors and self proclaimed oenologists. There's more than a few wine country encyclopedists to exile your tastes into varietal and terroir mumbo jumbo, Niagara evangelists and hucksters doing tricks with glasses. I'm not criticizing any... most are entertaining. They're just trying to earn a buck from the noble grape in an ever burgeoning field. BUT the sooner you know you're on your own the more you'll enjoy the wine you drink!

I'm just a consumer that's made many trips to the LCBO and read innumerable wine columns, in print and on the internet. I'd like to pass along some observations and, hopefully, some helpful tips. Fortunately, you can start turning the odds in your favour with your very next vino purchase.

Now, if you want to skip most of this diatribe just skip to the underlined section below:

First my observations: Argentina and Chile are being touted as countries that offer 'value' wines, wines in the $12 to $18 range and rated 88 - 92. Most of the wines I've tasted from these countries have been exemplary in both their varietal traits and the winemaker's skill to select fruit and blend for excellent results. Generally speaking I've very much enjoyed their wines and after many tastings have found some consistent values. This doesn't mean there hasn't been exceptions - nor that there aren't excellent values from other countries. It just takes me fewer tastings to isolate the values from Argentina and Chile. There's a reason for this...

Most countries (not excluding Argentina and Chile) are introducing what I will coin 'Low Cost Beverages', ie. dumbed down products at a lower price point, $8 to $12. LCBs take advantage of high volume production methods and rely on higher tonnage crops and the harvest from whole regions in the respective country. I haven't read any favourable reviews and, it would appear, LCBs are being ignored by most critics.

I'll mention Tetra Pak products at this point. A Tetra Pak is simply a carton or a packaging option which facilitates high volume production and lowers shipping costs. A Tetra Pak could actually contain a quality wine although those I've tasted so far are drink-nows, ie. not for cellaring. Critics review them occasionally but, as in the case for LCBs, I can't recall any that have been favourable. Unfortunately LCBs sometimes are packaged as Tetra Paks giving the latter a bad rap.

Then there are entry level wines or elws. In contrast to LCBs, elws have been around for quite awhile and are an entirely different category. Wine levels or 'tiers', in which the first level is the lowest priced label for a vintner's product range, are primarily based on the winemaker's view of the vintage year and grape selection. It's when a profit motive replaces this natural selection with nondescript grapes and/or chemical recipes that entry level wines turn into LCBs.

The conclusion I draw is that a subculture of the wine industry, often part of large conglomerates, has decided there is considerable money to be made from a lower cost beverage. In some cases the low cost of grapes, either excess from name wineries or from coop vineyards, allows extremely high margins. The fruit need not be varietals but anything resembling a grape and additives can be used to compensate for missing varietal traits. There's no requirement to tell you what's in the bottle. A whole marketing facade is built around publicizing, pushing, and propagandizing to attain and expand consumer acceptance of these new labels. LCBs present a real downside to consumers. I don't see any regulatory body ready to step up to the challenge of controlling what can be done in the name of 'wine' and critics tend to go with the flow - it's not investigative journalism. It's left up to you.

But simply producing LCBs doesn't guarantee they'll sell. The question becomes 'How do you get people to buy inferior wines?' I submit there are two ways to do this:

1. Marketing campaigns - expand the customer base to those that are new to or are unfamiliar with real wines
  • Glamorize the product often enough and some of it will stick.
  • Use Brand names associated with popular events or are colourful, catchy, sexy and sometimes, shocking.
  • Advertise concern for the environment, for wildlife preservation - whatever a regional interest might be.
  • Use traditional terms and names inferring they still apply - the products appear as 'wine'.
2. Pricing
  • Replace lower tier wines with LCBs at the same price point.
  • Raise prices for each tier product thereby widening the price gap and encouraging the purchase of LCBs.
  • Expand 'tier' branding to differentiate product levels and further segment the market.
Now to 'start turning the odds in your favour'. Choose to be a discriminating consumer.
  • Read the label... ignore the motherhood, the marketing BS and the packaging. Does it tell you anything about the contents: aroma, flavour, vintage or vineyards? If it doesn't, It's a con, move on. If it does, go to the next step.
  • Read again as you taste the product. Did the label fairly represent your experience? If it doesn't, you've been conned. But you may still like it.
  • Regardless of the labeling, would you get it in when guests are coming? If not... jot the name down indelibly in your 'don't buy' column. Jot down the name of the Company producing your plonk as well. If it conned you once it'll con you again with another label.
Negative or positive.... do something with what you've discovered. Tell your friends, publish a blog, and never hesitate to take a wine back. You'll help keep someone else from being conned!
Good luck, Ww

Friday, August 03, 2007

August Reds (14): Argentina Cab Sauv, Malbec; Australia Blend; Canada Blend; Chile Carm, CSauv(3), Merl, Syrah; Italy Blend(2); S Africa Shir; USA Zin

BARON PHILLIPPE DE ROTHSCHILD RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005, Maipo Valley, Chile, 14.5% XD, #032151 $14.95 (Tasted August 26, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 18, 2007 described as "The most recent project of the Rothschild family in Chile is a line of regionally designated wines. In each region they chose the variety best suited to the growing conditions of the area. Maipo Valley is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon, and this well-delineated wine has flavours of black fruit, with hints of cedar and fine-grained tannins. This classic Bordeaux-styled Cabernet could be cellared for 2-3 years or enjoy it tonight with roasted red meats." Gord Stimmell (G&M, Aug 18) gives this 89/100 saying "shows lots of heft for the price, with aromas and flavours both showing solid blackberry, cedar and vanilla.... plummy lingering finish." My notes: An opaque carmen with a violet hue and aromas of blackberry and smoky vanilla. The flavours are fully developed but balanced having an overall 'black fruit' result. A silky sipper, full-bodied, not quite 'chewable' and with a soft blackberry finish that continues for a long warm while. This has subtle brightness and tannins to accompany the fruit and its fullness makes it great for anything flavourful and beefy. If you don't mind a subdued fruit cellaring four years could add more lustre even to what it has now. A mellow cab to share with close friends and well worth a dozen or so.

IN SITU WINEMAKER'S SELECTION CARMENÈRE 2004, Aconcagua Valley, Chile, 14.0% D, #037952 $13.95 (Tasted August 25, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 18, 2007 and produced by Viña San Esteban. "This wine won a Gold Medal at the prestigious Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. The wine has an intense ruby red colour and the nose is concentrated showing red fruits, light spice and hints of earth. The palate has the soft, voluptuous texture typical of fully ripened Carmenère... " RP of Winecurrent gives it four (of 5) saying "There’s an interesting floral note to the ripe berries and dark fruit in the aromatics of this wine. It gives way to full-flavoured, ripe dark fruit and berries on the palate, all wrapped in a soft, smooth texture. Medium-full bodied and dry, this one’s ready to go as soon as you lift the well-seasoned steak from the grill." My notes: A cherry red with aromas of tangy redcurrant and cherry and flavours of much the same with a firm tannin added. On the lightish side of medium-body with a drying mouthfeel starting the finish and having a redcurrant follow through. An interesting dry sipper different than traditional varietals, very bright with a sour cherry ending. A meal red rather than a sipper. Have with grilled beef or a pepperoni, tomato and garlic pizza as I did. Can't see this cellaring more than a year so a drink-now. At the right price although I wouldn't get it in for company.

Geelong, Australia, 14.5% D, #041244 $17.95 (Tasted August 25, 2007)

 A Vintages release on August 18, 2007 described as "Named for William Buckley, a giant at 'six foot six', who escaped a prison ship just as it laid anchor at Geelong, Australia in 1803... His stature is matched in the ripe, masculine, vibrancy of this big, bold Shiraz. Try it with expansively flavoured meat dishes." RP of Winecurrent gives it four (of 5) saying "This is a big... and bold Shiraz in the Australian style. It’s not quite Shiraz on steroids, because the touch of Viognier adds a lighter note to the aromas and texture... you’ll enjoy the bold weight and rich dark berry and fruit flavours here, especially if you match it with well-seasoned lamb." My notes: A blend of 97% shiraz and 3% viognier... a deep ruby colour with a lighter rose edge and aromas of cherry, blackberry, light floral and black pepper. Medium-bodied, a tangy edge to the intro with flavours including mint, blackberry, redcurrant and a lemon touch. A noticeably different shiraz having a much lighter pepper or spice presence. With just 3% viognier I'd guess the shiraz grapes to be less full than expected with the viognier adding aroma and body highlights. Moderate oaking makes this a less robust sipper. A long smooth finish with the berries and a light citrus in the foreground. This became very smooth when paired with a steak and cheese sub with jalepenos and chipolte sauce. Should be equally complementary with any flavourful meat dish. A wine you could take anywhere.

Central Valley, Chile, 13.5% D, #687681 $13.95 (Tasted August 23, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 18, 2007 described as "... this wine won a Gold Medal at the 4th Annual Wines of Chile Awards in 2007. Look for aromas of cherry, berry and mint, with nice replays of flavours on the palate and a peppery finish. Enjoy with grilled steak or pasta with meat sauce." Gord Stimmell (G&M, Aug 18) gives this 90/100 saying "... Rich aromas of blackberry, cedar, mocha, chocolate and vanilla. Best red of the Release." My notes: A deep ruby garnet hued colour with aromas of smoky blackberry, pepper and mint - didn't get the 'cedar, mocha, chocolate and vanilla'. The approach is bright, clean and dry tannin with firm flavours of red cherries and slight cedar. The dryness carries well into a long finish of woody red cherries. A meal red... have with grilled or roasted beef, rare or well done - a prime rib or rack of lamb would enjoy its company. Likely will cellar a year but not longer... the body is lightish medium without any substantial fruit presence - an european cab sauv. A value red for short term cellaring - buy by the case.

Veneto, Italy, D 13.5%, #650713 $16.95 (Tasted August 20, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 18, 2007 described as "This fabulous Ripasso has been a major hit in Ontario since its first release two years ago. It has the structure to match with flavourful dishes, such as gourmet hamburgers or roast leg of lamb, but its upfront fruit-forward style also makes it a pleasant sipping wine." RP of Winecurrent gives it four and one half (of 5) saying "If you haven’t tried an Italian red recently, this will show you the way back. It has lovely sweet fruit (cherry, berries) with moderate complexity that’s forward but complex. It’s very well balanced, medium bodied, and lightly tannic, and it goes nicely with anything from pizza to burgers, from veal to lamb." My notes: Very much like the 2003 when released, a bright ruby colour, soft cherry nose with luscious cherry and berry flavours mixed with a light anise likely from the ripasso rendition. Very pleasing as a dry, medium-bodied sipper finishing long and with enough brightness to pair with grilled steak or a hefty three meat pizza. The 2003 cellared a year+ before losing fruit - I think this will do the same. A dollar more but still worth a dozen or so imho. Go for it!

Veneto, Italy, D 13.5%, #650713 $15.95 (Retasted August 14, 2007)

My notes: Vintages released this on June 24, 2006 and my first tasting was the same month. VH of Winecurrent had given it five (of 5) and Natalie MacLean, 87/100. I agreed with the comments made at the time by Winecurrent and purchased a slew. The overall smoothness added to the cherry and plum flavours by a seam of licorice was compelling. I retasted March 2, 2007 concluding the short time cellared had improved the body and mellowness without any loss of bright cherry flavour. Now six months later the fruit is very much subdued: a light smoky herby aroma with flavours void of cherry but still having a spicy allure and silky texture. A pleasing sipper. Have with salt herring or smoked salmon on a bagel, sliced ham or seared pork chop. Cellaring longer isn't fruitful... have a family open house to use what's racked.

Calif. USA, 14.5% XD, #678698 $17.95 (Retasted August 13, 2007)

My notes: A Vintages release with the date unkown and without a description at the time. I last tasted in April, 2006 with the comment "A 'prickly' cedar nose with possibly a raw plum note. A dense ruby colour, full-bodied with a prune and cherry flavour and a strong tannic, acid bite. Improves slightly with decanting but nothing worthwhile imho. The finish is long, sharp and tannic craving a grilled steak or full-flavoured stew - not a sipper etc." Natalie MacLean (Good Values Mar 30/2006) gave it 90/100 tied as her Favourite Red. On the other hand Gismondi's website ranked it 85/100. Tasted today this zinfandel has a warm nose of plums and black cherries with some smoky oak all in the background. The first swish cleanses the palate thoroughly leaving flavours of black cherries and equal parts gnarly-ness or a dry stemmy edge. Finishes long, round but still bright and as much smoke as fruit on the palate. A tart sipper... more of a dinner red... with something spicy and rare. Did not go with ham sliced thick off the bone and bbq'd - too robust and steely edged. This has mellowed quite a bit in a year... I'd say it has met the 85/100 at this point.

Western Cape, South Africa, 14.5% D, #027805 $13.10 1000mL Tetra Pak (Tasted August 11, 2007)

A General listing produced by United Nations of Wine and described as "Deep red in colour; aromas of spice, plum & berries; flavours of berry & vanilla. Serve with beef dishes." Gismondi rates it 84/100 saying "The Frisky red doesn't really overcome that meaty earthy SA nose that permeates most red wine from the Cape. The entry mixes blueberries leather and smoky, cigar flavoured fruit that finishes soft and spicy. Simple, red wine at an affordable price." A brilliant package labelled as 'Premium' and described as . 'Swirling hues of deep dark ruby red whisper of things to come. Wild berries and savoury spices arouse immediate interest. Loads of berries, spices and herbs with hints of vanilla and malted dark chocolate... " My notes: Equivalent to $9.90 for 750mL so not a bad price if it was as advertised on the label - but it isn't. A ruby red with a distinct violet hue and aromas of peppery plums, earthy and warm to the nose. Smooth on the tongue from the first sip, medium-bodied, black plums, blueberries and chocolate with a pepper edge. Some tars and 'bandaid' with less fruit on the long smoky finish but not objectionable... less noticeable with food. A passable sipper for some - my BH didn't get passed the first sip tho'. Pair with anything flavourful and/or spicy: steak, rack of lamb, homeburger with the works, three meat pizza. Not bad for a $10 wine... seemed natural enough to me. No, I wouldn't get it in for guests.

Argentina, 13.0% D, #589523 $10.20 (Tasted August 08, 2007)

A General Listing described as "Medium violet/ruby colour; currants, cherries, oak and spice and lavendar on the nose; dry, medium-full-bodied with a ripe fruit centre, supple tannins and good length on the finish. Serve with grilled steak, roast beef or pork or roasted vegetables." and produced by Bodegas Esmeraldas. The website tasting notes are "... a dark ruby red colour with a concentrated nose of fresh cherries and a touch of eucalyptus. The ripe plum and red currant flavours are meshed with shades of spice and cedar from oak ageing and transforms into a long, lingering finish characterized by ripe, sweet tannins." My notes: No significant nose - in the least I couldn't discern 'oak', 'spice' or 'lavender', the others, perhaps if I close my eyes and make a wish. A light- to medium-bodied wine, very soft from the first sip with remnants of blackberries or black cherries, balanced acid and faint fine tannin. The finish is moderately long if left undisturbed. This red is light on everything you'd look for in a cabernet sauvignon but what's there seems natural. Too meek when paired with blackened sirloin and garlic potatoes. More of a social sipper.

Argentina, 12.7% D, #518431 $9.00 (Tasted August 08, 2007)

A General listing described as "Medium deep ruby red/garnet; Aromas and flavours of ripe black berry, currant, plum, violet, cherry and herb; Dry, medium bodied, with soft tannins; medium long finish, warm spicy notes; easy drinking style. Serve with grilled steak; slow cooked meat stews; mushroom influenced dishes." and produced by Canandaigua Winery Fecovita a unit of Constellation Brands. My notes: A deep ruby colour, medium-bodied with no detectable or perhaps a neutral nose. A sateen texture, well balanced acids and soft plum flavour. Paired with a white bean soup it was hardly noticeable - more of a soft flavour change after early courses. The finish added a faint fig that waned quickly. A social sipper. Have at family get togethers where the fare could be hot dogs or cold sliced ham.

20 BEES GROWER'S RED 2005, Niagara, Canada, 12.1% D, #053975 $12.15 1000mL Tetra Pak (Tasted August 07, 2007)

My notes: Made by Niagara Vintners Inc., a Company founded by 'nineteen growers and one chief winemaker' for the purpose of making 'great tasting, unpretentious wines at an unpretentious price'. The label goes on to say, '100% Homegrown Grapes' so no imported juices used, however, this General listed product was located in the 'Cellared in Canada' section. Also the website claims 'All our wines are VQA' but doesn't have tasting notes for their tetra pak products nor does the carton have the VQA accreditation. The colour is a lightish ruby with an aroma of fresh red cherries. Well balanced acid and fruit, soft tannins (if any), light-bodied, smooth from the first sip and a moderate finish that's bright with light red cherries remaining on the palate. The equivalent of $9.15 for 750mL, this could be a very profitable house red. Definitely not demonstrative - a social sipper for family get togethers or anytime one feels like unscrewing the cap. I'd guess something like tempranillo and a touch of malbec in the blend - could use some cab sauv. 'Great' No. 'Unpretentious' Yes. Should be OK with light dishes: ham steak, hot or cold sliced turkey, salmon or chicken pieces on greens. Strictly a drink-now.

Maipo Valley, Chile, 14.5% D, #041715 $18.95 (Tasted August 05, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 04, 2007 described by their Panel as "Layers of plum, chocolate, spice and blackberry aromas waft out of the glass. Dry and flavourful with fine mid-palate tannins and a pretty sweet spiciness on the finish. This medium full-bodied, long-finishing wine is a good choice for roast beef with root vegetables and roast potatoes." Natalie MacLean rated it 88/100 noting "A rich, full-bodied and chocolatey wine." My notes: Is a ruby red with no shadings and, after airing twenty minutes, has an aroma of red cherries, blackberries and white pepper. Medium-bodied with flavours that basically follow the nose: blackberries but with dark chocolate sprinkled with slight but persistent pepper. Velvety smooth on the first sip continuing to a long finish ending with smoky chocolate and black olives. A very acceptable sipper as a dry european style red. More appropriately companion'd with a grilled or roasted meat entree where the natural fruit sweetness could be highlighted. Not sure where or when this will appear on their website... as with the Ramirana Reserva Cab Sauv (#041467) I could not find this label listed. It would be interesting to see where this goes after four years cellaring. An OK drink-now for the price and could evolve into something special.

VIÑA LA ROSA ‘LA CAPITANA' MERLOT 2004, Cachapoal Valley, Chile, 14.5% XD, #655209* $14.95 (Retasted August 05, 2007)

Purchased August 2006 and last tasted February, 2007. My notes: A blend of Merlot(85%), Carmenère(10%) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Warm aromas of cedar humidor and blackberries pleasingly nip the nose, with a deep garnet ruby colour. A flavourful blackberry and unsweetened chocolate on the tongue with supporting tars and very fine tannins to make this a robust sipper. The smooth finish is full of warmth, some lingering tars and dry fruit. Pairing with grilled or roasted meats, lamb or beef, would be a perfect dinner duo. Cellaring for the year has integrated textures and developed earthy flavours at the expense of fruity freshness. There is sufficient left for an additional year. A 'merlot with spirit' now approaching 'aggressive'. Was a bargain but *no longer listed.
Colchagua, Chile, 14.0% D, #041467 $14.95 (Tasted August 03, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 4, 2007 described as "A great wine for grilled steak due to its rich fruit aromas and flavours of blueberry, cassis and oak spice. This fruity wine is also quite elegant, with good balance and structure. It is ready to drink, but will also reward 1-3 years in a cellar." VH of Winecurrent gives it four (of 5) saying "This highlights Chile's expertise and further potential in producing fairly-priced, full-flavoured Cab from this cooler-climate region. Look for subtle aromas of red berry fruit and mint then a lovely sensation as sweet cassis... minty chocolate and earthy flavours wash over your palate. Not overdone, this is well balanced and well structured with ripe, fine-grained tannins and the perfect amount of zest for interest and a dry clean finish... very good value." My notes: A distinct violet hue to the ruby red with aromas of plum, blackberry and soft leather - then velvet textures carry flavours of red cherries and blackberries along with a dry mineral aspect of crushed granite. The finish is moderate ending on a delectable note of warm berries. No need to air as a sipper... and would be a great companion to things beefy: grilled, roasted, stewed, or crockpotted - with lots of mushrooms, gravy, mashed carrot and turnip. A year or two cellaring will give some improvement but this is drinking well now. Light on boldness for serious cab sauv drinkers but otherwise it will have a large following. I agree, 'very good value'.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

August Whites (17): Argentina Chard(2), PG, SB; Australia Chard(2); Canada Blend, Chard(2), Gew, Ries(2), Vid; Chile Chard, SB; France Blend; NZ Chard

FLAT ROCK CELLARS NADJA'S VINEYARD RIESLING 2006 VQA, Niagara, Jordan, 10.5% XD, #Winery $20.15 (Tasted August 28, 2007)

Purchased after a selection of all good whites at this modern, gravity flow winery. FR's tasting notes describes this as " in mineral and citrus notes. Crisp and delightfully different." Gord Stimmell rated it a 90 in his column September 19 saying "A phenomenal single vineyard riesling. Lovely peach aromas, with lime, apple and floral complexity. etc.... Absolutely delicious, and amazing for under $20." My notes: A light golden with a greenish hue with aromas of floral spice including a noticeable sharpness. Very clean like biting into a lime slice but with faint flavours of stone peach and grapefruit. The tartness continues through a moderate finish. This could be used as a dry aperitif setting up the buds for fresh oysters or cleaning the palate over nibbles of strong cheeses, Pair with fresh seafood dishes with lots of butter and garlic for the tartness to chew on. Cellaring is a question mark to me... might try two years then decide... likely would mellow with a light petrol appearing if cellared four to eight years. A good choice for selected imbibers.

Beamsville Bench, Niagara, 14.0% MD, #Winery $15.15 (Tasted August 27, 2007)

My notes: Each of winemaker Steve Kocsis' wines are uniquely different, this made from grapes grown at his Hillside Drive vineyards. The colour is a very light blond with a green tinge. The aroma is slightly of apricots but mostly straw with flavours of citrus, somewhat sharp not unlike unripened grape clusters. Finishes with a waning citrus - neither lime or lemon but light orange through the tartness - and leaving a very dry feel on the palate. If there's any natural sugar it's not apparent. Paired with warmed up rotisseried chicken pieces this had little complementary to offer, the dry citrus added no texture nor interest between chicken nibbles. The grapes in this vintage needed some oak help to add texture and flavour. If you are looking for a citric sharpness with crushed stems as the main flavour then go for it otherwise it's not recommended.CASA LAPOSTOLLE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2006, Rapel Valley, Chile, 14.5% XD, #396994 $13.95 (Tasted August 26, 2007)
A Vintages release on August 18, 2007 described as "Casa Lapostolle has established itself as one of the most dependable Chilean producers of quality wines at value prices. Their Rapel Valley Sauvignon Blanc has an attractive nose of sweet citrus and melon, with hints of fresh herbs. The palate is medium-bodied with a refreshing vein of acidity and light clean finish. This is a great all-purpose summer white that can match a variety of lighter dishes. It would also serve as an excellent palate refresher before a meal." Gord Stimmell (G&M, Aug 18) gives this 89/100 saying "...this brims with tropical pineapple, lime and sorrel aromas, with flavours showing crisp apple and pineapple purity... " My notes: A reasonably priced SB with an abundant gooseberry, lime and straw nose and flavours to match. With 10% semillon this is bright on the tongue and slightly rounded with a drying straw finish. A pleasing sipper but with an aftertaste that is somewhat artificial - or perhaps it's the semillon in the mix. There's enough zip to pair with a rotisseried chicken doused with Montreal rub. A drink-now and OK for nondiscerning guests.
LANSON BLACK LABEL BRUT CHAMPAGNE NV, Champagne, France, 12.5% D, #041889 $44.95 (Retasted August 20, 2007)

Tasted in February, 2006. Vintages described this as a bubbly that "showcases superb quality at an agreeable price. etc." Wine Spectator had blessed it with 91 points and the label says: "..a pleasant, exuberant wine - can be enjoyed at any time: as an aperitif, with food, or at all celebrations..." Toronto Life gives the 2006 96/100 saying "Solid, serious traditional champagne, with intense lime, toasted nuts, lemon and dried fruit. Medium-full bodied, firm and dry, with a great beam of acidity." I tasted at the time with the comment "A crystal clear golden blond with a clean yeasty, white chocolate aroma... I could have it anytime, as a sipper or with fresh seafood tidbits including crabcakes. Has a long finish, cleansing to the palate and warming after a few sips... but shouldn't there be some 'mousseyness' at this price level?" My notes: I certainly don't understand the mystique of 'Champagne'. I'm continually looking for some component I never find, ie. fresh fruit. This is a blend of chardonnay (35%), pinot noir (50%), pinot meunier (15%) and is now very dry, sharp, no distinct citrus but citrussy, in fact no distinct fruit but a delightful creaminess. (How could a grape produce such crisp cleansing yet no fruit flavours?) Lots of fine bubbles rinse the palate to go with fresh oysters or other handy appetizer. Perfect for a gala gathering: an opera first night, an IPO, a yacht launching... but not for sipping with friends on the patio imho. I would not get it in for the friends I know - wrong crowd.

FLAT ROCK CELLARS UNPLUGGED CHARDONNAY 2006 VQA, Twenty Mile Bench, Jordan, 13.5% D, #Winery $17.15 (Tasted August 20, 2007)

Purchased by my BH after a selection of all good whites at this modern gravity flow winery. Flat Rock's tasting notes describes this as 'totally unoaked... crisp, perfect for pairing with a light lunch, etc." My notes: A very light pineapple pear nose with a very sharp attack on the senses on the first swallow, almost as tart as biting into a lemon. Should be listed as extra dry! The flavours need a second or third sip to acclimatize the taste buds. Mostly green apple with some steel edged roundness, light-bodied finishing clean and crisp faint apple. Have with fresh oysters, garlic shrimp, a bento box with tempura vegetable pieces. This is for a backyard patio in the hot summer with varied hors d'oeuvres, cold italian meats, hot sausage pieces. Reminds me of a Greek white without the varnish. Not my cup of tea... so they say.

Niagara, Canada, 12.0% MD, #200527 $13.95 (Tasted August 19, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 18, 2007 described as "Konzelmann's late harvest Riesling shows the diversity of the grape. Without the intense sweetness of a dessert wine, it is light enough to serve on its own as an aperitif or with grilled meat in a fruit sauce, but has enough residual sugar to pair well with lighter desserts or a selection of fine cheeses." The website says "This full-bodied sweet Riesling is well balanced with great acidity, fresh with fruity flavours and aromas of peach, apricot and pear. The wine has a great soft finish with good length. A great match with a wide variety of desserts and old cheeses, also excellent on its own as a sipping wine." RP of Winecurrent gives it three and one half (of 5) saying "If you think of Late Harvest wines as quite intensely sweet and quite viscous, think again. This Late Harvest Riesling has the flavours you associate with the sweeter wines (apricot, peach, tropical, mango) but here they’re presented in a much less intense style... light-medium bodied with good acidity..." My notes: Has a sugar code of three but with sufficient tartness to approach being succulent. Colour is a vibrant golden and aromas include weak cold tea, lemon peel and white grapefruit. A full texture with green apple, grapefruit and apricot flavourings finishing dry on the lips with a light sweetness lingering and layering the tongue making this an interesting sipper. The tart, subtle fruit would suit as an aperitif or with fresh oysters. Pair with grilled perch or trout fillets, with mixed vegetable and scallop or shrimp on skewers, grilled meat as long as it was in a fruit sauce as suggested. Not everyone will come back for seconds although this would make a good conversation starter.

FLAT ROCK CELLARS GEWURZTRAMINER 2006 VQA, Twenty Mile Bench, Jordan, 12.0% D, #Winery $19.15 (Tasted August 15, 2007)

Purchased after tasting a selection of delectable whites at this modern, gravity flow winery. Flat Rock's tasting notes describes this as their "first vintage of gewurz" having "a lovely nose, with just the right balance of sweetness. Lightly spicy and fruity... " My notes: The nose is an aromatic floral with apple and pear sidelights. A light blond colour, served well chilled there were flavours of clover honey, tangy apple and sugar pear with the floral carrying through to the palate. As the chill goes the offdry fruit takes over the flavour centre. The finish has more tang than spice leaving a slight dryness on the palate with remnants of sweet pear. A pleasant sipper by itself or with light seafood nibbles: cocktail shrimp, fresh or even smoked oysters. Pair with white fish entrees with a creamy wild mushroom and rice sidedish or leave 'til the end of a meal with a tray of fresh fruit slices and seedless grapes - if a prosecco isn't at hand. A very fresh drink-now, a happy-hour drink for guests that may look for a touch of sweetness to set up their appetite.

13.5% D, #668954 $12.95 1000mL Tetra Pak (Tasted August 12, 2007)

A General listing and a Hardy Wine Company product described as "Golden yellow colour; pear and papaya fruit aromas; flavours with light spicy notes. Clean and well-balanced. Serve chilled with seafood pasta or grilled swordfish." The modest carton claims "Environmentally friendly packaging offering you freshness and convenience" and piles of info on how Banrock is helping stock Lake Ontario with salmon. Ah yes, the wine, "Ripe tropical fruit and creamy melon flavours are complemented by a crisp fresh finish." My notes: Equivalent to $9.75 750mL but the label is not shown on their website. A light blond colour with faint aromas of fresh grapefruit and papaya - increases slightly as the chill goes. Light-bodied, delicate flavours of apricot, pear with a tang to balance the sweetness so it doesn't intrude. The finish is short with light papaya or some melon roundness on the lips, tapering into heavy oiliness. Chilled, this was an unappealing sipper. Marginally better when off chill, however, the oil put me off plus there is no freshness. Should be tolerable when paired with white fish entrees, shellfish or vegetable soups. Not for cellaring. Would I buy if guests were expected? Absolutely Not... and don't think I'd eat salmon from Lake Ontario at any time.

ARGENTO PINOT GRIGIO 2006, Argentina, 13.0% D, #620492 $10.20 (Tasted August 11, 2007)

A General listing produced by Bodegas Esmeralda and described as "Pale straw colour; peach and tropical fruit aromas; extra dry palate with medium body and crisp flavours. Serve with creamy pasta dishes, grilled shrimp or as an aperitif." Anthony Rose a reviewer for The Independent says "Italy's Pinot Grigio is often maligned as the emperor with no designer label, but this Argentinian version appeals because it combines ripe apple and pear-like fruitiness with PG's characteristic refreshing tang. You’d almost believe it was Italian." The website tasting note is "Argento Pinot Grigio is sourced from the high altitude vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina. Warm sunny days and cool mountain nights offer an ideal microclimate for Pinot Grigio grapes. The Argento Pinot Grigio has a greenish yellow colour. The nose offers delicate, floral aromas of jasmine and tropical fruits. The mouth feel is light and clean with ripe pineapple and peach flavours intermingled with notes of sweet spice and finishes with bright, crisp acidity." My notes: A light golden colour with a slight aroma of faded wildflowers. The flavours come off quite flat except for the balanced acid adding a dryness to the first sip. The finish falls short and uninteresting, no flavour hangover nor attempt at fullness as in an Italian PG. Disappointing as a sipper, disappointing except for the tartness as a companion with a spicy beef kafta wrap. Ripe pineapple and peach... LOL. I've put Bodegas Esmeralda in my 'don't buy' column.

Niagara, Canada, 12.8% D, #049635 $12.15 1000mL Tetra Pak (Tasted August 09, 2007)

My notes: Made by Niagara Vintners Inc., a Company founded by 'nineteen growers and one chief winemaker' for the purpose of making 'great tasting, unpretentious wines at an unpretentious price'. The label goes on to say, '100% Homegrown Grapes' so no imported juices were used, however, this General listed product was located in the 'Cellared in Canada' section. Also the website claims 'All our wines are VQA' but doesn't have tasting notes for their tetra pak products nor does the carton have the VQA accreditation. A light blond colour with hardly a nose... a delicate apple and quince perhaps. Light- to medium-bodied with flavours of dry courtland apple, a pleasing roundness and a firm tartness. The finish builds and carries a dry almost crabapple note reminding me of a light cider. Pair with lightly grilled white fish, pork chops or roast ham slices. Not distinctly herby, spicy or varietal to be interesting as a 'come back again' sipper. I'd guess a vidal and stalky chenin blanc blend. Equivalent to $9.15 for 750mL makes it a reasonable everyday white... pick up a couple of cartons for a picnic, this and the Growers Red. Nothing 'great'... just 'unpretentious' in every way.

FUNKY LLAMA CHARDONNAY 2006, Argentina, 12.5% D, #614677 $10.15 (Tasted August 08, 2007)

A General listing described as "Pale straw in colour; aromas of pear, oak, vanilla, apple & cinnamon; medium-body with oak spice, pear, vanilla, apple; medium finish of oak, apple & pear. Serve with pizza." Produced by The Tastings Import Company of Chicago. My notes: I could not find a winery associated with this brand... perhaps a bottling company in Mendoza collecting grapes from around? The beverage is real though: a light blond with aromas noticeably offdry with a slight pear - no oak, vanilla, apple & cinnamon that I could discern. The flavours were white grapefruit, a mild acid and an orange edge. The finish was short with a subtle tartness balanced by natural sweetness. This is a sipper or could be a refresher after a light first or second course rather than a meal wine. With a bowl of steamed mussels and chorizo pieces it was OK with the mussels but not up to the sausage. When served chilled it's an 'anytime drink' with some varietal traits.

DEL FIN DEL MUNDO CHARDONNAY RESERVA 2005, Patagonia, Argentina, 13.5% D, #694588 $12.95 (Tasted August 07, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 04, 2007 described as "Among its many international accolades, this wine won a Silver Medal at the first ever Wines of Argentina awards in February 2007. The groundbreaking Bodegas Del Fin Del Mundo (end of the world) is one of the pioneer wineries in the remote region of Patagonia. In 1999, they planted some of the first vineyards in the Neuquén district. This juicy Chardonnay is loaded with tropical fruit flavours as well as notes of vanilla and toast. A very good value." Gord Stimmell of the G&M says "Fab value from Patagonia in Argentina, with scents of buttery lime and lemon. The flavours show buttery oak stylings, with lime, creamed corn and vanilla, and a hint of fresh tropical pineapple on the finish." and gives it 87/100. VH of Winecurrent rates it four and one half (of 5) saying "... exceptional value, earning its final half star rating on price. The wine is a delicious mouthful of tropical fruit flavours-melon and pineapple-along with peach and nectarine. It has zesty citrus flavours on the finish (adding balance) and a satin texture on its medium-bodied frame... " My notes: This has a light fragrance of clover honey and wild flowers and a light golden colour. Has a tart and grassy mouthfeel with a steely edge to flavours of straw, melon and lemon. The finish is tart and dry with melon and lemon remaining for a short while. Not a sipper.... pair with white fish or mushroom pasta dishes although it did not complement a grilled telapia with creamed cauliflower and broccoli meal well. Must have gone downhill quickly since the silver medal. Not cellarable and I don't recommend over others at this price point. PS. I left this overnight in the fridge and decided to finish the bottle with some greek olives, hummus and crackers. The result is much more positive. Aroma etc. is the same. But the finish with the salt of the crackers and the herby oiliness of the olives made the difference. This is an excellent hors d'oeuvre sipper. The mouthfeel is now buttery losing any 'grassy or steely edge' working with the olive flavours combining everything into a gourmet delight. Pair with seasoned seafood or planked salmon - something flavourful rather than delicate, with some oils and spice. This is a super bargain and highly recommended.

South Australia, 13.5% D, #627802 $11.15 (Tasted August 06, 2007)

A General listing produced by Casella Wines and described as "Deep yellow; Aromas of butterscotch, vanilla and baked apple fruit; Dry, medium to full bodied, with tropical notes, apple, pear fruit flavours; Medium length on crisp finish. Serve with fish dishes; seafood; poultry." The website says "Citrus and honeydew flavours are further complexed by gentle French oak aging. The palate is soft yet fresh with balanced acidity and a soft creamy finish." My notes: A pale golden colour with a mix of wet grass and gooseberry aromas, very faint almost undiscernible. The flavours as well bear some resemblance to an unoaked or slightly oaked chardonnay but with a seam best described as mild swamp water. I could not finish a second sampling. The body and acid balance resemble an average white yet the finish is very shallow with an attempt at butter or creaminess that doesn't quite make it. Not a sipper... and could not contribute its part in a meal. This is a product type that I am starting to refer to as an 'entry level beverage'. I would not recommend nor would I repurchase this product. Down the drain it goes. My opinion!
NCT WINERY LATE HARVEST VIDAL 2002, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, 10.0% ~SC8 375ml, #Winery $21.95 (Retasted August 06, 2007)

My notes: Last tasted in June, 2006 A firm golden colour with aromas of sultana raisins and a light clover honey. The flavours carried along on a sweet velvety stream are a blend of ripe apricot and pear, full in the mouth. Finishes long and strong with the smoothness of sweet fruit and a slowly developing tart seam - unctious. A delectable drink for the end of a good seafood and rice casserole dinner... went well after a round of lemon sorbet drissled with raspberry coulis. Sip by itself or with a mild cheese and fruit tray. Cellared well and there's no reason a few years would be out of the way. Ten years ageing could very well see this with the colour of amber, an aromatic raisin aroma and a dense perfumed flavoured elixir - a super future.

PULENTA ESTATE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2006, Alto Agrelo, Argentina, 12.5% XD, #037119 $14.95 (Tasted August 05, 2007) 

A Vintages release on August 04, 2007 described as "Brothers Hugo and Eduardo Pulenta launched their winery in 2002 on the strength of their family's history, experience and talent. They represent the family's third generation to be involved with winemaking in Argentina. This expressive Sauvignon Blanc offers intense aromas of grapefruit, lemon, asparagus and sweet herbs. The ripe fruit flavours are balanced by zesty acidity. Enjoy with steamed mussels, oysters on the half shell or sushi." VH of Winecurrent gives it four (of 5) saying "... pungent aromas are quite expressive-grassy, green nettles and passion fruit. Expect white grapefruit, lemon-lime and ripe pit fruit flavours on the palate while the finish is quite zesty with more citrussy notes... comes into its own when paired with food, etc." The website tasting notes are "... offers a brilliant greenish-yellow colour... Citric fruit can be perceived, especially grapefruit with a final herbaceous rue and asparagus note, typical of the variety. Once in the mouth, its balance of sweetness and acidity enhances its fruity personality. This is a fresh and young wine, pairs perfectly with seafood and other sea fruits." My notes: A light blond colour and an aromatic blend of gooseberries and nettles. Has a mix of mild grapefruit and melon flavours with an additional taint. Asparagus? could be! perhaps water chestnuts. Unmistakedly sauvignon blanc but has that 'other' attitude that may not be appealing - I'd hedge toward 'not a sipper' if there's a family gathering... but certainly OK with seafood dishes, as above. Has a bright finish waning slowly. No cellaring potential and overall for a sauvignon blanc even in this price range I'll give it a pass.

Marlborough, NZ, 14.0% D, #032318 $22.95 (Tasted August 04, 2007)

A Vintages release on August 04, 2007 described as "Fermented in a 65/35% combination of stainless steel and both French and American oak, ... is loaded with butterscotch, ripe apple and pear aromas and flavours. Round and smooth with a citrus - butterscotch - slightly honeyed finish, this Chard would match well with chicken in a wild mushroom sauce." Gord Stimmell comments in his G&M column "A full-bore chardonnay, with toasty butter, almonds, pear skin and golden apple aromas. the flavours show mellow crushed pineapple, lime, and hazelnut, while a hint of tangy grapefruit enlivens the mouth-filling finish." and gives it 90/100. The website says of this vintage "Mid yellow /gold with a bouquet of rich tropical fruit and melon characters are over laid by warm vanilla and butterscotch with a light hint of nutiness. The palate is an inviting passionfruit / pineapple character and a warm, lush mouthfeel and refreshing, balanced acidity with a long clean finish... will continue to drink well up to 2010. Match with cheese, light meats or creamy seafood dishes." My notes: A light golden yellow with delightful aromas of citrus, papaya, and sweet apricot... full-bodied, almost dry, creamy with flavours of melon and passionfruit (without seeds). The finish is long, smooth with fruit filling the palate waiting for the next sip. Very enjoyable, even off chill, as a sipper: nippy while smooth, fruit balanced with nettles and grass. Sip then nibble hors d'oeuvres: not both at the same time to enjoy the difference. Pair with bacon wrapped scallops, chicken pieces in a creamy pasta, steamed asparagus and grilled atlantic salmon filet. Cellaring two to five years should turn the cream to butterscotch and fruit into exotic flavour blends.

sablanca Valley, Chile, 13.5% XD, #041434 $14.95 (Tasted August 02, 2007)

A Vintages release on July 21, 2007 described as "Medium lemon in colour, this refreshing Chardonnay features aromas of banana, lemon and melon with a touch of oak. It’s dry, medium-bodied, clean and delicate in style with ripe tropical fruit flavours and a subtle touch of oak on the crisp medium long finish. Perfect to match with freshly caught fish or tuna steaks." The label states this is a product of Vina Ventisquero Ltda yet 'Ramirana' is not shown on their website - perhaps a new brand for the export market? The label describes the wine as 'a golden yellow with green tones, intense aromas of papaya and citrus fruit. ... softness and balanced acidity make it ideal to accompany shellfish, fish with mild sauces and white meat.' My notes: A light lemon colour with just a hint of green and with full aromas of grapefruit touched by pineapple. A buttery texture, the sweetness of the fruit gives it an off dry sense and flavours are of citrus and white peach. The combination of flavour and nose makes it a reasonable sipper and the finish is long and almost unctious on the palate. Pairing with delicately grilled fish would do well and, if the shrimp or lobster with accompanying side dish isn't too garlic'd or spicy, it would pair equally as well. A chardonnay that could pass as unoaked except for the buttery softness. A drink-now up to a year. Try it! You'll like it!