Friday, January 18, 2008


'Plonk' isn't in my Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary - so onward to Google.

One site defines plonk as 'British term for simple, ordinary wine. Often used to describe very inexpensive wine with no character'. Another site gives a history of the word and defines it as 'a disparaging term for cheap wine, especially cheap red wine... '. An article in Canadian Living has an abbreviated definition, 'wine snob talk for crap'. Then plonk is translated into sixteen languages on the Answers website defining it as simply meaning 'cheap or inferior wine'. ... and there are enumerable sites offering definitions similar in character.

What prompted a visit to 'plonk' was Beppi Crosariol's column 'LCBO flips anti-plonk policy'. The term wasn't used anywhere else in the article nor was the notion that the LCBO not only condones plonk but actively markets it. The inference is made to '$7 and $8' wines. Why use the term in the heading?

I've used plonk many times in articles in this blog to mean a wine is so ordinary, boring or flawed that the LCBO should have weeded it from their shelves. There should be procedures, safe guards, or whatever to prevent plonk from being offered for sale. I never thought of 'plonk' as cheap although a large number, some say 50%, of cheap wines are plonk. To believe that plonk doesn't exist between $10 to $20 is just plain naive but it should be rare to find plonk in a price range above $20 although wine ratings, by definition, exclude price so it's possible. If higher priced plonk is found it is often excused as 'corked', 'cellared beyond peak' or my favourite 'the wine is sleeping'. Heavens we wouldn't want to infer that 'Chateau this or that' would release plonk to the public. And 'plonk' isn't interchangeable with 'not a value'. A wine not worth the price paid could be, but not necessarily, 'plonk'.

To paraphrase a famous Canadian 'When is plonk plonk? Plonk is plonk when it is plonk. And when it's proven to be plonk, it is plonk.' And when is plonk acceptable? NEVER! Plonk is the stuff that a winery makes in a bad year or a fermentation product by a novitiate winemaker, the stuff that lies fallow in inventory waiting for 'ageing to give it more character'.... or for someone unwittingly to buy it.

Robin Garr in his Wine Lovers blog leads with a Title for this subject:

Good cheap wine or "plonk"?

... and his rhetorical question is, "But is all cheap wine 'plonk'?" with his answer, "I don't think so, or there'd be no purpose in what for many of us is an ongoing quest, the search for decent, interesting wine that's affordable for everyday enjoyment." adding, "Plonk, after all, doesn't mean merely 'cheap', but 'boring'." Rating-wise that's somewhere below an 82/100.

So I interpret Beppi's heading to be mainly media hype... attracting attention in a dramatic often negative way... slurring the LCBO for adopting a policy of marketing wine commonly defined as plonk. I believe it would be more appropriate to criticize them for not policing their shelves to avoid plonk, however, demonstrating whether this in fact is true may be too arduous a task. One would have to taste the 'cheap' wines looking for a bottle of plonk that squeaked by the LCBO laboratories. Who wants to do tastings of cheap wines? And 'squeaked by' may be too generous a term since the LCBO Laboratory is not a 'taste' test as much as a Food and Drug qualification to avoid noxious or injurious products. I have not seen any LCBO literature describing the members of their 'Grading Panel' and how it selects the hundreds of SKUs brought in yearly or monthly to Ontario... have you? And as for 'tasting', I have not heard of Master Oneologists, on contract to the LCBO or to Ontario wine agents or their staff, going winery to winery, country to country sniffing and swirling out wine options.... have you?

My concluson is that you and I are the final adjudicators... if we buy it the LCBO keeps bringing it to us. If we buy plonk that's what we get to choose from. And don't expect even your favourite wine critic to help you narrow down the plonk. They're busy marketing the obvious.

My opinion, Wino Will

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bordeaux Reds, 2008 (12): Canada(5); Chile Blend; France(6)

BORDEAUX: Positioned near the west coast of France, the Bordeaux region (2) stretches from the mouth of the Gironde at the Atlantic to the southeast along both banks of the Garonne river which runs to the south and along the Dordogne river running easterly. The towns of Sauternes in the south and St. Foy-la-Grande in the east include roughly 100 square kilometres of a somewhat triangular land area with the city of Bordeaux in the centre straddling the Garonne.

The coastal forests protect the inland slopes in the winter with the river waters cooling them in summer
months. Seldom is there a frost severe enough to threaten the vines. About half of the wines produced are red.
The varieties of soil and climate along these tributaries of the Gironde contribute much to the character of Bordeaux wines... and for reds, the blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and often Malbec is at the discretion of the winemakers that produce thousands of labels with Chateau or Domaine names.

Bordeaux wines for tasting this month are:
  • De Luze Chateau Bel Air 2004 (81) - grapes from the south bank of the Garonne before it meets the Gironde and closer to the city of Margaux
  • Chateau Pey la Tour 2005 (89-1) - close to the city of Bordeaux a bit north of the Garonne river
  • Chateau de Bel-Air Lalande de Pomerol 2004 (88) - located northeast of the city of Bordeaux across the Dordogne river
  • Chateau Timberlay 2005 (80) - located in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac 2005 - north of the Dordogne and west of St Emilion
  • Chateau Plaisance Premiere Cotes de Bordeaux 1999 (91-2) - near the city of Bordeaux
  • Chateau Suau Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux 2003 (84) - the vineyards are further southeast of the city of Bordeaux in the town of Capian
Many wineries in Canada emulate the Bordeaux style by blending the same varietals. The ones below are to be tasted this month to see if any traits comparable or unique can be singled out between the two geographic regions. They are from wineries in the Niagara Peninsula and roughly in the same price bracket.
  • Hillebrand Estate Trius Red 2005 VQA (86) - the winery is located in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake
  • Chateau des Charmes Estate Bottled Cabernet/Merlot 2004 VQA (84) - grapes are from estate vineyards located in the area of St. David's near Niagara-on-the-Lake
  • Willow Heights Tresette Reserve 2005 VQA (84) - grapes from the Lincoln Lakeshore properties, in Vineland
  • NCT Winery Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2004 VQA (86) - the Vineyards aren't detailed other than near Niagara-on-the-Lake
  • Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Grand Reserve Meritage 2001 VQA (90-1) - with vineyards near Niagara-on-the-Lake
And a similar blend from Chile:
  • Vina Chocolan Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere/Merlot 2004 (83) - grapes selected from vineyards in the Maipo Valley

CHATEAU PLAISANCE PREMIERE COTES DE BORDEAUX 1999, Bordeaux, France, 12.5% XD, CP143-2210 $20.67 (Tasted January 23, 2008)

The website says "This wine has a robe with a dark garnet color, a vanilla and very ripe red fruit nose and a very fruity and powerful mouth. High ageing potential between 10 and 15 years. Perfect to drink with red meats, game and dishes with elaborate sauce and cheeses..." Robert Parker gave the 1999 vintage 84 - 86/100. It's unfiltered. My notes: Cellared in October 2002 this was described as a 'terrible dry sipper with nothing much going for it' in previous tastings, the last being December 2006. Now a warm cedar, plums and cherries fill the senses with aromas and slight tang. The colour is deep ruby with a garnet twist and legs run long on the glass... a terrific introduction to a wine. Smooth with a slight nip and minty brightness and flavours hard to separate: cherry vanilla tones but delicate with textures being the highlight. This is a delightful sipper with enough fine tannins to leave a dry finish of faint fruit. Have with anything meaty: turkey to prime rib, meatballs in a tomato pasta to a grilled ham steak. Medium-bodied with a polite presence and nothing to prove in further cellaring. 91-2

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, 13.1% XD, #594002 $23.95* (Tasted January 22, 2008)

A Vintages release described as "Deep ruby colour with aromas of smoke, leather, blackberry, blueberry and a touch of bell pepper. It's dry, medium full-bodied with cassis, spice and vanilla flavours balanced by lively acidity and medium tannins. It?s well structured with a medium-long finish. (Vintages panel, Oct. 2006). The back label lists the blend as 40% cab sauv, 40% merlot and 20% cab franc which can vary each vintage. My notes: *The current vintage available (2004) is priced at $24.95. Purchased from the winery in February 2004 and last tasted April 2007 with the comment 'Super stuff!'. This has a great dense ruby colour with long legs and aromas of plums, blackberry fruit and a whiff of vanilla. Lightish medium-bodied, a soft nip, fine tannins and taste resembling a flavourful berry coulis with a cedar and spice tinge, all well integrated. The finish is long carrying the flavours until the delicate dry end. Not demonstrative as a sipper but having a clean flavourful brightness. Pair with red meats not too highly flavoured... perhaps including a ham steak with cloves and a sweet sauce. This could be past cellaring and even starting to decline. 90-1

CT WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON/ MERLOT 2004 VQA, Niagara on the Lake, Canada, 13.3% XD, #040741 $18.80 (Tasted January 22, 2008)

A Vintages release on April 28, 2007 described as "The nose displays ripe blackberry, black pepper, red currant aromas with a hint of cinnamon. It's dry, medium full-bodied, mouthfilling with silky tannins and a seam of acidity providing very good balance. Great length. (VINTAGES panel, March 2006)." My notes: A Niagara College wine produced under the tutelage of Jim Warren. The source vineyards are unkown and the blend isn't available from the label or website - I'd say a 50-45 blend maybe with some viognier thrown in. A black cherry skin colour, rich and dense, somewhat sombre tint with moderate legs when swirled. A delicate aroma of black cherries, black currant, a faint raspberry or two and soft humidor background. Light-bodied, bright from the first sip with only a slight nip and red cherry and 'hint of cinnamon' flavours. The finish is long, light on the palate ending with red cherry and slight mint, not drying and building to 'delectable' if unsullied by nibbles. A sociable sipper, not aggressive or bold. My glass showed sediment so decanting may be in order. Pair with prime rib, pork, pheasant or partridge, capon or a tomato pasta. Cellaring up to four years should be good for it. 86

Niagara, Canada, 13.0% XD, #222372 $19.95 (Tasted January 21, 2008)

A Vintages release October 13, 2007 described as "Paul Bosc Sr. and family have been at the vanguard of quality wine production in Ontario for nearly thirty years. This Bordeaux-style blend has received consistent critical raves. Medium full-bodied with aromas of black cherries, plums, pepper and smoke, this wine is deep, dark and complex. An exceptional wine to match with lamb chops or beef tenderloin." Their winemaker says "Cabernet-Merlot, is a classically styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that has been aged for one year in French oak barrels. The resulting wine is complex with flavours of dark chocolate, raspberry and cassis... Ready to drink now, but will continue to develop in the bottle for 5-10 years." My notes: There's no indication of the varietal percentages on the label or website - I'd say 40% cab sauv, 40% cab franc and 20% merlot. The colour is of ripe black cherries, a very appealing dense ruby, and a delicate aroma of smoky black cherries, rich and warm. An initial brightness and fine tannins on the palate from the first sip - no nip. Medium-bodied, with flavours of red cherries and slight tars leading to a fairly short finish ending bright and dry. The 'one year in French oak' isn't apparent to me... more of an American oak influence. A red to accompany red meats: grilled, roasted or baked, spiced but not too highly. This comes across as a young wine or perhaps from young vines which a few years cellaring may develop into a $20 red. 84

CHÂTEAU SUAU PREMIERES COTES DE BORDEAUX 2003, Capian, France, 12.5% XD, #943555 $19.80 (Tasted January 20, 2008)

A Vintages release on January 19, 2008 described as "Château Suau was built in the 15th century as a hunting lodge for the Duke d'Épernon. Today the only thing that is 'hunted' on this property are their well-respected wines. This is made with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Try it with roast beef au jus." My notes: A colourful bowl full of purple tinged ruby and a soft aroma of plum and cherry, smoky and vanilla tinged. A medium-bodied fullness fills the palate with dry berries, slight tobacco and a herbal edge. The herbs fade away as a dry finish. This is an elegant red with flavours and texture building with each sip - a meal red and OK to sip if served ahead of prime rib with veggies, gravy and yorkshire pudding. Would also work with a cheese tray, lamb or pork chops, or dark fowl. A drink-now although could cellar without harm for a few years. Unless you prefer a restrained european style, albeit a beautiful colour, I find this priced a few dollars high for a value. 84

VIÑA CHOCALÁN RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON/CARMENÈRE/MERLOT 2004, Maipo Valley, Chile, 13.5% XD, #048272 $13.85 (Tasted January 19, 2008)

A Vintages release on January 19, 2008 described as "Chocalán... means yellow blossom and was the ancient aboriginal name for the area where this winery is located in the Maipo Valley. Chilean businessman Guillermo Toro launched his first vintage from this new family winery in 2003. Also known as the Blend Reserve, the 2004 vintage is comprised of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Carmenère, 16% Merlot, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc (6%), and Malbec (3%) filling out the balance. Fruit-forward, with a firm structure, this full-bodied wine is an excellent value." My notes: Except for the substitute of carmenere this could be a Chilean style Bordeaux. A deep purple ruby with warm aromas of black cherry and plum mellowed with a hint of coffee. Flavours carry a cherry, raspberry and minty chocolate along, full-bodied and dry. Has a velvet finish with slight mint, a touch of tobacco and bright raspberry. The carmenere or perhaps the Maipo terroir makes this unusual, easily distinguishable from a Bordeaux - too bright and bold. Have with well seasoned steak, a T-bone with onions or portabello mushrooms. I would cellar for a few years rather than drinking now although it's liable to flatten out - as if the malbec content is understated. Interesting but, for me, not a sipper - a good value for a meal red. 83

WILLOW HEIGHTS TRESETTE (MERITAGE) RESERVE 2005 VQA, Vineland, Canada, 13.0% D, #049973 $19.80 (Tasted January 17, 2008)

A Vintages release on September 15, 2007 described as "The term meritage refers to the use of Bordeaux varietals. Willow Heights' Tresette is dominated by cabernet sauvignon (66%) with cabernet franc (24%) and merlot (10%). It has classic aromas of dark fruits, with accents of licorice and cedar. The palate is round with soft tannins and a long silky finish. This is a great cheese wine." My notes: Contrary to Vintages the label claims 58% merlot, 25% cabernet sauv and 17% cabernet franc - so who knows? The discrepancy doesn't stop tasting though. This has a black cherry colour somewhat opaque in the glass, with long legs - more merlot in nature than cab sauv. Letting air twenty minutes the aroma has a predominant French oak influence with some new leather, a few black currants and berries. A fine tannic dryness hits the palate before flavours of earthy forest floor, faint cedar and berries. Medium-bodied with a soft texture finishing dry in the mouth, fading slowly leaving the earthiness to linger. A meal red rather than a sipper, although when the taste is acquired it's OK. Have with prime rib or saucy stews, a rack of lamb or turkey legs with sage dressing. Cellaring up to four years should smooth to silky and develop more character. 84

LUZE CHATEAU BEL AIR 2004, Bordeaux, France, 12.0% D, #665430 $11.05 (Tasted January 10, 2008)

A General listing described as "Light-medium ruby colour; medium intensity blackberry, cherry, oak spice and tobacco aromas; medium body, flavours of red cherry, plum, tobacco and oak spice with a medium length finish. Serve with gourmet pizza with smoked chicken." Gord Stimmell gives it an 88/100 saying "Classic blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, this is definitely the best value red Bordeaux under $12 on shelves. Aromas of earth, blackberry, black cherry, tobacco and a hint of violets. Flavours are sweet-edged blackberry and cedar with a morello cherry finish. Nice fruit dimensions with hints of complexity." My notes: A ripe black cherry red colour with faint aromas of cherry berry, a slight pepper and a herbal note. The flavours are light red cherry with a refreshing brightness, an even fine tannin and herbal edge. The finish is short starting with cherry but quickly ending as a dry layer of cherry pits. This is what would be expected from a low priced house wine - some initial interest without developing further but no flaws. Have with party sausages, pastrami cubes, chicken wings, stuffed mushrooms or with turkey, lamb or pork entrees. Not cellarable. For stocking an open bar but not recommended for friends or family. 81

CHÂTEAU PEY LA TOUR RESERVE DU CHATEAU 2005, Bordeaux, France, 14.0% D, #925859 $22.95 (Tasted January 14,2008)

A Vintages release on Ovtober 13, 2007 described as "Elegant and rich, the Château Pey La Tour has raspberry and blackcurrant flavours with hints of mint and earth leading to a chewy, medium finish. Primed for prime rib, it will continue to reward with two to five years of cellaring time." Toronto Life gives it an 89/100 saying "Great vintage unveils its charms. Very deep colour. Classy and cool nose of perfectly ripened blackberry-currant, flecked with dried herbs, tobacco and vanilla. The wine is medium weight, stylish, elegant. Ripe, dry tannin. Very good length. Best 2009 through 2012." The back label gives the blend as: 89% merlot, 8% cabernet sauv and 3% petit verdot. My notes: A deep ruby with a welcoming soft aroma of plums, black cherries and slight vanilla. The flavours have a twist of mint, very soft tannins and a mix of bright red cherries, a touch of blackberries and tobacco. A long finish of sweet edged fruit fades slowly. A pleasant sipper, definitely not bold but delicate. Have with prime rib, a lightly seasoned aged rare steak, or a flavourful stew. Could cellar four years but drinking well now. 89-1

CHÂTEAU DE BEL-AIR LALANDE DE POMEROL 2004, Bordeaux, France, 13.0% XD, #061754 $20.80 (Tasted January 10, 2008)

A Vintages release on January 5, 2008 described as "Here's an eminently affordable Pomerol neighbour. Château de Bel-Air owner, Stephen Adams, wisely hired the legendary Michel Rolland as consultant winemaker for this property. This well-crafted wine has dark berry flavours and a tightly knit structure that suggests excellent ageing potential (3 to 5+ years). If you wish to enjoy it tonight, decant it for two hours and then match it to a rare roast beef dinner with Yorkshire pudding." The label describes this as a merlot (75%), cab franc (15%), cab sauv (5%) and malbec (5%) blend. My notes: A ripe black cherry colour with faint aromas of subdued blackberries, some cherries and a light smoky oak. Air for thirty minutes and serve in a broad bowled glass for richness of colour and development of aromas. Medium-bodied, the flavours are silky textured with some cedar, some berries, fine tannins and a balanced tartness. Has a long finish that is silky, a faint fruit with lingering earthy mushrooms. A non-intrusive sipper, there and continually pleasing. Have with prime rib hold the horseradish, rack of lamb with mint sauce, richly sauced beef bourgignon. Cellaring up to four more years is possible. Much lighter than the Chilean reds Michel Rolland has produced but if you like a lightish red this could be quite a value especially after cellaring. I would have in for most of my friends. 88

CHATEAU TIMBERLAY 2005, Bordeaux, France, 13.0% D, #030072 $15.85 (Tasted January 13, 2008)

A General listing described as "Deep ruby/garnet red colour; complex bouquet of prunes, bell peppers, cedar and smoky notes; rich flavours follow nose, balanced long finish and firm tannins. Serve with rack of lamb or beef wellington." The back label says it is a blend of merlot (80%), cabernet sauvignon (10%) and cabernet france (10%). ... very soft and fruity character (blackberry and black currant) with attractive woody and spicy overtones." My notes: One of the seven Chateaux of Domaines Robert Giraud . This has a faint aroma of blueberries and smoky wood chips. The colour is a deep ruby somewhat sombre in the glass. Light-bodied, a good balance of tart, tannin and light berry fruit, no currant that I could sense and certainly not 'rich'. The finish is moderate, bright with some smoky berry overtones. A lightly flavoured sipper, OK but not that interesting. It did not become involved with a seared sirloin steak and mushrooms, more laid back. Should be marginal with a prime rib or roasted chicken breast. Not for cellaring - a drink-now and not a value. 80

HILLEBRAND ESTATE TRIUS RED 2005 VQA, Niagara, Canada, 13.5% XD, #303800 $19.95 (Tasted January 16, 2008)

A General listing and a Vintages Essential described as "Hillebrand selects their best Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes to create their famed Bordeaux-style blend. It displays complex aromas of cedar, black currant, bell pepper and tobacco leading to juicy black fruits flavours and a medium finish... " The website says "We had a dream to create a wine that would set a new benchmark for winemaking in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And in 1989 at Hillebrand Winery, Trius was born. We selected the best Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes and perfected the art of the blend in a wine simply called 'Trius Red'. Just two vintages later, Trius Red won the trophy for the best red wine in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, UK... " The tasting notes from the website say "Round and full-bodied with aromas reminiscent of black currants and red berries. A clean spiciness combined with a long finish results in an elegant and harmonious red wine. Rated 4/5, Tony Aspler." and "Rated 89/100 - One of the best Trius' ever! Evan Saviolidis". My notes: A blend of 47% cabernet sauvignon, 44% cabernet franc and 9% merlot. Air for twenty minutes or decant to allow a young fresh aroma of berries, a slight vanilla and smoky oak to develop. This has a brilliant ruby colour that deserves a broad bowled glass. It's light-bodied with fine tannins, a crisp red cherry flavour and a slight herby edge with a faint tar. The finish starts with a fresh minty berry and fades slowly leaving a tangy cherry residual and smoothness on the lips. Needs a few years to mellow, a chance to integrate flavours and develop more herbal nuances, perhaps another four in the cellar. 86

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

January 2008 Whites(10): Australia Chard; Canada Blend, Chard, Riesling(4); Italy Soave; USA Sauv Blanc, Pinot Gris

STONECHURCH RIESLING 2006 VQA, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, 12.0% D, #065714 $12.85 (Tasted January 28, 2008)
A straight forward statement on the back label is the only information available, "... committed to producing lifestyle wines with quality and integrity in mind. Enjoy... with cuisine of your choice." Billy Munnelly says " The Riesling is a yummy, off-dry, anytime or party sipper. A cheerful partner for the months ahead... My only word of caution is that... may not appeal to the purist. The ripe, smooth character is more in keeping with something from a much warmer climate. Shades of Yellow Tail!" My notes: A light, clean and clear blond with a tint of green and aromas of melon and tart apple. The first sip has elements of caramel apple and citrus zest neither lemon or lime, the sweetness trying to balance the tartness. The finish has a lingering fading tart fruit and a metallic, almost clean the teeth ending. The texture combined with flavours is a reminder of Yellow Tail but a few dollars less. Serve well chilled as a summer refresher - add a slice of orange or lime and crushed ice. Should be OK with a shrimp ring and most seafood dishes. Not for cellaring - a drink-now. The bottle shape is appealing for a social mix - for me, the lipstick sticker is a turn-off - and for a purist it's a commercial 'cooler'. Ww80

REIF RIESLING 2006 VQA, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, 11.5% D, #111799 $10.40 (Tasted January 28, 2008)

A General listing described as "Pale straw colour; Aromas and flavours of citrus, lime, ripe pear and apple fruit: Dry, light - medium-bodied. Serve with roast pork and apple sauce; ham; chicken; Asian foods." Toronto Life gives it an 84 saying "There is some freshness and charm in this slightly sweet riesling. Typical pear-apple fruit on the nose, plus a squeeze of lemon and youthful wet wool character that should evaporate within a few months. Light to medium bodied, loose and juicy with good length." My notes: A perfumed aroma of honeysuckle, apple and apricot from a clean and clear slight blond colour riesling. Served between 8C and 12C it is light-bodied with a nip on the first swallow an apple flavour blended with slight pear, no petrol and no wet wool nor sweetness present but nicely balanced. The nip and apple carry through to the finish, quite long and refreshing to the palate but with a flabby side. Not imposing as a sipper adding delicate flavours and aroma, dry without being overbearingly tart. Went well with a Thai red curry chicken and jasmine rice. A bargain white. Ww86

Various, Canada, 12.0% D, #223230 $7.70 (Tasted January 26, 2008)

A General listing described as "pale golden straw colour. Ripe pear aromas. Light to medium-bodied with crisp lemon and pear fruit on the palate. Serve chilled with white meats, cheeses or cold cuts." The website claims "... an elegant blend of popular grape varieties giving this wine a complex bouquet highlighted by herbal and fig characters. The taste is full-bodied with hints of green apples. A smooth, long finish is highlighted by an appealing touch of oak aging." My notes: A Vincor International product, one of fourteen Barrel Select labels, made from juices or grapes from anywhere and any vintage, ie. a ' *Cellared in Canada' product. A light yellow colour with an aroma of overripe pear and a hint of lemon - faint enough to be overlooked if kept well chilled. The flavours are artificial pear and apple with a flabby chemical finish, a taste of chewed grapefruit seeds. A light medium-body and a slight oiliness without a tart side arriving flat on the palate. Not recommended as a sipper nor as a meal white. I found it 'flawed to undrinkable' and would avoid this, and likely the other labels in this 'stable' of drinks. Ww68

Sonoma, USA, 13.8% D, #047787 $19.95 (Tasted January 11, 2008)

A Vintages release on December 8, 2007 described as "The talented, Tasmanian-born Susan Doyle cut her teeth on viticulture in Australia's Yarra Valley. She brings her skill and expertise to the creation of this expressive, fruit-forward Pinot Gris. Displaying rich aromas of fig, peach, spicy pear, citrus and tropical fruit, this white will pair beautifully with sautéed scallops." The website says "... possesses an expressive fruit-forward character, exhibiting rich aromas of fig and white peach. The bright aromas and complex varietal characters of citrus and elements of spice add both weight and interest to the wine. The flavors of peach, spicy pear and citrus are melded together in a rich core, resulting in a round mouthfeel which compliments it crisp, clean finish." My notes: Formally the home of actor Fred MacMurray it is now an E&J Gallo winery not referred to on the website which makes the most of the actor's popularity. A light golden colour and after airing briefly has aromas of stone peach and pear. The body is smooth with long legs showing on the glass and flavours of a light tart apple and pear mix. At 12 - 15c the flavours, texture and aromas develop nicely for a pleasing sipper. Soft and round, and for a pinot gris it's quite full in the mouth. The finish is long, fruit persisting now with a spicy edge taking over. Pairing with seafood dishes, mushroom pastas or cold chicken slices on greens... planked salmon or bacon wrapped scallops. Fruit could fade quickly with cellaring but one more year could be an initial period to see where it's going. Ww88

Margaret River, Australia, 14.0% XD, #048561 $18.80 (Tasted January 11, 2008)

A Vintages release on January 5, 2008 described as "Dubbed 'Margaret River's sexiest new brand', this is the first vintage of the X&Y Chardonnay. X&Y was created to capture a new expression of Margaret River and celebrate what the younger generation loves about the region - the culture, art, surf and great wineries. Flavoursome melon, nectarine and grapefruit give plenty of depth and power; little or no oak. Drink [to] 2010. 90/100 (James Halliday, Sept. 2006)." My notes: A light blond with a faint green hue and delectable aroma of melon, kiwi and grass. The flavours are delivered with a light cream full on the palate with tart grapefruit and butter leaving a nice pucker as a finish, young and fresh. An interesting sipper, perhaps a touch of honey would have topped the sensations but as an XD this is appropriately dry. Have with fresh oysters, a shrimp ring with sauce, spicy mussels or a meal of lobster, halibut, tuna steak, arctic char, or any moderately flavoured seafood. Cellaring for a few years should be OK even mellowing a slight raw edge. Serve to anyone not ABC. This doesn't need sex to sell. Ww90
PIEROPAN SOAVE CLASSICO 2006, Veneto, Italy, 12.0% XD, #946848 $17.95 (Tasted January 8, 2008)
A Vintages release on October 13, 2007 described as "... Owner/winemaker Leonildo 'Nino' Pieropan works magic, vintage after vintage, with his blending of Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave. The Garganega gives structure and acidity to the wine, but it is the Trebbiano di Soave that gives it perfume and richness. Trebbiano di Soave bears little relation of the rather bland, unloved, basic Trebbiano grape and, in fact, is also rather rare. Try this wine with a variety of seafood dishes or fall salads." My notes: A light golden colour with faint aromas of crisp pear and honey citrus. A silkiness on the first sip is counterbalanced by a dry nip, medium-bodied with flavours of stone fruit and crab apple. The finish is long carrying mostly the crabapple including some crushed stems. After a few sips it becomes not a sipper. Must-have appetizers are oysters, mild cheeses, bacon on a bun, shrimp or scallop skewers, spicy mussels. Was great with grilled telapia and teriyaki noodles. Cellaring isn't there for this white - a drink-now. Ww84

Niagara, Canada, 12.9% D, #053520 $13.85 (Tasted January 7, 2008)
A Vintages release on January 5, 2008 described as "This is a ready-to-drink, crowd-pleasing Chardonnay with juicy fruit flavours balanced by crisp acidity. There's no oak here, so the pure pear and apple flavours shine through. Enjoy as an aperitif or serve it with poached salmon in a creamy cucumber sauce." My notes: A distinct golden colour with aromas of lemon drops and pear. Long legs give away the full creaminess and a tart edge leads into faint flavours of apple. Finishes long and silky with mostly citrus flavourings and somewhat flat. Can be a sipper, not toasty nor caramel-ly as an oaked chard but clean and full. Pairing with seafoods, salmon steaks, shrimp skewers well garlic'd and roasted, roast chicken legs with a lemon risotto, etc. Cellaring for a few years should reveal where it's going - I don't think longer - and for an unoaked the release seems a few years too late. An OK value - but not recommended. Ww82

Sonoma, USA, 13.5% XD, #036558 $20.95 (Tasted January 6, 2008)
A Vintages release on July 21, 2007 described as "This Sauvignon Blanc is made in a modern style reminiscent of the Kiwi versions. Its aromas of asparagus, fresh cut grass, lime peel, lemongrass and sweet pea are matched with flavours of grapefruit and passion fruit. Try this with steamed mussels, grilled pork chops, summer salads or swordfish." My notes: An E&J Gallo winery. A mid golden colour, bright and clean in the glass. Aromas of faint pineapple, nettles and dry grass with a nice nip, a firm roundness and flavours of lemon mellowed by stone peach and melon. Finishes refreshingly with remnants of lemon and stone peach - didn't get the 'passionfruit'. The Kiwi richness of the past may have slipped by with this one although it has an appealing texture and body for sipping. Pair with seafood dishes, chicken slices on green salad or cold pork. Not for cellaring. Ww82

Niagara, Canada, 11.5% MD, #557165 $14.95 (Tasted January 3, 2008)
A Vintages release on September 15, 2007 described as "The grapes for Pelham's Reserve Riesling are sourced from select vineyards with vines that are, at a minimum, 15 years old. The grapes are left on the vine well into October to allow them to achieve maximum ripeness. The wine shows flavours of ripe grapefruit with floral accents and balanced acidity. A great match for a thick, pan-seared pork chop topped with caramelized apples or pears." The website quotes Gord Stimmel of the Toronto Star, September 26, 2007, "Love the regular Pelham dry, but this Off-Dry shows a lingering lushness from late-harvested grapes. Aromas and flavours of beeswax, lime and cling peaches with a hint of clementines. Ripe summer peach comes to the fore on the finish. Think turkey or glazed ham, but also sweet potatoes due to this winter's natural sugars. 89/100". My notes: A faint straw tone and aromas of light peach and straw mix. Light-bodied with a nip to balance the sweetness, a slight flavour of lime and peach blend almost interesting - rather just there. Finishes with a dry and light clementine aftertaste building with each sip. Overall this is an OK sipper and the extra body of this versus the HofP dry riesling (#283291) works better with mild seafood dishes. However, I wouldn't get it in for guests. Ww84

Niagara, Canada, 12.0% D, #283291 $14.95 (Tasted January 2, 2008)

A General listing described as "Mid-yellow/straw colour; melon, apple and grapefruit with a hint of spice; grapefruit, apple and spice on the palate; intense yet refreshing acidity followed by a clean finish. Serve with shellfish; smoked salmon; creamy pasta." The website quotes the Wine Enthusiast Magazine, September 2007, "A soft and elegant nose of apple and citrus, followed by a dry and spicy palate, recommend this reserve wine from Pelham. 84/100" My notes: A light golden colour with aromas of nettles, spring apple and grapefruit. Light-bodied, dry with flavours of delicate citrus and not much else. The finish lasts awhile but starts with a light acid, a dryness and fades from there. An uninteresting sipper and insufficient fruit, acid or body as an accompaniment for even mild seafood dishes. Not for cellaring. Ww78

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

January 2008 Reds(8): Argentina Malbec; Canada Blend; France Blend; Italy Blend, Prim; Spain Blend; USA Cab Sauv, Zin

CHATEAU PIQUE-SEGUE DAUZAN LA VERGNE 1998, Cote de Bergerac, France, 12.5% XD, CP138-1941 $19.17 (Tasted January 23, 2008)

The website describes this as a blend of 70% merlot and 30% cabernet sauvignon and was a Silver Medal winner at Mâcon - Guide Hachette 2001. Described as rich, fruity and full-bodied, comparable to its famous neighbours of St. Emilion. My notes: This is the third tasting since cellaring in December 2001. The last (July, 2007) had the comments '... has improved considerably... is a sophisticated sipper... drinking very well now. A wine such as this could quickly shift my preferences to include 'old world' reds.' A lovely aroma of ripe berries and colour of ruby tinged with garnet, faint terracotta and with long legs.Medium-bodied, very smooth on the first sip with some fine tannins still but not much else - mostly of berries and some cinna-mint and subdued flavours finishing quite long, slightly drying, ending on a faint blackberry note. Has some minty brightness and is an OK sipper - a grown-up with no abrasive traits but not that interesting either. Have with grilled veal or a bacon and cheddar melt. There's no cellar-ability left and it's on the decline now - I dropped it from this month's Bordeaux tastings. 80

Mendoza, Argentina, 13.0% D, #055525 $14.85* (Tasted January 19, 2008)  CS

A Vintages release on January 2008 described as "It's not often that we see a bubbly coming out of Argentina, let alone one made with Malbec, but this refreshing fizz is a delight. It's lovely floral and fruity aromas lead to juicy and effervescent red fruit flavours. Terrific as an aperitif or Sunday brunch companion." The back label says "... is a vibrant, deep purple, lightly sparkling red wine. .... perfect as an aperitif. It's full of ripe, wild raspberries and dark plum fruit aromas. ... sweet on the palate yet full of refreshing acidity... " My notes: *This cashed out at $13.85 at the local LCBO - listed as $10 in the US. The website on the back label was not available at the time of tasting. This has a huge outpouring of bubbles against a deep crimson ruby colour, very dense. Aromas of ripe plum and black currant combined with a few raspberries are highlighted by a slight metallic tone. The flavour fights with the dryness showing black currant and fresh berries, very bright on the palate. The freshness of the fruit in the finish drops quickly ending somewhat flat. Very different as a bubbly from the density of colour to the continuous stream of bubbles and fruity flavours. Have as an aperitif with lots of thin italian meats, liver pate on seasoned bagel chips or bacon with maple syrup on hot pancakes. Not for cellaring, a drink-now - and given it's not for everyone, a bargain bubbly. 87-1

CONDADO DE HAZA CRIANZA RIBERO DEL DUERO 2004, Burgos, Spain, 14.0% D, #963348 $24.95 (Tasted January 9, 2008)  CS

A Vintages release on October 27, 2007 described as "The brilliant 2004 Condado de Haza received malolactic fermentation in barrel followed by 15 months in American oak. Purple-colored, it offers up fragrant aromas of cedar, tobacco, black currants and blackberry. There is a supple mouth-feel and generous cherry and black fruit flavors and enough ripe tannins to ensure good longevity. Drink this hedonistic effort now and over the next 10-12 years. 91/100. (Jay Miller, Feb. 2007)." My notes: A deep magenta colour with soft aromas of berries and smoky oak. Let air for an hour to give the fruit more of a chance to show. The flavours hit the palate with smoke, ripe tart berries, forest floor and firm, fine tannins. The tannins carry the day on a long, dry finish of berry fruit and slight tar. For me, not a sipper... a meal red to have with grilled beef, pork back ribs, beef shashlik or lamb souvlaki, egyptian style entrees or hamburgers. Cellaring for another four years could soften the tannins and add some herbal notes. Not a value, maybe someday but not now. 84

Tuscany, Italy, 13.0% XD, #328997 $12.45 (Tasted January 7, 2008)  CS

A Vintages release on January 5, 2008 described as "A crowd-pleasing wine that will electrify any dinner with its spicy and fruity aromas and flavours. Enjoy with flavourful risotto dishes or with backribs and your best homemade sauce." VH of Winecurrent gives it three and one half (of 5) saying "Uncomplicated, straightforward and honest, this fruity red delivers aromas and flavours of currants, raisins and black plum that intermingle with notes of aromatic bitters. There's good balance with just the right amount of acidity and the tannins are imperceptible. The medium-bodied frame and fruity finish make this a suitable wine to be paired with a lighter-styled red meat aperitif." My notes: Fig aromas quickly change to pleasing plum and berry with long legs draining on the glass. There's a fullness from the first sip with a fine tannin presence edged with soft acid, both adding textures to flavours of woody cherry and fig. An interesting sipper and a good balance between process and fruit which tilts to the riparosso style in a long, dry finish - not objectionably so. Meaty pastas or pizzas are the most likely pairing but this would match any lightish red for grilled beef or pork rib entrees. A drink-now although I think this could develop interesting herbal highlights if cellared for two to four years. A good value for a dry house red. 86-1

TRUCHARD ZINFANDEL NAPA VALLEY 2003, Carneros, USA, 14.2% XD, #054858 $18.95 (Tasted January 5, 2008)  CS

A Vintages release on November 10, 2007 descibed as "This Zin is unique in being the only one produced exclusively from grapes grown in Carneros. The region's cool climate and volcanic, ashy soil combine to create perfect conditions for the cultivation of Zinfandel. Truchard was recognized as one of the 2006 Estate Wineries of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine." My notes: Aromas of blackberry waft from the glass, warm with an oak edge and inviting. Silky from the first sip with well balanced acid and soft tannins carrying a blackberry and blueberry combination to the palate. The fruit lasts through a long finish ending with a natural sweetness and some mint. I believe this is worth cellaring for several and up to ten years. I'd expect significant introduction of textures and exotic herbal sidelights. An interesting sipper now and would be great paired with prime rib, rack of lamb and mint sauce, a crockpot beef stew or italian hot sausage on a toasted bun. Priced right. 90-2

LA PISARA PRIMITIVO 2004 IGT SALENTO, Puglia, Italy, 14.0% D, #051656 $15.85 (Tasted January 5, 2008)  CS

A Vintages release on January 5, 2008 described as "Primitivo, Zinfandel's Italian alias, has an intriguing nose suggesting plum, hazelnut, fresh fig and blackberry. This version by La Pisara also has a fine tannin core that would suggest potential as a bargain cellar dweller (2-4 years). If you want to enjoy it tonight then pair it with a rare steak and mushrooms." Beppi gives it a thumbs up saying "... should appeal to lovers of Californian Zinfandel... full-bodied and ripe, with rich dark-skinned fruit flavours, chocolate and a hint of raisin...on a velvety frame." My notes: Let air for at least twenty minute for the oak ageing to mellow then lighter plum, blackberry and earthy oak aromas carry the day. A deep opaque ruby in the glass with long legs, an initial breath-taking tartness combined with fig-edged bright black cherry flavours, medium-bodied. The flavours and then a dry finish come across as subdued following such a bright intro and neither stays long. The chocolate isn't worth mentioning. A moderate sipper for lovers of european style reds - the process hides any distinct zinfandel to compare with California zins (see Truchard). Cellaring for up to four years may develop interesting highlights but I wouldn't invest in it. Have with anything beefy... or tomatoey, ie. pastas or cheese stuffed panzarottis. 85

  SEVEN OAKS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005, Paso Robles, USA, 13.5% XD, #656561 $19.95 (Tasted January 3, 2008)  CS

A Vintages release on November 10, 2007 described as "Year after year, this hearty Cab offers excellent value. Rich purple in colour it offers ripe cherry and black currant aromas. Dry, medium full-bodied, with medium tannins and a lengthy finish, this tasty Cab is an excellent match for roast beef or lamb." The website says "... one of the most intensely-colored Estates Cabernets we’ve produced during my [current winemaker] tenure. The wine color has a deep, bright, red-purple hue. An abundance of dark cherry and black currant fruit greets the nose, enhanced by spicy clove and toasty notes. On the palate, the fruit follows through with full weight and a lingering intensity and balance from the tannins. This wine is ready to be enjoyed now, or cellared for 5 years... " My notes: Let air twenty minutes... A deep ruby colour with a violet twist, faint aromas of plums and black cherries. Medium-bodied, with flavours of plums, red cherries and well balanced fine tannin and accomodating tartness - a silky sipper, not bold, not intrusive fruit, a moderate red. The finish is subdued fruit with a moderate dryness which should pair nicely with roasted or grilled beef, rack of lamb, bbq'd pork ribs. Cellaring for a few years should not be a problem just not beneficial, a drink-now. Not as full, bold, spicy or bright as the 2003 (see June 2006 tasting), more like the 2002. 86

SHIRAZ CABERNET NV, Niagara, Canada, 13.0% D, #016568 $9.95 (Tasted January 1, 2008)  CS

A General listing produced by Andres Wine Ltd. under the label Roundpetal Wines and described as "Medium ruby red colour; aromas of plum, blueberry jam with a hint of spice; It is soft and supple with a fruity finish. Serve with pasta, grilled meat." My notes: Sold also with a chocolate fondue set in Gift Pack #049528 @ $24.95. The XOXO website is about attracting a 'young' crowd, seeming to mean 'sensuous' crowd with Passionate Pairings and Grapelove as themes. The wine has a bright colour, a clear mid ruby and aromas that fail to create any impression, perhaps a faint plum. Light-bodied and flavours that are light raspberry/blueberry, balanced with a light acid and finishing with a touch of fruit, a slight licorice and metallic edge. I didn't get any shiraz nor cabernet context: body, side flavourings or spicy/herby notes, nor oak influences. This in spite of the website claim "Each one integrates fine varietals from great Canadian vineyards and around the world to create something truly special." and "A kiss of rich Cabernet complements a hug of bold Shiraz, intensifying the flavours and aromas of blackberry and blackcurrant". I found it an uninteresting sipper and difficult to envision it enhancing any meal - didn't do anything for a Sub Club. A blend of juices from whatever years and wherever vineyards - ie. not a VQA wine. A commercial beverage in a glitzy package. I would not have this in for friends or family. 72