Friday, August 15, 2008

August 16th, 2008 Picks: 11 Tasted of 11

I don’t think I’ve tried this before: I asked the staff at a Vintages outlet to pick five wines from their August 16th Release. My only condition was that each wine had to be below $20. There were several outlets to choose from in Burlington and, as customer friendly as LCBO people are, the first manager I approached agreed. The wines marked VS are the Vintages picks – I’ve added a sixth, the riesling, because ‘it was enjoyable’, a new Argentinan grape, Torrontés, and a Chilean sauvignon blanc recommended by Gord Stimmell of The Star. Another three wines are from the ‘Best-buys’ list in Winepointer #13 along with Rod Phillips’ ratings where available. As before, when tasted the wine will appear in bold. Cheers, Ww

  • Ventisquero 'Queulat' Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, RP90-93, 92 -- V, Maipo Valley, Chile, #061937 $16.95
  • VS, Santa Carolina Barrica Selection Petit Verdot 2006, RP90-93, 92 -- V, Rapel Valley , Chile, #007484 $14.95
  • Vinecol Torrontés 2007, RP90-93, 92 -- V, Mendoza, Argentina, #032748 $13.95
  • Jekel Vineyards 'Gravelstone' Chardonnay 2006, RP90-93, 91 -- V, Monterey, USA, #421016 $15.95
  • VS, Schloss Schönborn Riesling 1994, 90 -- V, Rhinegau, Gemany, #107557 $14.95
  • VS, Domaine LaMargue Viognier 2007, RP87-89, 89 -- V, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, #525428 $17.95
  • VS, Botromagno Gravina 2006, 87 -- V, Puglia, Italy, #082040 $14.95
  • VS, Finca Sobreno Crianza 2004, 87 -- V, Toro, Spain, #040360 $18.95
  • VS, Fontanafredda Barbera D’Alba Raimonda 2005, RP87-89, 86 -- V, Piedmont, Italy, #023135 $16.95
  • Terra Noble Vineyard Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2007, GS88, 81 -- V, Maule Valley, Chile, #062026 $11.95
  • Tabalí Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2007, RP87-89, 80 -- V, Limari Valley, Chile, #662999 $12.95
    (V – Vintages, VS – Vintages pick, GS - Gord Stimmell, RP – Rod Phillips)

TERRA NOBLE VINEYARD SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2007, Maule Valley, Chile, 13.5% D, #062026 $11.95 (Tasted August 29, 2008)

Vintages described this as “This delicious Sauvignon Blanc shows lovely citrus and floral characteristics as well as the telltale grassiness Savvy is known for. Very refreshing, this is a warm-weather quaffer to have on hand all summer long.” My notes: A firm whiff of nettles gives this ‘savvy’ its character and the strong flavouring of nettles confirms its uniqueness - no gooseberries or passion fruit here. As a sipper you either like it or dislike. The acid and textures went well with battered halibut and salted chips doused in malt vinegar and ketchup. Medium-bodied, the tartness and nettles carried right through the finish - an acquired terroir that I won‘t be acquiring. 81

SANTA CAROLINA BARRICA SELECTION PETIT VERDOT 2006, Rapel Valley, Chile, 14.5% D, #007484 $14.95 (Tasted August 18, 2008)

Vintages described this as “Rarely used as a stand-alone variety, Petit Verdot adds to a growing list of established Bordeaux grapes finding good expression in Chile. This 2006 vintage offers ripe blackberry and plum aromas and flavours, with attractive spice notes and well-structured tannins. A great match for pepper-crusted steak.” My notes: A deep ruby and aromas of chocolate, rasp- and blackberries. A mix of textures: soft, bright, drying tannins - and flavours including vanilla, tar, earthy wood along with dark fruit and leaving a warm compote on the palate. A serious sipper, full-bodied and bold that would go well with a T-bone, rack of lamb or chili con carne all somewhat spicy or well seasoned. If you prefer ‘bold’ this is drinking well now but could cellar for several years mellowing the rough edges and developing more subtlety. 92

DOMAINE LAMARGUE VIOGNIER 2007, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, 14.0% D, #525428 $17.95 (Tasted August 20, 2008)

Vintages described this as “Classic Viognier aromas of honeysuckle, lavender, apricot and gentle blossom notes are on display here. It is dry, round and fat (true to the variety). Enjoy with pasta in a cream sauce, or ceviche of scallops with yogurt topping.” My notes:A light meadow floral and honey fragrance and a light golden colour in the glass. There’s some tangy spice on the first sip then a finish with a citrus, melon and mineral aftertaste. Nicely rounded to balance the tartness making this an ideal grilled red snapper accompaniment. A young wine as yet with some sharpness that should mellow out leaving a creamy smooth texture to a full-bodied meal white. Cellaring two to four years is likely. 89

FONTANAFREDDA BARBERA D'ALBA RAIMONDA 2005, Piedmont, Italy, 13.5% XD, #023135 $16.95 (Tasted August 22, 2008)

Vintages described this as “Enjoy this single-vineyard Barbera with grilled sausages, meats or a truffle risotto. Displays interesting aromas of plum, lemon and hints of tea. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and a long aftertaste of lemon, cappuccino and milk chocolate. The finish is delicious. Drink now. 88/100. (James Suckling, Web Only 2007).” My notes: Let breathe to give time to develop its full character. A brilliant ruby colour with a violet tint and a smoky black cherry aroma, nothing to write home about but pleasant enough. The first sip is drying before a cherry and smoke flavouring takes over, smooth, a slight bite and medium-bodied. A European dry red with fruit nicely balanced with process, not my preferred red for sipping but would be great with red pastas, Italian sausage, chili con carne or beef stroganoff. Cellaring won’t do anything so I’d say it’s a drink now. 86

FINCA SOBREÑO CRIANZA 2004, Toro, Spain, 14.5% XD, #040360 $18.95 (Tasted August 21, 2008)

Vintages described this as “The 2004 Crianza has considerably more to offer. It is a saturated purple in color, with lots of smoke, lead pencil, and cedar on the nose. On the palate, it is full-flavored, layered, and long. It will benefit from 1-3 years of cellaring and drink well for a decade. It is an outstanding value. 90+/100. (Jay Miller, Feb. 2007).” My notes: A black cherry skin colour and soft aromas of ripe black cherries warmed by the sun. A firm tannin coats the tongue while a slight acid bites then flavours of tobacco and ripe cherries carry through to a long dry finish with a modest tar edge. A medium-bodied old world sipper better paired with a spicy tomato rice dish or beef stew. Perhaps cellaring two more years will soften the tannins for a smoother value. 87

BOTROMAGNO GRAVINA 2006, Puglia, Italy, 12.0% D, #082040 $14.95 (Tasted August 22, 2008)

Vintages described this as “The white wines in the Gravina DOC in Puglia must be between 35 and 60% Greco and 40 to 65% Malvasia. This fragrant, flowery, freshly fruity version from Botromagno is 60% Greco and 40% Malvasia. The producer recommends this wine as a fine match for raw oysters.” My notes: A light golden colour clear and bright in the glass with aromas of floral citrus and straw. There’s a bright nip and a dry, moderately rounded texture to the first sip and flavours of citrus and tart quince. The finish is dry and full of citrus zest, mostly lemon, with a smooth clay touch. This would be a great appetizer with fresh oysters, grilled scallops or shrimps on a bed of lemon soaked risotto. Likely it would pair well with roast chicken, King crab meat or lobster pieces. A good value for a house white as an alternative to pinot grigio. 87

TABALI RESERVA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2007, Limarí Valley, Chile, 13.5% XD, #662999 $12.95 (Tasted August 17, 2008)

Vintages described this as “Chile's cool-climate Limarí Valley is achieving wondrous results with Sauvignon Blanc. This elegant and refreshing example is loaded with grapefruit, lime and grassy flavours as well as a touch of minerality. Fresh and crisp, it makes a terrific summer sipper or try it with barbecued prawns.” My notes: On pouring the fragrance is a strong gooseberry with an even portion of nettles as one would expect from a young sauvignon blanc. The colour is a light golden and there’s a slight viscous film showing on the glass leading to a texture that would be a light cream except for the firm astringency – a palate cleaner with a long, acidic straw finish. Not enjoyable as a sipper and must be paired with a meal: pan fried pickerel or perch, a seafood risotto with a pesto and garlic sauce, or cheese and crab quesadillas. Cellaring is a puzzle as a lower fruitiness would leave the acid making this undrinkable so, even at the price I wouldn't chance it - and I wouldn't serve to guests. Skip this vintage. 80

VENTISQUERO QUEULAT GRAN RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005, Maipo Valley, Chile, 14.5% XD, #061937 $16.95 (Tasted August 20, 2008)

Vintages described this as “The June 2008 issue of Wine & Spirits named Ventisquero as one of the top value brands of the year! This attractive Cab shows why with its intriguing notes of toast, earth, cassis and ripe cherry. It's dry, well-structured and elegant with impressive depth and a lingering finish.” My notes: A beautiful rich ruby colour in a broad bowled glass and full aromas of warm wet teak and ripe black currants. There’s quite a tangy brightness with a velvet blackberry and cassis flavouring giving this a unique approach to the palate – an entertaining sipper. The flavours last forever until some subtle oak influences bring up the finish. Very likely a long term cellarer making this an excellent value as changes in flavour and textures give this even more interest. Have with anything beefy and savoury. 92

JEKEL VINEYARDS GRAVELSTONE CHARDONNAY 2006, Monterey, USA, 13.5% D, #421016 $15.95 (Tasted August 21, 2008)

Vintages described this as “This medium-bodied, medium-finishing Chardonnay is an excellent choice for crab cakes with a spicy aioli dipping sauce. Look for pretty aromas of melon, citrus, cinnamon, ripe apple and a touch of oak. Dry and quite fruity, it offers a harmonious balance of fruit, acid and gentle oak.” My notes: A light golden blond with aromas of light oak, butter and citrus in that order of prominence and with a buttery mouth feel. There are flavours of a combination of lime and lemon zest followed by a dry, honeyed-edged grass. This finishes fairly light on the palate but warm and dry. A sipper if you like a buttery chardonnay and, true to its name, there is a mineral edge to the aroma, flavour and finish. Serve this chilled and let warm slightly - a group of wine drinkers would find this an interesting chardonnay to sip by itself or with hors d’oeuvres . I’d serve it to family or friends on any occasion except to ABCs. Have with chicken, pork, planked salmon or spicy mussels. Should be able to cellar this up to four years. 91

SCHLOSS SCHÖNBORN RIESLING 1994, Rhinegau, Germany, 10.0% MD, #107557 $14.95 (Tasted August 23, 2008)

Vintages described this as “As with many older Rieslings, this QbA from Schönborn is drier than it would have been in its youth. It is still a terrific value with dried lemon, peach and lanolin aromas and flavours. The acids are still quite fresh, yet perfectly in balance with the fruit. A remarkable value for a maturing Riesling. It will still reward more time in a cellar (2-4 years), but is an excellent companion tonight with grilled salmon. ” My notes: As the Vintages staff said ‘quite enjoyable!’. A light blond colour, clear and crisp in a tulip glass and having an apricot and petrol fragrance, both subtle. The flavours ride on an astringent seam accompanied by a natural fruit sugar like the coating on some doughnuts, sweet but not too when balanced by the acid. Medium-bodied with a long finish of ‘sweet and sour’, a light lemon and honey. Have as an aperitif by itself or with fruit or cheeses. Pair with Chinese, Thai or sushi fare. Drinking well now and should cellar for many more years. 90

VINECOL TORRONTÉS 2007, Mendoza, Argentina, 13.3% D, #032748 $13.95 (Tasted August 18, 2008)

Vintages described this as “Made from organic grapes. Torrontés has become for white wine in Argentina what Malbec is for reds, a signature grape. Here the grape produces aromatic, floral, and fruity wines that are a touch reminiscent of Viognier or Muscat. Match this one with spicy Asian cuisine. Our Quality Assurance laboratory has determined that this wine contains 21 mg/L of free sulphur. ” My notes: A pleasant fragrance of wild flowers and honey fading into sweet grass. A light golden colour having a soft texture with flavours of citrus, melon and mild minerals. Leaves a softness on the lips with a bright reminder of citrus and a clay finish. A sociable summer sipper for a mixed crowd – no one would refuse a refill and may lead to a guessing game for a ‘varietal’. Serve well chilled with a fruit tray, with brie, gruyere and edam, or a shrimp ring. Pair with roasted chicken or turkey breast and lingonberry, pork chop with apple sauce or a seasoned seafood dish. A drink now. 92

Monday, August 04, 2008

Gouging at the Pumps

Dining out has become an enjoyable pastime in our weekly things-to-do. Not that we dine out a lot nor splurge at the poshest eateries. We have our favourite places and we’re always willing to try a new neon at least giving the menu a perusal if not reserving for a visit. I’ve started using a website,, to locate restaurants in our area. Each restaurant listed provides past patrons an opportunity to submit their review… But back to the subject … ‘Gouging at the Pumps’ or more directly ‘Restaurant Mark-up on Wines’. Before looking at a wine list I open the regular menu asking about the daily specials along the way. I’ve got my menu gazing down to a regular protocol. First, bouncing each item off my appetite asking it for an opinion. I pause long enough for the chef’s description to soak through to all of my senses. I do this once for the appetizers and then for the entrées. I skip the dessert section all together so my intake balances my physical activity – I’m a sloth during the week.

Once the appetizer and main course are decided, on to the wine list. My approach here is different. First, I peruse the complete list for how imaginative the wine selections are. Is it full of commercial labels? Is there a sampling of country, varietal, and winery? You can often tell how serious a restaurant is about food by learning how they approach pairing of their wines. As an aside… I recall my BH, I and friends having dinner in a small Hamilton bistro… don’t recall the name and don’t want to. Asking for the short wine list we ordered a bottle of Californian Chateauneuf de Pape-like. A short wait while the waiter brought the bottle and a decanter to the table. The bottle was presented, ceremoniously opened, white linen wiped the rim, then upturned into the decanter with the waiter remarking ‘aeration always improves a good wine’s flavour’ and server and bottle left the table. The lighting at the table made it difficult to see until I held the decanter up to the candle. The murkiness, nose and flavour indicated this ‘Chateauneuf de Pape-like’ was a $48 home brew!

Back to ‘Gouging… ’ A restaurant’s mark-up for wines from LCBO shelves is easily determined although even this is fallible. Sometimes a tiered wine is hard to spot – e.g. a Carmen Reserve Merlot ($16.95 LCBO) comes to the table as Carmen Merlot ($10.95 LCBO). But you can always check the label and refuse the bottle. Twice the price is rare but sometimes it’s an indication the restaurant is motivated by food and service rather than profiteering. It seems the ratio is becoming three times or more these days. When a wine is from a distributor, knowing the value then depends on knowing much more… and please don’t suggest depending on the ‘sommelier’ unless he’s your brother’s uncle.

Another aside to illustrate the last point: A special night out for me and my BH sent us to a restaurant off lower Brant in Burlington, to a restaurant no longer in business. The ‘sommelier’ asked if we would like a bottle of the red featured that evening. Asking the price I was surprised - $84. I declined and chose from the wine list. Later two young men intent on having a good evening with their spouses were asked the same question: “Would you like to try our featured red this evening?” They agreed without asking the price. During the course of the evening a second bottle arrived at the table. Either the couples would be shocked at the final bill for the evening – or more likely I’m just out of their league.

You’d think a restaurant, especially in Niagara’s wine region, would give some consideration for local wines by offering them at lower mark-ups. I found this to be a fallacy when recently dining in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Niagara wines were priced with the same tourist level mark-ups. And since local wines are often priced by carafe or glass the mark-up can be higher. So much for promoting the local wine industry.

I do mind paying three times mark-up for a taste of a wine I would not normally consume. On the other hand I seriously get unhinged paying $50 extra for a $25 wine I would enjoy. Talk about ‘rock and hard place’! Now I wouldn’t mind and consider it completely reasonable to pay a ‘wine service charge’ recognizing the expense of a controlled wine cellar, glassware, spoilage and server training. If I ordered a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon at $28 with $30 added for service I would be well satisfied – but it’s not gonna happen, is it?

My last aside: OK, so accepting the status quo and gritting my teeth I’ll go with three times mark-up when a bottle is rendered down to the ‘per glass’ level, eg. $36 for a $12 Yellow Tail Shiraz or $24 for an $8 Citra Pinot Grigio. At this rate a 5 oz. glass would be $7.20 for the red and $4.80 for the white before tip, taxes and ignoring any discounted ‘licensee pricing’ of the wines. However, when some 750ml (25 oz.) bottles are labelled ‘7 - 9 servings’, the return is $50+ and $35+ for the same wines - an approximate mark-up of 4 times for what often can be ‘stale’ wine. To me, that’s ‘Gouging at the Pumps!’

Well, I got that off my chest!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

'Featherstone Estate' Wines: 5 Tasted of 5

It seemed to be a ‘perfect storm’ except ‘storm’ is entirely wrong for a visit to the Niagara wine country – ‘perfect calm’ is more like it. After the heaviest rainfall in July, August started clear for the holiday weekend, the temperature and humidity were tolerable for a short drive and I had just received Rod Phillips Winepointer #12 which featured Featherstone Estate Winery‘s 2007 white releases.

Featherstone Estate, located on the slope of the Niagara Escarpment, has vineyards to produce at most 4000 cases of wine a year and has not as yet been featured by LCBO’s Vintages. This is to change in the near future. Their website is well worth visiting for more detail of their pesticide free horticultural practices which includes falconry and sheep grazing and their dedication to wines.

The 2007 vintage whites released in July were grown, produced and bottled by the winery using grapes from vineyards on the heavy clay of Twenty Mile Bench. Only three of the wines reviewed in Winepointer were available at the winery, however, it was worth the trip to try some of the 2006 vintage produced with the broader VQA of Niagara Peninsula.

The tiny ‘tasting room’ served all purposes and it quickly became very cozy on a busy Sunday afternoon but the Featherstone people are a precious reminder of how hospitable the Niagara wine route can be. As before, as wines are tasted they appear in bold. Cheers, Ww (G - General Listing, V - Vintages, VC - Vintages Collection, O - Other, RP - Winepointer )
  • Featherstone Old Vines Riesling 2007 VQA Twenty Mile Bench, RP90-93, Ww88 -- O, Niagara, Canada, #Winery $17.15
  • Featherstone Estate Bottled Gewurztraminer 2007 VQA Twenty Mile Bench, RP90-93, Ww87 -- O, Niagara, Canada, #064592 $18.95
  • Featherstone Estate Bottled Unoaked Chardonnay 2006 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ww86 -- O, Niagara, Canada, #Winery $14.15
  • Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2007 VQA Twenty Mile Bench, RP87-89, Ww84 -- O, Niagara, Canada, #Winery $17.15
  • Featherstone Estate Bottled Sauvignon Blanc 2006 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ww80 – O, Niagara, Canada, #Winery $17.15
FEATHERSTONE OLD VINES RIESLING 2007 VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada, 10.5% D, #Winery $17.15 (Tasted August 10, 2008)

Winery notes: The vineyard for this Riesling was established on the Featherstone property in the late 1970's. The grapes are Weiss clone, famous for the fresh citrus and clean mineral character they impart to the wine. An exceptionally well balanced and intense wine with delightful lingering flavours- lemon-lime, grapefruit, mineral and a touch of petrol. This vintage expresses the quintessential nature of Niagara Riesling, pure and simple. My notes: A clear liquid in the glass except for a slight greenish tint and aromas of lavender and lime, slight but there. The first sip has a bright lemonade touch and finishes clay-like on the palate with a layer of lime, dry and crisp, and a hint of petrol. Serve well chilled then watch changes as it goes off chill. I’m tempted to try it with a maraschino and cube as an aperitif. Have with fresh oysters or a shrimp ring. Pair with rice dishes with a lemon drizzle and scallop pieces or lobster claws. A style setter for Niagara rieslings – definitely not old world and a drink now. Ww88

FEATHERSTONE BLACK SHEEP RIESLING 2007 VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada, 10.5% D, #Winery $17.15 (Tasted August 12, 2008)

Label notes: This wine is named in the honour of the 5 sheep who helped to make it. The sheep were used in the vineyard to eat away the grape leaves that shaded the grape clusters. This exposes the grapes to sunlight enhancing their ripeness and quality – and ensuring an exceptional wine that is crisp and refreshing with a pronounced citrus character. My notes: A light blond colour leaving a thin film on the glass when swirled and aromas of almost detectable field flowers, citrus and honey. Served chilled but sipped off chill this is light-bodied with faint citrus flavours and ending tangy with a light clay finish. A sociable white to have in for family and friends – somewhat delicate as a meal white unless for cold chicken slices on greens or bocconcini, sliced tomato, vinaigrette on baby spinach. Was OK with roasted chicken breasts stuffed with basil, sundried tomato and brie. A drink now. Ww84

Niagara, Canada, 13.0% D, #064592 $18.95 (Tasted August 9, 2008)

Label notes: This wine has everything going for it – intense grapefruit and rosewater aromas, a little spice and zesty freshness. Because it is off-dry, it pairs well with a variety of foods and is best enjoyed with Asian dishes, vegetarian entrées or roast chicken. Great also as an aperitif, chill lightly and take to parties. My notes: The first Featherstone to be released by Vintages on August 16, 2008. A light golden colour with a nose of light kiwi or at least an appealing perfumed aroma could be ‘grapefruit and rosewater’. Better off chill the flavour is a blend of soft apple, pear, honey tones and a moderate citrus zest, smooth and lasting into a long, off dry, peach seed finish. The texture has a ‘Twenty Mile Bench’ roundness and is lacking the crisp spice of a european gewurz - not 'bad' just different. Serve as a conversation sipper for a buffet social – or as an aperitif with a platter of shellfish nibbles with plum sauce, a chinese banquet or lightly grilled white fish with an orange sauce. A drink now. Ww87

FEATHERSTONE ESTATE BOTTLED UNOAKED CHARDONNAY 2006 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Niagara, Canada, 13.2% D, #Winery $14.15 (Tasted August 5, 2008)

Winery notes: What does chardonnay taste like when unembroidered by oak? Our estate grown chardonnay has aromas of citrus, sweet apple purée, pear and melon with a rich mouth feel. Clean and crisp, it suggests alfresco summer meals. Can also be enjoyed anytime you just want to think about summer. My notes: A crisp blond colour with aromas of pear, melon and lemon grass - if you sniff hard. Light legs and a flavour of pear and melon with enough smoothness and spicy tang to add interest as well as balance a slight sweetness. Refreshing and holding long enough to confirm the flavours then leave a light spice on the palate - seems as tho’ there’s some semillon in there somewhere. More of a meal white with enough zest to pair with sliced cold chicken on greens, grilled telapia on asparagus spears or a shrimp/scallop penne - was great with a seasoned sliced chicken breast/ mushroom/ pepper/ shallot stir-fry. A drink now and reasonably priced to keep a few cellared for next summer and still not lose the fruit. Ww86

FEATHERSTONE ESTATE BOTTLED SAUVIGNON BLANC 2006 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Niagara, Canada, 12.8% D, #Winery $17.15

Winery notes: This wine has lots of tropical fruit flavours (lemon, lime and kiwi) with the typical straw and grassy note. Zesty, refreshing and incredibly drinkable. It’s a summer’s day in a glass, full of vitality and spirit. Enjoy slightly chilled with a patio lunch, as pre-dinner sipping or with seafood appetizers. My notes: A ‘sniff hard’ bouquet, mostly of apple sauce with a grassy edge - and reasonable legs when swirled. A smooth texture with a puzzling blend of fruit: initially some green gooseberry shows, then a light lime followed by creamy apple although the flavours never assert themselves until fading quickly to a crushed lemon seed finish. Having with nibbles of seafood spread on breads or a shrimp ring, somewhat mild in flavour, would be interesting or pairing with grilled halibut or cod, not battered, with chips or onion rings. Not for cellaring and could be past peak. Ww80

Friday, August 01, 2008

August 2008 Wines: 15 Tasted of 15

The theme for August are wines chosen from a winery that has had ratings in the mid eighties and higher for wines previously tasted (and two ripassos because the labels looked interesting). The thought is if a winery makes a few above average wines they may do well with other varietals or styles. The vintage and the winemaker may vary, and even the location of the vineyards but hopefully the philosophy and quality control will be the same for all their wines. As before, the tasted wines appear in bold. We’ll see what happens… Cheers, Ww

THE LINEUP - grouped by reds, whites, sparkles and other:
  • Quintus Valpolicella Ripasso 2006, 92-2 -- V, Veneto, Italy, #081455 $17.95
  • Alfredo Roca Pinot Noir 2006, 90-2 -- V, San Rafael, Argentina, #032979 $13.95
  • Wyndham Estate Bin 999 Merlot 2006, 90-2 -- G, South Eastern Australia, #336347 $15.45
  • Wolf Blass Cabernet Merlot 1999, 89-1 -- G, South Australia, #611483 $16.95
  • Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella 2006, 88-1 -- V, Veneto, Italy, #083964 $19.95
  • Sileni Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2007, 60 -- V, Hawkes Bay, NZ, #694901 $16.95

  • Wente ‘Morning Fog’ Chardonnay 2006, 86 -- G, Livermore Valley, USA, #175430 $16.05
  • Wyndham Estate Bin 222 Chardonnay 2006, 80 -- G, South Eastern Australia, #093401 $11.45*
  • Creekside Estate Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2006 VQA Niagara Peninsula, 78 -- V, Niagara, Canada, #053371 $18.95
  • Barefoot Cellars Pinot Grigio NV, 70 -- G, Napa, USA, #053983 $9.95 

  • Codorniu Brut Cava Pinot Noir Rosé NV, 89-1 -- V, Penedes, Spain, #665372 $16.95
  • Foss Marai Prosecco Extra Dry ‘Blue Bottle’ NV, 88-1 -- V, Italy, #729392 $17.95
  • Codorniu Reserva Raventos Cava Brut NV, 88-1 -- V, Penedes, Spain, #521773 $14.95
  • Navarro Correas Extra Brut NV, 85 -- G, Mendoza, Argentina, #066563 $14.95
  • Valdivieso Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine Brut NV, 80 -- V, Curicó Valley, Chile, #075085 $14.95
(G - General Listing, V - Vintages,  O - Other, r-v - Rating - Value,)

QUINTUS VALPOLICELLA RIPASSO 2006, Veneto, Italy, 13.5% D, #081455 $17.95 (Tasted August 26, 2008)

A Vintages release on August 16, 2008 described as “Ripasso means the addition of grape skins used to make Amarone to the already fermented Valpolicella wine, thereby causing a second fermentation. As a result, the aroma and flavour profiles deepen. In this version, the aromas are reminiscent of chocolate-covered raisin, leather, vanilla and red table grapes. This dry wine is actually quite fruity and round in the mouth.” My notes:This has a rich ruby colour and a chocolate covered cherry nose not overly evident but appealing and leaves long legs on the glass. A smooth first sip with fine tannins and a flavour of black cherries, raspberries and a tobacco edge leaving a silky fullness on the lips and palate, scrumptious being the overall effect. A well managed ripasso imho having depth as a sipper not wanting that next hors d’oeuvre. Pair with prime roast beef, a cheesy ground beef lasagne, pot roast or crock pot stew – not a lot of spice but well seasoned. Cellaring for four to six years could add even more velvet tones and flavour layers. At the price it’d be worth the try. 92

CORTE GIARA RIPASSO VALPOLICELLA 2006, Veneto, Italy, 13.5% D, #083964 $19.95 (Tasted August 26, 2008)

A Vintages release on July 19, 2008 described as “A real knockout, this ready-to-drink Ripasso is intensely flavoured with layers of berries, tobacco and smoke. Dry and medium-bodied, it's a food-friendly red that's delicious with spicy Italian sausages hot off the grill. Outperforming many in its class, this attractively priced Ripasso has Allegrini's signature stamp of quality. An extremely popular wine style - and for good reason.” My notes: A deep ruby colour and needs to breathe a few minutes to develop smoky oak tones, possibly with some plum and blackberry aromas. It’s bright on the palate suggesting red cherries, dry, smooth, medium-bodied and has fine tannins and a long finish, also dry, keeping the red cherry brightness. An OK sipper for an outdoor bbq but primarily a pasta red – have with tomato and meat dishes: Italian sausage, portabella mushrooms, seared veal chops in a spicy tomato sauce. A drink now but could keep a few years possibly increasing its silky texture. 88
FOSS MARAI PROSECCO EXTRA DRY 'BLUE BOTTLE', Italy, 11.5% XD, #729392 $17.95 (Retasted August 24, 2008)

My notes: A clear blond with a rush of bubbles all sizes then settling slowly to steady streams in a fluted glass. The aroma is of cold apple pie with a butterscotch drizzle. Full of cream and apple/pear flavours sprizty on the palate and a smooth finish that is long and creamy. This still does not come across as ‘Extra Dry’ and barely makes ‘Brut’. Not for oysters but would pair nicely with Belgian waffles with whipped cream and mixed summer berries. Originally cellared in May 2006 and likely mellowed since, a quaffer rather than a sipper. Serve well chilled to summer patio guests, with a cold lobster salad or after dinner and coffee as a quencher. Has kept well over two years and should continue for another two, methinks not longer. 88

WOLF BLASS CABERNET MERLOT 1999, South Australia, 13.0% #611483 $16.95 (Retasted August 27, 2008)
My notes: Cellared in July, 2002 with three to six years cellaring suggested on the label. First tasted in February 2005 and last tasted in September 2007 when it was rated Ww80 with the comment ‘past peak’. The colour is still a deep ruby with a garnet cast. The nose is now a smoky cherry and herbal not unlike oregano, soft and subtle. There is a light taste of sweet black currant balanced by a natural tartness and having a suede texture. Medium-bodied, this finishes long and surprisingly tasty, fine tannins, some berries, a few currants and herbal edge. Now a pleasing integration of fruit and spice with a soft texture, it appears to have turned around in the last year showing some staying power. Have with prime rib, T-bone or stews... or just sip. This was my last bottle so I won’t be able to see if it continues to change. 89
CODORNÍU BRUT CAVA PINOT NOIR ROSÉ, Penedes, Spain, 12.0% XD, #665372 $16.95 (Retasted August 17, 2008)

Released by Vintages on June 21, 2008 described as “Appealing Summer rosé Cava, with warm red berry flavors laced with mineral and earth notes. Shows some grip on the finish. Ready to drink now. (, April/May 2008)” My notes: Last tasted in December last year with a rating of Ww85 – now with more cream. The colour is a soft crushed strawberry and the aroma is a combination of strawberries and leesy cherries. Continuous bubbles of all sizes leave a ring at the rim and a firm spritz with each sip. The texture is softened with a light cream against flavours of mostly strawberries, dry, with a steely edge that becomes more pronounced at room temp – keep chilled. This is a refreshing before speech drink – during and after as well. Good with fresh oysters or grilled scallops, tapas, bruschetta, and proscuito wrapped shrimp. An economical bubbly in an attractive clear bell shaped bottle gives this appeal for most festive occasions. 89

Napa, USA, 13.0% D, #053983 $9.95 (Tasted September 22, 2007)

A General listing described as “Pale straw with aromas of pineapple, citrus and floral. Dry, light to medium-bodied with notes of pineapple and hints of citrus ending with a very crisp finish. Serve with salads, soft cheeses, tuna sandwiches, anchovy pizza.” My notes: An E&J Gallo entry level beverage last tasted in September 2007 noting ‘a faint blond colour with faint aromas of wildflowers with a slight honey edge’ and rated Ww78. The label still carries the Gold Medal seal from the 2006 Indy International and the 'NV' says grapes can come from anywhere at anytime. The first sip brings a spicy sweetness of fruit balanced evenly with acid and ending with nondescript flavouring I’d say mostly artificial or neglible citrus. The previous ‘roundness’ is no longer present in the recipe for this production run. A quaffable beverage and OK with nibbles to provide interest but for a regular wine drinker this is somewhere between unpleasant and just tolerable. 70

South Eastern Australia, 13.0% D, #093401 $11.45* (Tasted August 10, 2008)

A General listing described as “Lemon yellow colour; fragrant aromas of tropical fruit, pineapple, peach and vanilla oak; dry, medium-bodied with soft fruit flavours; citrus and spice on the finish. Serve with grilled chicken, pork chops; shrimp dishes. My notes: *Previously priced $11.95 now regularly $12.45. No change in the LCBO writeup and still a light blond colour with aromas of faint pineapple, straw and honey - consistent so far. The flavours are delivered with a slight nip and fall between lemon and tropical fruit, not as strongly flavoured nor as creamy as last tasted (December 2007). A lightish medium-body finishing dry on the lips with some acid, some indiscernible fruit remaining and a pithy edge. A commercial house white for an open bar or bridge, euchre or canasta social. Have with salty nibbles, fowl or fish, roasted or grilled. A drink now and always available. This time I didn’t get ‘a light oil’ or ‘refreshing citrus’, in that respect 2006 is less interesting and similar to the 2004. 80

ALFREDO ROCA PINOT NOIR 2006, San Rafael, Argentina, 12.8% D, #032979 $13.95 (Tasted August 10, 2008)

A Vintages release on July 19, 2008 described as “As the southernmost region of Mendoza, San Rafael offers the cool climate ideal for growing Pinot Noir. This deep crimson-coloured wine displays attractive black cherry and floral aromas, with vanilla notes imparted by its 8-month maturation in oak. Delicate and long-finishing, this will complement grilled pork tenderloin or grilled salmon.” My notes: The 2005 vintage was tasted in April, 2007 with the comment “A ‘process driven’ Pinot… I didn’t care for it.” Rod Phillips (of Winecurrent at the time) had said of the 2005 “Serve this to me blind and I wouldn’t have thought it was a pinot noir” and rated it four out of five (90-93). To me the 2006 is an attractive italian ripasso having a similar bouquet of infused amarone grape skins – rich, full of cherries, earthy. The colour is a deep ruby and shows slow legs on the glass. The first sip has tobacco, chocolate, black cherries, some dark berries and nary a strawberry in sight. The flavours are carried to a long soft finish which ends well balanced with fine tannins and tart fruit. A medium-bodied sipper and a respectable house red for the price. A flexible meal red for anything grilled and savoury including tomato pizzas and pastas - not salmon. 'Process driven' yes, but this time with fruit. This should cellar well up to four years making it a real value. 90

WENTE ‘MORNING FOG’ CHARDONNAY 2006, Livermore Valley, USA, 13.5% D, #175430 $16.05 (Tasted August 11, 2008)

A General listing described as “Pale straw colour; apple and pear aromas with mineral and oaky notes; round fruit flavours with a citrusy finish. Serve with pasta in a cream sauce or with finger foods.” My notes: The LCBO description hasn’t changed since this was previously tasted (June 07, 2007) as vintage 2005 and before ‘Morning Fog’ was attached to the label. The colour is a pale straw and aromas are scarcely perceptible in this vintage, I’d say a leesy butter and minimal mandarin as it comes off chill. Served at 14C the first sip has a creamy texture and a flavour of nutty citrus and apple, not that tart well balanced with not that fruity. This is an easy sipper to go with conversation or with melon balls and pineapple cubes – serve to anyone not ABC. Mostly chardonnay (97%) blended with gewurztraminer (2%) for interest and semillon (1%) for roundness this is equally enjoyable at just above room temperature. The finish is smooth, bright and warm. French barrel oaking didn’t carry through to the flavour. Pair with pork tenderloin, veal parmigiana, turkey breast or chicken. It could benefit from cellaring two years which may develop more caramel. 86

WYNDHAM ESTATE BIN 999 MERLOT 2006, South Eastern Australia, 14.5% D, #336347 $15.45 (Tasted August 7, 2008)

A General listing described as “Garnet colour; blackberry, cherry and plum aromas with light oak; ripe fruit flavours, soft tannin, oaky finish. Serve with veal tenderloin, poultry.” My notes: The Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz 2004 and Show Reserve Shiraz 2003 were packaged as a duo before Christmas 2007 and were rated Ww90 and Ww92 respectively. The Bin 555 Shiraz 2005 was rated Ww91 in June this year and Bin 888 Cabernet Merlot 2003, Ww86. I last tasted the Merlot, vintage 2003, in October of 2005 with a lack of enthusiasm saying ‘Finish starts but doesn’t develop, is short and uninteresting.’ In contrast this 2006 Merlot (100%) is full of tangy berries and currants almost aggressive. The nose is berry and currant that carries these flavours along with an assertive edge. The finish is bright on the tongue and held its own with a tomato and ground beef lasagna. It’s a bright sipper and would pair well with well seasoned grilled beef or rack of lamb. Veal and poultry may be too mild for this spunky merlot. Well worth the price – so far other Wyndhams have cellared well and altho’ drinking well this may need a few years to soften some youthfulness. 90

NAVARRO CORREAS EXTRA BRUT NV, Mendoza, Argentina, 13.0% D, #066563 $14.95 (Tasted August 8 , 2008.

A General release. My notes: Previously tasted in March this year and rated 80 and now priced $1 less. The Valdivieso Malbec previously tasted was stunning (93) for the price and their Chardonnay was rated 83. Tiny bubbles rush to the rim settling to a steady stream and forming a ring. A blend of half chardonnay and half pinot noir the colour is a light blond with just a touch of peach. The nose is mostly pie dough but with an apple skin twist, faint and fairly indicative of flavours to come – which come slowly building to show apple, melon and oatmeal finishing as creamy tart apple with a soft mineral edge. Not inspiring oohs and aahs and better if taken in large sips - even better with fresh oysters or crab cakes and could be OK with a cheese tray on a hot summer day. Personally it's not the style of bubbly I'd choose for special guests or occasion but try it - it might work for you. 85

Curicó Valley, Chile, 12.5% D, #075085 $14.95 (Tasted August 6, 2008)

Released by Vintages August 2, 2008 described as “With more than a century of experience, Valdivieso is Chile's oldest sparkling wine producer. Made with 100% Chardonnay sourced from estate vineyards in the Curicó Valley, this Blanc de Blancs is crafted using the traditional method with its secondary fermentation done in the bottle. Exhibiting lively citrus and green apple flavours, this elegant bubbly is an excellent value that would pair well with sushi, summer salads, or crab cakes.” My notes: The Valdivieso chardonnay tasted in March this year was rated 85 and their rose 85 so thought this worth a try. A burst of all sized bubbles settling to a constant stream and forming a light ring at the rim. A mild apple with pear and yeast sidelights form the nose although you need a strong sniffer. Serve well chilled for flavours of mild ripe green apple finishing doughy smooth with some grass on the palate. Have as an aperitif with fresh oysters, a variety of tapas, mild cheesy bruscetta or pair with grilled seafood dishes. The flavours are more pronounced the larger the sip in this bubbly but the finish doesn’t avoid being on the doughy side and disappointing – must have with hors d’oeuvres. It’s not going anywhere if cellared so a drink now. 80

Niagara, Canada, 12.5% D, #053371 $18.95 (Tasted August 4, 2008)

Released by Vintages March 29, 2008 described as “This is a dynamic example. Very generous, spicy, smoky nose with lavender, nutmeg, pineapple and lime nuances. Medium-full bodied, creamy and exotic, with great acidity drying nicely on the finish with some green tea, wood tannin, sap and loads of spice. Excellent length. (90/100, David Lawrason, Nov. 20, 2007)” My notes: Creekside’s Mike Weir labeled wines were rated from 80 to 88 and the Creekside Laura’s Blend White tasted June this year was rated 88. The colour of this Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is a light golden, crisp with reasonable legs on the glass indicative of its round mouthfeel. The aroma is gooseberry and grass with emphasis on fruit. The taste has a freshness of fruit but leans away from gooseberries to flavours of dull apple with a nutty note and finishing long with more of the same. A chameleon of a sauvignon blanc and for me a sniffer but not a sipper. I think it’s past its ‘best before date’. Should be OK with grilled freshwater fish or a buffet of seafood nibbles – lost it with grilled arctic char. 78

SILENI CELLAR SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2007, Hawkes Bay, NZ, 13.5% D, #694901 $16.95 (Tasted August 1, 2008)

A Vintages release on August 2, 2008 described as “The 2007 vintage works well as a drink-young style. On the market within six months of the harvest, it's basically a Beaujolais-style red, made with 'minimal' oak handling. Full-bodied, ripe and supple, with plenty of plummy, spicy, slightly earthy flavour, it should be at its best during 2008. (3 out of 5, Michael Cooper, Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines, 2008)”. My notes: I was reasonably impressed with Sileni wines tasted previously, their ratings being in the high 80’s (Rose 88, Pinot Gris 89, Sauv Blanc 90) but I’m not sure how this ever made it to a Vintages release. After decanting for several hours I still found it unacceptable. It’s packaged attractively and is a pleasing ruby colour in a wide bowl - but that’s where the attraction ends. The aroma is an equal cross between mild strawberry, mild raspberry with a sharp astringency. The first sip is smooth on the tonsils building expectations then a chokecherry takes over. The finish has a sting etching the palate with a chokecherry sharpness. Not a sipper and difficult to imagine a food combination that would work. PS. Was acceptably tamer two days left in the carafe. 60

CODORNÍU RESERVA RAVENTÓS CAVA BRUT NV, Penedes, Spain, 11.5% XD, #521773 $14.95 (Tasted August 2, 2008)

Released by Vintages August 2, 2008 described as “Such good value! Complex, refreshing and nicely streamlined, it's a lighter styled, well aged bubbly with more apple-pear fruit than usual in cava due to 50% chardonnay in the blend. Pleasant sweetish brioche, apple pie on the nose with a touch of celery-like greenness as well. Light to medium bodied, zesty with a touch of sweetness then a drier mineral finish. Very good length. (89/100, David Lawrason, March/April 2007)” My notes: Available on December 1, 2007 along with their Pinot Noir Rosé (85) as a gift pack at $29.95. Their Non Plus Ultra at $20.95 was rated 91. Raventos is a blend of 50% chard, 25% macabeo and 25% xarel-lo. This release still has light golden colour, ‘lots of large bubbles subsiding to a steady stream and no froth. The nose is a crisp crabapple against a leasy background’. Fine bubbles can be felt intermingled with flavours of tart apple, lime and pie dough smoothly textured, almost creamy, hanging on to a long finish - not purse-your-lips tart as in last December’s release. A bubbly to be served to any festive crowd on a budget or as an afternoon appetizer with fresh oysters. Serve very chilled for the longest capture of bubbles and fruit. The bell shaped bottle should cellar for years. 88