Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winery Signs

Have you ever noticed when you travel through ‘wine country’, no matter the country or locale, the character of many wines are often reflected in the character of the winery. One of the first wineries visited when returning to Ontario was a little bungalow just off King Street in Grimsby. An unassuming home beside a fallow field with a working tractor carrying the owner’s sons to/from the old vines somewhere out of sight. I was introduced to Niagara cottage wines by a mother swept up by the popularity of her son’s wines, offering the hospitality of her kitchen and using the living room to store countless cases of product for sale as if in homage to his success. Daniel Lenko’s classic Old Vines Chardonnay 1999 was our introduction to Niagara whites.

Later we would visit many other wineries with different styles. For instance: the family orientation of Organized Crime Winery, the formality of Vineland Estates, the business veneer of Reif and Tawse, the foreign gloss of Chateau des Charmes.

Last year a blight on the Niagara landscape came in the form of the No. 99 Wayne Gretzky Estates property. Previously the site was the Willow Heights Estates winery, a quaint adobe homestead with front courtyard. Still in the early years of establishing a marketing image it may be excused except for the garish signage on the building and roadside of the well travelled Niagara Wine Route.
Has the signage carried through to the wine or, now with winemaker Craig McDonald, could the 2007 vintage be the turning point for drink-ability? Maybe. Perhaps I should just accept the introduction of ‘hockey puck’ to Wine country?

My opinion, Ww


  • Merlot 2006 VQA, #063966 (Oct 2007 -- 78)
  • Unoaked Chardonnay 2006 VQA, #063826 (Oct 2007 -- 76)
  • Meritage 2006 VQA, #075689 (Jan 2009 -- 80)
  • Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 VQA, #063826 (Jan 2009 -- 85)
  • Merlot 2007 VQA, # 063966 (Jan 2009 -- 89)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Calamus Estate Futures Event

Release list & order form
Calamus Estate Winery Futures Event
Time: Sunday January 18th, 1pm
Place: Calamus Estate Winery
Hosts: Derek Saunders & Pat Latin
Marketing: Larry Horne, Sheila Minkhorst
Winemaker: Arthur Harder, Steve (Asst.)
  • Three reds featured as 2007 Futures:
    2007 Cabernet Franc VQA, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon VQA, 2007 Meritage VQA
  • Others: 2007 Vinemount Ridge Riesling VQA, 2007 Barrel Kissed Chardonnay VQA

Meeting Steve Byfield
Early arrivals browse while the upper tasting room of the newly renovated barn is set up for the Futures. This was the ‘inaugural event’ for this room and the first Futures for the Winery. Scenes of the area painted by local artists were hanging for display on the timbered walls. The barn, a work in process, shows the attention to historic detail as well as being a craft winery reflecting a dedication to winemaking.
Before the session Steve, the assistant winemaker took questions along with the attending staff. Arthur then led the tastings elaborated by Derek with a quick history of Niagara sub appellations and the assignment of the Winery to the Vinemount Ridge sub appellation.
Head table
I have to avoid rating the wines presented. Projecting the direction and how each of these reds would develop once bottled then aged is very different from rating a fully matured wine. Then I add: the 2007 Cab Franc compared favourably to a ‘nouveau’ still bearing the freshness of ripe berries but without a leesy nose. The Cabernet Sauvignon benefited from a fuller structure with balanced tannin and acids. The blend for the 2007 Meritage (50% CS, 25% CF, 25% Merlot) was decided by ‘committee‘ and, perhaps to a certain extent, lacked the winemaker‘s ownership. The Vinemount Riesling had a unique mineral and floral nose reflecting the Ridge terroir. Its texture and balance was similar to their 2007 (Beamsville Bench) Riesling.
Ending too late for us to return to the August Restaurant - where we had stoked up on a brunch of eggs Benedict earlier - for cream scones and jam, the trip home was through a light snowfall and for a Sunday afternoon very light QEW traffic. 

A super event with interesting wines… and enjoyed by everyone thanks to the hospitality of the Calamus crew.
Cheers, Ww

Friday, January 02, 2009

January 2009 Wines: 25 Tasted of 25

Half of these wines were Christmas gifts from family members who know of my predilection (and hobby). The rest were bought on spec throughout the month. As before, when tasted the wine will appear in bold.

Cheers, Ww
  • Mission Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 VQA Okanagan Valley, 92-2 -- V, BC, Canada, #553321  $22.95
  • Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles 2006, 92-1 -- V, Barossa Valley, Australia, #723940  $29.95
  • Clarence Hill Shiraz 2005, 90-1 -- V, McLaren Vale, Australia, #599811 $20.95
  • Julián Chivite Gran Feudo Viñas Viejas Reserva 2003, 90-2 -- V, Navarra, Spain, #948067 $19.95
  • No. 99 Wayne Gretzky Estates Merlot 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula, 89-2 -- G, Vineland, Canada, #063966 $15.95
  • Baglio Caruso Ruggiero Syrah 2006, 89-x -- O, Sicily, Italy, #Other $xx
  • Marquee Classic Artisan Wines GSM 2006, 89-1 -- V, South Eastern Australia, #075010 $18.95
  • Julián Chivite Gran Feudo Reserva 2003, 84 -- V, Navarra, Spain, #479014 $15.95
  • Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, 84 -- V, Maipo Valley, Chile, #081190 $19.95
  • No. 99 Wayne Gretzky Estates Meritage 2006 VQA Niagara Peninsula, 80 -- G, Vineland, Canada, #075689 $15.95
  • Montalto Nero d’Avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, 80 -- G, Sicily, Italy, #621151 $9.95

  • Parri Estate Viognier Chardonnay 2007, 92-3 -- V, Southern Fleurieu, Australia, #017319 $17.95
  • Fairhall Downs Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, 91-2 -- V, Marlborough, NZ, #990580 $19.95
  • William Fèvre Chile Gran Cuvée Chardonnay 2007, 90-2 -- V, Maipo Valley, Chile, #045146 $18.95
  • Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2006, 90-1 -- V, Leyda Valley, Chile, #077693 $20.95
  • Granite Hills ‘Macedon Ranges’ Riesling 2006, 88 -- V, Victoria, Australia, #072876 $22.95
  • Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery ‘Census Count’ Chardonnay 2006 VQA, 86 -- G, Okanagan Valley, Canada, #092296 $14.95
  • X&Y Chardonnay 2006, 85 -- V, Margaret River, Australia, #048561 $17.95
  • No. 99 Wayne Gretzky Estates Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula, 85 -- G, Vineland, Canada, #063826 $13.95
  • Amayna Chardonnay 2006, 84 -- V, San Antonio - Leyda Valley, Chile, #076265 $23.95
  • Fifth Leg Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon/Chardonnay 2007, 83 -- V, Margaret River, Australia, #489062 $17.10
  • Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery ‘Fats Johnson’ Pinot Noir 2006 VQA, 82 -- G, Okanagan Valley, Canada, #092304 $15.95
  • Sileni Cellar Selection Pinot Gris 2008, 80 -- V, Hawke's Bay, NZ, #032292 $15.75
  • Pascual Toso Sauvignon Blanc 2008, 67 -- G, Mendoza, Argentina, #093674 $12.95
  • Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2007, 66 -- G, Casablanca Valley, Chile, #304022 $11.85
(G - General listing, V – Vintages, O - Other, r-v - Rating-Value)


GRANITE HILLS ‘MACEDON RANGES’ RIESLING 2006, Victoria, Australia, 13.0% XD, #072876 $22.95 (Tasted January 26, 2009)

Released by Vintages on October 11, 2008 described as “Massively concentrated and powerful by riesling standards, with remarkable length, balance and longevity. Its musky, floral perfume of lime juice and lemon overlies hints of candy and a light spiciness. Searingly intense, its long, austere palate of pristine lime juice and lemon sherbet-like fruit is underpinned by a taut and assertive spine of tingling acidity. It finishes very dry indeed. (94/100, Jeremy Oliver, Oct. 18, 2007)” My notes: A delicate green-gold colour in the glass with aromas of citrus and slight nettles. Warm briefly in the palms to take slightly off chill. Extra dry for sure with some lemon accented Clementine fruit, a tart seam and light-bodied. Finishes long, dry and ‘lemon sherbert-like’ without any sweet aspect. If you like sucking a lemon you’ll like this as a sipper - have with sweet and sour chicken or curried Thai entrées. I don’t see this improving with cellaring. 88

CLARENCE HILL SHIRAZ 2005, McLaren Vale, Australia, 14.5% XD, #599811 $20.95 (Tasted January 20, 2009)

Released by Vintages on November 22, 2008 described as “Dry and medium full-bodied, this ripe, round and crowd-pleasing Shiraz displays intense flavours of blackberry, dark chocolate, spice, earth and subtle oak. It's fruit-driven with fairly firm tannins and a balancing seam of acidity. Serve with pepper steaks.” My notes: This has the opaque colour of red plum skins and tears that form and flow slowly. There is an extra bright flavour of crushed cherries and a medium tang followed by a lengthy even flavour of plums and berries. An XD that seems to leave a fruity sweetness lingering on the palate and ending with a smooth fullness and slight spice. Have with rack of minted lamb, pork chops and apricots or dark fowl with a cranberry sauce. 90

MISSION HILL CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE 2006 VQA Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada, 13.0% XD, #553321 $22.95 (Tasted January 27, 2009)

Released by Vintages on October 11, 2008 described as “The favourable Okanagan Valley's dry and hot climate nurtures some outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon. This example is no exception as the nose displays dense and ripe blackberry and cassis aromas mingling with notes of cedar, mocha, mint and smoke. This focused, medium full-bodied wine shows excellent balance and a long, firm and spicy finish. Enjoy now with T-bone steak, aged Cheddar or cellar for up to 3 years.” My notes: This is a deep purple colour with aromas of smoky plum and blackberry and leaves a reasonably firm viscous film on the bowl. Smooth and full, dry tannins carry cedar flavours that combine with mint and blackberry then finish with a long accent of humidor and spice. Well balanced making this a polite sipper… some boldness but not a distraction. Have with stuffed mushroom caps, party sausages or meatballs. Prime rib, rack of lamb or game meats would be good partners. 92

TORBRECK CUVÉE 'JUVENILES' 2006, Barossa Valley, Australia, 14.5% D, #723940 $29.95 (Tasted January 26, 2009)

Released by Vintages on October 11, 2008 described as “The 2006 Cuvee Juveniles is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Mataro, and 20% Shiraz. The final assemblage was pieced together from over 100 individual components yielding a dark ruby-coloured wine with an expressive bouquet of damp earth, leather, spicy cranberry, raspberry, and black cherry. This unoaked wine has excellent depth, light tannin, ripe, spicy red and black fruit flavours and a long finish. Drink this great value over the next 6 years. (91/100, Jay Miller, October 2007)” My notes: A blend named for the Parisian ‘Juveniles’ wine bar and consisting of old-vine Rhone valley varietals fermented entirely in stainless steel. The colour is a deep ruby and leaves a firm film with long slow tears on the bowl. The nose has a subtle aroma of soft plums and earthy herbs. The first sip shows liquorice, cherries, pepper and a light mint full on the palate and lasting as a long smooth layer shifting at the end to bright fruit. Bold as a sipper but also elegant showing more process than a traditional fruit-forward Barossa red. Prime rib or rack of lamb, hearty stews or a cheesy French onion soup would go well. Should be able to cellar this four to eight years. 92
FIFTH LEG SAUVIGNON BLANC/SEMILLON/CHARDONNAY 2007, Margaret River, Australia, 13.5% XD, #489062 $17.10 (Tasted January 3, 2009)

Released by Vintages on August 16, 2008 described as “... remarkable blend of Sauvignon Blanc (51%), Semillon (37%) and Chardonnay (12%). Crisp and refreshing with good weight provided by the Chardonnay, this is an excellent choice for lobster or planked salmon.” My notes: The nose is well balanced so no grape is dominant; sauvignon blanc, semillon or chardonnay although each adds something - overall, a diluted lime and granny smith apple. The balance is also in the flavours with some stone fruit, some lychee and some herbaceous straw with a slight acid. This held its own with grilled catfish topped with a tomato, broccoli and baby spinach mix but barely - would be better with grilled salmon or trout. The creamy texture and stone fruit flavour combo is interesting as a sipper and leaves a smooth tangerine and lychee taste and mild lime tang. Perhaps unusual rather than interesting - not for everyone. 83

JULIÁN CHIVITE GRAN FEUDO VIÑAS VIEJAS RESERVA 2003, Navarra, Spain, 12.5% D, #948067 $19.95 (Tasted January 19, 2009)

Released by Vintages on December 6, 2008 described as “Julian Chivite, who died in 1997, came from a Navarra-based winemaking family. His Viñas Viejas, a Tempranillo blend, is made from his 45- to 65-year-old vines. Chivite was a bit of a traditionalist: 'Great wines,' he said, 'are made from vineyards that have been properly cultivated, and fine wines from such vineyards have finesse and complexity'. This wine is proof in a bottle of his philosophy.” My notes: A deep ruby with a mahogany hue and aromas of earth, herbs and lightly stewed figs. A steady stream of long legs on the bowl leads to full satiny textures and a ripe cherry medley. The process integrates flavours and textures nicely to make this a well balanced European sipper and also an appropriate companion with braised meat dishes. Cellaring for a few more years should be OK but likely at peak now. 90

JULIÁN CHIVITE GRAN FEUDO RESERVA 2003, Navarra, Spain, 13.0% D, #479014 $15.95 (Tasted January 3, 2009)

Released by Vintages on October 11, 2008 described as “... This dry, full-bodied wine is bursting with ripe cherry, sandalwood, incense, cocoa and floral aromas and flavours, and delivers a lengthy, structured finish. This Reserva's easygoing, soft tannins make it very approachable now. A great match for roasted chicken stuffed with olives, almonds and paprika.” My notes: This has a deep ruby with purple hue and a thick film but just a few slow tears. A well balanced combination of cherries, and ‘sandalwood, incense, cocoa and floral’ (as if anyone could tell) - it’s medium-bodied, light on fruit and herbs with a woody accent. The first sip has a smooth texture and brightness to carry along slight cherry and earthiness. The finish is also bright but not acidic with slight fruit and herb tinge. Overall, interesting at first then the interest wanes. Would be good with tapas or a ham steak, something light. Not for cellaring, more of a drink now. 84

VIÑA TARAPACÁ GRAN RESERVA BLACK LABEL CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005, Maipo Valley, Chile, 14.5% D, #081190 $19.95 (Tasted January 2, 2009)

A Vintages release on December 6, 2008 described as “This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Tarapacá's Ex-Zavala vineyards and vinified in stainless steel. Aged in French oak barrels for 12 months, the wine then spends an additional year maturing in bottle before release. This intense wine displays cassis and ripe blackberry fruit aromas and flavours as well as notes of black pepper, chocolate and spices. Enjoy it with grilled lamb.” My notes: A deep ruby with a purple cast shows elegantly in a wide bowl with long legs and aromas of blackberry and cassis, subtle but there. The texture is smooth, fine tannins, bright berry and finishing with a tinge of spice and menthol. An interesting medium-bodied sipper and an unusually bright cabernet sauvignon - not for everyone. Have with prime rib or grilled back ribs or rack of lamb. 84

Leyda Valley, Chile, 14.5% XD, #077693 $20.95 (Tasted January 1, 2009)

A Vintages release on November 22, 2008 described as “Light yellow. Hugely aromatic bouquet of lime, tangerine, nectarine, talc and white flowers. A smoky element arrives with aeration and carries onto the palate, which displays fresh citrus fruit and melon flavours. The energetic finish features bitter lime zest and salty minerals. (90/100, Josh Raynolds, March/April 2008)” My notes: This has a soft floral nose with a touch of nettles in the background and a swirl leaves a firm film on the bowl. A full mouthfeel, silky smooth and a soft nip followed by gooseberry, passion fruit highlights and a hint of crème caramel. As a sipper this politely satisfies all of the senses. As a companion to a lobster or crabfest it adds to the flavour dimensions finishing creamy with a lime tang and grassy edge. Scrumptious, well worth the price and should cellar up to two years. 90

GANTON & LARSEN PROSPECT WINERY ‘CENSUS COUNT’ CHARDONNAY 2006 VQA, Okanagan Valley, Canada, 13.0% D, #092296 $14.95 (Tasted January 2, 2009)

A General listing described by the winery as “Our 2006 Chardonnay has luscious ripe pears and fresh apple notes providing a harmonious and long finish. Well-balanced and elegant, achieving impeccable balance between fruit and oak.
BEST IN CLASS – 2008 International Wine & Spirits Awards
GOLD MEDAL WINNER – 2007 Okanagan Fall Festival
SILVER MEDAL WINNER – 2008 Northwest Wine Summit.”

My notes: A label from Mission Hill Vineyards Inc. A pleasing yellow gold and long slow legs on a wide bowl set off a fragrance of light stone fruit and soft nettles. Let air for a few minutes for moderate aromas and a lower chill for fuller cream and flavours of apple and grapefruit. The finish is long ending in a light grassiness perhaps with some bitterness. An appealing sipper that would go well with bacon bits and tomato on toasted French stick slices or with broiled nachos. Pair with grilled fowl or lightly seasoned seafoods. An OK value as a house chardonnay. 86

GANTON & LARSEN PROSPECT WINERY ‘FATS JOHNSON’ PINOT NOIR 2006 VQA, Okanagan Valley, Canada, 13.0% D,#092304 $15.95 (Tasted January 4, 2009)

A General listing described by the winery as “Our 2006 Pinot Noir is of a lighter style crafted with fresh cherry and berry notes. The bright red and black fruit character mingles nicely with delicate touches of cinnamon spice.” My notes: A label from Mission Hill Vineyards Inc. This has the cast of ripe cherries midway to see-through and an aroma of crushed strawberries with a few stems included. Silky soft with a delayed tang then subtle and supple flavour of half ripe cherries with a mineral highlight that comes forward in the finish. It would be difficult to recommend this as a sipper by itself or as a match for a meal. Perhaps have with prosciutto wrapped asparagus or bacon wrapped scallops or try with smoked salmon or herring on greens. A drink now. 82

BAGLIO CARUSO RUGGIERO SYRAH 2006, Sicily, Italy, 14.0% D, #? $? (Tasted January 2, 2009)

The label describes this as “ Deep ruby colour, with primary notes of cherry and pleasant spices. The palate is extraordinarily round and complete, with soft and elegant tannins, well structured and balanced.” My notes: For sure it’s a deep ruby and has aromas of just detectable cherries and smoke. The film on the bowl is light with few tears and the initial sip shows a bright lightness with a flavour of ripe cherries although subdued. Well balanced leaving the palate dry and a mild acid makes this a pleasant sipper. Should be great with rack of lamb or prime rib and meaty pastas or pizzas. For a syrah the spices don’t shine but are balanced along with fine tannins. Cellaring for up to two years should be OK but drinking well now. 89

AMAYNA CHARDONNAY 2006, San Antonio - Leyda Valley, Chile, 14.5% XD, #076265 $23.95 (Tasted January 4, 2009)

A Vintages release on September 27, 2008 described as “… Amayna Chardonnay features fresh citrus aromas that do an impressive song and dance with obliging mineral and vanilla notes. The palate is concentrated, persistent and harmonious. The producer recommends enjoying their estate bottled Chardonnay with salmon with tomatoes and provençal herbs.” My notes: The Amayna Sauvignon Blanc was delicious so I wanted to try the Amayna chardonnay (altho’ quite a few bottles are still on Vintages shelves). This has a crystal blond look in the glass with thin film and long tears. The aromas need time and a little warmth to develop but still disappoint, negligible character there. Medium-bodied, a mellow cream comes with some straw flavour then soft melon and vanilla forms on the lips. I’d call it an elegant sipper since it doesn’t offend in any way and has much charm in its creamy softness. Have with seafood pastas, mild without too much seasoning. A drink now or cellar for two years. For the price a well made white but not a value. 84

MONTALTO NERO D'AVOLA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007, Sicily, Italy, 14.0% D, #621151 $9.95 (Tasted January 6, 2009)
A General listing described as “Deep red violet colour; dark fruit and spice aromas and flavours; dry, medium to full bodied, long, smooth finish. Serve with roast lamb or beef, meat pastas and grilled meats.” My notes: The 2006 vintage was tasted last May 2008 with a rating of Ww80. My note at that time was ‘Either air for four hours or aerate before serving even then the first sip has very firm tannins chalking the palate, etc.’ This vintage has a thin film that creeps down the bowl and an aroma of soft burnt cherries. The colour is a deep ruby and the first sip has flavours of earth, cherries and blueberries balanced so overall no one flavour predominates. A bright edge carries through a short smooth finish. An unusual flavour, medium-bodied, balanced tannins and spice, much tamer than the 2006 but I think, an acquired taste. Have with meaty pastas or pizzas. If this is your taste it‘s a value (and your rating would be higher). 80
PASCUAL TOSO SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008, Mendoza, Argentina, 13.5% D, #093674 $12.95 (Tasted January 7, 2009)
A General listing described as “Light straw green colour with delicate citrus and herbs aroma. Balanced in the mouth, clean and sparkling finish. To be enjoyed by itself or can be equally enjoyed with pasta, seafood, salads or vegetarian dishes.” My notes: This has a light straw colour with a thin film and very few legs. A nose of chemical citrus with tinge of sharpness and the first sip bears out a chemical overtone to stem pressings. No gooseberry or passion fruit here but a faint lime and firm stemminess. Texture and balance are OK but not a sipper unless it’s time for visitors to leave. Paired with salty seafoods or grilled balsamic chicken it would hold its own. Not a value. 68
SANTA CAROLINA CHARDONNAY RESERVA 2007, Casablanca Valley, Chile, 14.0% D, #304022 $11.85 (Tasted January 5, 2009)
A General listing described as “Pale straw colour; light toasty notes with peach and apple fruit; medium-bodied with toasty, tropical fruit flavours. Serve with grilled chicken, fish, veggies; creamy pasta.” My notes: This leaves an even film on the bowl and has a soft floral note in a nose of mostly faint green apple. The first sip has a light chemical aspect to it or perhaps reflects a harvest of young vines including stems. Attempts at developing ‘butter’ have fallen short leaving a slight oil on the lips and finishing with an insipid ‘tropical fruit‘ simulation. Not interesting as a sipper and would benefit from a creamy pasta dish where the meal masks the wine. 66
MARQUEE CLASSIC ARTISAN WINES GSM 2006, South Eastern Australia, 14.9% D, #075010 $18.95 (Tasted January 21, 2009)
Released by Vintages on January 10, 2009 described as “Rich garnet color with a brick cast. Vibrant aromas of eucalyptus, cranberries, allspice, and cracked pepper follow through to a supple and satiny medium-full body with nicely balanced acidity and a vibrant five spice fade. A must try wine for spicy Szechwan beef, Middle Eastern or curried lamb dishes. (90/100,, Jan. 7, 2008)” My notes: A ruby with a pinkish rim and garnet cast and aromas that are an even blend of herb, berry and white pepper - nothing floral. Let breathe for thirty minutes for the flavours to settle as a homogeneous mix without a predominant varietal but a spicy berry note. Full and smooth, bright and spicy makes this less of a sipper and more of a bold grilled meat red. Finishes long and lines the palate with 'sweet' herbs and a mushroom smoothness. Have with a pepper steak, sticky pork curry or well seasoned lamb shank. This should cellar well for four to eight years and smooth some roughness. 89
WILLIAM FÈVRE CHILE GRAN CUVÉE CHARDONNAY 2007, Maipo Valley, Chile, 14.1% D, #045146 $18.95 (Tasted January 29, 2009)

Released by Vintages on January 10, 2009 described as “… The dominant flavours of this beautifully balanced Chardonnay - apple, pear, toast and butterscotch - are concentrated but not overwhelming. An exceptionally priced, versatile Chard that makes a fitting match for pasta in a cream sauce or chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese.” My notes: A light straw colour with firm aromas of browned butter and lemon grass. Tears are slow to form then slowly flow on the bowl. The texture is nicely rounded and flavours of green apple, butter and citrus have a nice nip and bounce one to the other coming to a finish on a citrus note - it‘s worth waiting for the finish. A light and bright sipper for anyone preferring a slightly oaked chardonnay and should be a great companion with creamed seafood or chicken pastas. Cellaring for up to two years could integrate cream and fruit more but it’s drinking well now. 90
SILENI CELLAR SELECTION PINOT GRIS 2008, Hawke's Bay, NZ, 14.0% MD, #032292 $15.75 (Tasted January 28, 2009)
Released by Vintages on January 10, 2009 described as “… The nose features lovely peach, pear and apple aromas. It's just off-dry with a round texture and juicy fruit flavours beautifully balanced by a bright seam of acidity. Try it with Asian noodle dishes.” The website claims “… has classic aromatic peach flavours along with beautifully balanced acidity and a long finish. It is just off-dry and well suited to seafood, white meats and Asian food styles. Drink it young or cellar for 3-4 years. My notes: This is the third vintage released by Vintages: the 2006 in May 2007 and 2007 (NR) in May 2008 (Ww89). The ’peach blush’ is no longer present altho’ the light gold has a burnish to it. The aroma is of sweet apple blossom and mild nettles. The first sip has a lemon edge to a lemon and honey dew flavour blend. Light-bodied and tart leads into a finish that is mainly citrus with a tartness masking any sweetness. Not for cellaring - a drink now and not a sipper. Have with Thai, dim sum or sezhuan entrées. 80
PARRI ESTATE VIOGNIER/CHARDONNAY 2007, Southern Fleurieu, Australia, 13.0% D, #017319 $17.95 (Tasted January 21, 2009)
A Vintages release on January 17, 2009 described as “Viognier… Showcased here in combination with Chardonnay, the aromatic ripe peach, pear and apricot character typical of this grape really shines through. Pair this flavourful, buttery-textured white with spicy Asian dishes, grilled fish, or even sushi.” My notes: I was curious to see how the viognier (55%) influenced the chardonnay (45%) in this blend - and vice versa. The nose is an excellent combination of creamy peach and crisp apple and the colour is a light gold. A firm film with slow tears and first sip that immediately refreshes the palate giving the taste buds a a burst of golden apple and stone fruit. The finish is long, dry, full and lively - a sipper to try by itself then with appetizers if needed - I didn’t need them to enjoy. Would be great with crab cakes, any seafood dish, Asian or sliced chicken breast on buttered pasta. A blend I’ll look for on future LCBO visits. 92
X & Y CHARDONNAY 2006, Margaret River, Australia, 14.0% XD, #048561 $17.95 (Tasted January 22, 2009)
A Vintages release on January 17, 2009 described as “… White Dry Full-bodied. Appearance: straw. Nose: spicy, smoky, vanilla. Taste: full-bodied, tart, citrus and green melon flavours with oak spice. (4 of 5, Tony Aspler, Dec. 15, 2007) “ My notes: This same vintage was released last January 5, 2008, tasted and rated Ww90. The colour after a year is a light blond with a slight green hue and aromas in order are of nettles, lime and stone fruit. It’s medium-bodied, tart and leaves a clean mouthfeel along with a lemon lime edge. Flavours of stone fruit, pear and granny smith apple ride a tart seam to make this an OK sipper. The level of tartness carried well with Alaskan King crab legs beside greens with Rosenberg blue and Asiago dressing. A drink now not for cellaring. 85 
FAIRHALL DOWNS SINGLE VINEYARD SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008, Marlborough, NZ, 13.5% D, #990580 $19.95 (Tasted January 27, 2009)
Released by Vintages on January 17, 2009 described as “Family owned and operated, Fairhall Downs holds a "small is beautiful" philosophy. They specialize in quality single-vineyard wines, such as this enticing Sauvignon Blanc. Ripe and juicy, this wine showcases lovely citrus, guava and field grass aromas and flavours. Try it with rich seafood dishes or even spicy curries.” My notes: Agronomics were introduced into the vineyards after we visited in 2003 and is starting to show nicely in the whites. This vintage has a light straw colour and there’s a thin viscous film leading to fine tears on the glass. Aromas of nettles balanced with gooseberry fruit without any pungency makes sniffing pleasant. Tastes include grapefruit and gooseberry fresh and light enough for quick sipping and tart enough to accompany light finger foods. The balance continues into a long finish. Have with crab cakes or lightly seasoned green lipped mussels, white fowl or grilled shrimp, planked salmon or arctic char. Should be able to cellar this up to two years. 91
No. 99 WAYNE GRETZKY ESTATES MERITAGE 2006 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Vineland, Canada, 13.0% D, #075689 $15.95 (Tasted January 23, 2009)
A General listing described on the back label as “… an artful blend of … Cabernet Sauvignon 61%), Cabernet Franc (22%) and Merlot (17%). … shows a savoury mélange of damson plum and sweet cherry fruit aromas framed by complexities of cocoa and oak spice. Medium-full bodied and robust in the mouth, with black raspberry and cassis fruit in balance with moderate tannin on a long elegant finish… 4 - 6 years. Best enjoyed with robust meat dishes and strong cheeses.” My notes: The colour is a deep blackberry with light aromas of flint and raspberries while a thin film recedes slowly down the bowl. The first sip brings some bright berry followed by mostly bramble and crushed stems and leaves a short, dry, bright berry cherry flavour on the palate. A lightish medium-bodied, well balanced tannin and acid making this a sipper for an open house. Perhaps this is what is referred to as ’cool climate’ red for the Niagara region. I wouldn’t expect this to change much with cellaring - a drink now. Have with lightly spiced meats: burgers and onion rings. 80
No. 99 WAYNE GRETZKY ESTATES MERLOT 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Vineland, Canada, 12.7% D, #063966 $15.95 (Tasted January 24, 2009)
A General listing described on the back label as “… a fruit-forward style highlighted by aromas of blackberry and cherry. Rich, rounded palate and moderate tannins frame ripe berry fruit, finishing with mocca and oak spice. … next 2 - 3 Years.“ My notes: A deep raspberry violet colour with a nose of subtle raspberries - letting develop in the bowl brings more fruit. A thin film recedes slowly allowing tiny tears and the first sip has a softness mixed with bright fruit quite pleasing to the palate. The finish is dry, fruity, with soft tannins, a mild acid and a metallic aspect refreshing the taste buds. I enjoyed this as a sipper - it’s a Niagara red not needing the ‘cold climate’ excuse. Have with prime rib, a ham steak with cranberry sauce or a hearty beef stew. The body and structure should cellar well for up to four years. 89
No. 99 WAYNE GRETZKY ESTATES UNOAKED CHARDONNAY 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Vineland, Canada, 12.7% D, #063826 $13.95 (Tasted January 24, 2009)
A General listing described on the back label as “… Both nose and palate show a fine balance and delicate interplay between softer notes of white peach and pear, and a lively backbone of zesty lemon citrus and complex minerality. Matches well with paella, fettuccine alfredo or herbed pork tenderloin.“ My notes: A thin film settles quickly with just a few tears and the nose includes butter and lemon grass aromas. A light yellow in the bowl and a firm citrus nip sets up flavours of tart wild apple, pear and lemon to provide some interest as a sipper. The finish has a distinct lemon with a mineral edge and, if allowed to warm slightly, some roundness lasting a considerable time. Have with stuffed mushroom caps, crab cakes, any grilled seafood or flavourful rice dishes. A drink now. 85

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Favourites of 2008

View from Mt. Burnaby
My picks from 435 wines tasted during the year are listed below. Wines came from thirteen countries with the majority from Canada (87), France (68), Australia (56), Italy (52) and Chile (52). All but a dozen reds and half dozen whites were from Vintages shelves. The basis for selecting is a combination of their Ww rating and my recall of the aroma and textures invoked from reading my tasting notes. If you have tried any of the wines and have similar conclusions - or not - it'll be based on your taste buds and bias, New World or Old, one varietal versus others, etc. You can't be wrong and you can certainly differ.
This past year I’ve tried ‘Blending wines’ for an appreciation of single varietals and how each contributes to the blended product. I’ve also focussed on wines from three regions of France. I’ve visited Wine fairs and several Niagara wineries. I’ve reviewed LCBO glossies and lists of magazine ’Award winners’ comparing my tastings with ratings from their professional tasting panels. I’ve come to some new conclusions as well as confirmed others from past years, notably that the tasting business is undisciplined as a whole. It’s an adjunct to wine marketing with individual tasters having their own idiosyncrasies. If a rating system is used it has been so personalized that unless you ‘get in bed’ with a reviewer the numbers, and to the same degree their literal evaluation of wines, are irrelevant. Some tasters band together as ‘colleagues’ or participate on tasting panels. Collectively the results of these associations is as good as its most inept member - and some Food and/or Travel columnists add on the ‘wine taster’ label without acquiring the credentials. 

On a positive note, the one book reviewed (Rod Phillips’ The 500 Best Value Wines in the LCBO, 2009) consistently turned up value wines from General listings. 
Throughout the year I’ve come across some wines that strike me as artificial - to the degree I would like to see their contents listed in a manner similar to carbonated beverages. What percentage of natural juice is in a can of Presidents Choice Naturally Flavoured Diet Lemonade? According to the can the top three ingredients are carbonated water, citric acid and potassium citrate followed by a string: aspartame, potassium benzoate, acacia gum, sucrose acetate isobutyrate, potassium sorbate, natural flavour, acesulfame-potassium, calcium disodium edta and tartrazine (colour). We don’t object to whatever it contains - it’s covered by Food and Drug legislation and if it’s refreshing and the flavour satisfies we enjoy. Add 12.5% alcohol, a retro label and a ‘buck pop’ could be converted to a ten dollar party blend. The content of every beverage should be declared - or minimally, a statement the wine contains only naturally occurring vinifera components. That’s my opinion anyway!
I hope the following is useful in some way. Prices listed are at time of purchase and the date of tasting is in brackets. 
Happy imbibing! Ww

(r-v - Rating-Value)

Reds - of 260 Tastings (including 3 Sparkling and 28 Retastings):
  1. Rosenvale Estate Grenache 2005, Australia, #059881 $21.95 (Oct 3) 96-3
  2. d’Arenberg ‘The Twentyeight Road’ Mourvèdre 2005, Australia, #677617 $29.95 (Oct 4) 96-3
  3. d’Arenberg ‘The Galvo Garage’ 2006, Australia, #907584 $27.95 (Nov 29) 96-3
  4. Errazuriz Max Reserva Shiraz 2006, Chile, #614750 $17.75 (Nov 3) 95-3
  5. Antonin Rodet Côtes Du Rhône 2007, France, #008979 $12.95 (Nov 12) 94-3
  6. Pérez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2006, Chile #694208 $14.95 (Nov 14) 94-3
  7. Apollonio Valle Cupa Salento Rosso 2001, Italy, #084046 $20.95 (Oct 1) 94-3
  8. Ninquén Antu Syrah 2006, Chile, #675371 $15.95 (Jun 24) 94-3
  9. Zonin Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2006, Italy, #084798 $19.95 (Nov 4) 94-3 
  10. Jeanneret Grenache/Shiraz 2004, Australia, #B&W Wines $22.46 (Jun 26) 94-3
  11. Malivoire ‘Moira Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2000, Canada, #Winery, $35.95 (Apr 2) 94-2
  12. Wolf Blass Grey Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Australia, #470120 $36.00 (Jul 27) 94-2
  13. d’Arenberg ‘The Laughing Magpie’ Shiraz/Viognier 2006, Australia, #936971 $27.95 (Sep 14) 94-2
  14. Claymore ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ Shiraz 2005, Australia, #072652 $29.95 (Oct 20) 94-2
  15. Ninquén Antu Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère 2006, Chile, #059329 $15.95 (Jun 14) 93-3
  16. Navarro Correas Gran Reserva Malbec 2005, Argentina, #028928 $18.95 (Jul 22) 93-3
  17. Thorn-Clarke Terra Barossa 2005, Australia, #684357 $15.95 (Oct 25) 93-3
  18. Angus the Bull Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Australia, #602615 $18.95 (Nov 3) 93-3
  19. Marqués de Riscal Reserva Rioja 2003, Spain, #032656 $23.95 (Nov 18) 93-2
  20. Santa Carolina Barrica Selection Petit Verdot 2006, Chile #007484 $14.95 (Aug 18) 92-3
  21. Fontanafredda Barbera Briccotondo 2007, Italy, #072348 $15.95 (Oct 18) 92-3
  22. Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, USA, #738823 $16.95 (Nov 7) 92-3
  23. Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Carmenère 2005, Chile, #057513 $15.95 (Mar 3) 92-3
  24. Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz/Grenache 2007, Australia, #610725 $13.95 (Nov 28) 92-3 
  25. Mountain Road Wine Co. Gamay Semi-dry Rosé 2004, Canada, #Winery $11.95 (Jul 28) 92-3 
  26. Katnook ‘Founders Block’ Coonawarra Cab Sauv 2005, Australia, #620070 $18.00 (Feb 11) 92-2
  27. Zenato Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa 2006, Italy, #479766 $24.95 (Jun 16) 92-2
  28. Ortas Rasteau Tradition Côtes Du Rhône Village 2007, France, #998716 $16.95 (Dec 5) 92-2
  29. d’Arenberg ‘d’Arry’s Original’ Shiraz/Grenache 2005, Australia, #942904 $19.95 (Sep 24) 92-2
  30. Ventisquero ‘Queulat’ Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Chile, #061937 $16.95 (Aug 20) 92-2
  31. Quintas Valpolicella Ripasso 2006, Italy, #081455 $17.95 (Aug 20) 92-2
  32. Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico 2006, Italy, #003962 $23.75 (Jul 16) 92-2
  33. Chakana Malbec 2007, Argentina, #003509, $13.95 (Jul 20) 91-3
  34. Cousiño-Macul ‘Antiguas’ Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Chile, #212993 $15.45 (Nov 8) 91-2
  35. Perrin Réserve Côtes Du Rhône Rouge 2007, France, #363457 $14.95 (Nov 26) 91-2
  36. Rodney Strong Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, USA #226944 $19.95 (Oct 13) 91-2 
  37. Truchard Zinfandel Napa Valley 2003, USA, #054858 $18.95 (Jan 5) 91-2
  38. Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2004, Spain, #036483 $18.80 (Apr 16) 91-2
  39. Clos de los Siète par Michel Rolland 2005, Argentina, #622571 $24.75 (Apr 26) 91-2
  40. Wyndham Estate Shiraz Bin 555 2005, Australia, #189415 $16.15 (Jun 18) 91-2
  41. Jeanneret ‘Grace & Favour’ Grenache/Shiraz 2005, Australia, #B&W Wines $23.70 (Jul 2) 91-2 
  42. Tuatara Bay Pinot Noir 2006, NZ, #057760 $18.95 (May 19) 90-2
  43. Montus Château Bouscassé 2003, France, #743385 $18.55 (May 25) 90-2
  44. Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé 2007, Canada, #039974 $14.95 (Jun 10) 90-2
  45. Ortas Tradition Rasteau 2006, France, #998716 $15.95 (Jun 14) 90-2
  46. Alfredo Roca Pinot Noir 2006, Argentina, #032979 $13.95 (Aug 10) 90-2
  47. Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage 2003, France, #572230 $16.85 (Mar 1) 90-2
  48. Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2006, Italy #995704 $17.95 (Jul 6) 90-2
  49. The Black Chook Shiraz/Viognier 2007, Australia, #066738 $17.95 (Oct 22) 90-2
  50. Guardian Peak ‘The Kalahari Lion’ SMG 2005, S. Africa, #083972 $22.95 (Sep 22) 90-1
  51. Stoneleigh ‘Marlborough’ Pinot Noir 2007, NZ, #054353 $19.95 (Apr 20) 90-1 
Whites - of 175 Tastings (including 6 Sparkling and 4 Retastings):
  1. Conundrum 2006, USA, #694653 $26.95 (Jul 30) 95-3
  2. Errazuriz Estate Chardonnay 2007, Chile, #318741 $11.80 (Nov 14) 94-3
  3. Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2005, NZ, #359513 $39.95 (Jun 15) 94-2
  4. Calamus Vidal Ice Wine 2007, Canada, #Winery 200ml $20.20 (Nov 3) 94-1
  5. Cousiño-Macul ‘Antiguas’ Reservas Chardonnay 2007, Chile, #730044 $14.95 (Oct 20) 93-3 
  6. Sacred Hill Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2006, NZ, #060095 $20.95 (Jun 2) 93-2
  7. Cave Spring Musqué 2006, Canada, #246579 $15.95 (May 20) 92-3
  8. Cousiño-Macul ‘Doña Isidora’ Riesling 2006, Chile, #057182 #10.95 (Nov 11) 92-3 
  9. Vinecol Torrontés 2007, Argentina, #032748 $13.95 (Aug 18) 92-3
  10. Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2006, USA, #379180 $17.95 (Nov 13) 92-2
  11. Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Les Baronnes 2007, France, #542548 $24.95 (Oct 14) 92-2
  12. Babich Black Label Sauvignon Blanc 2007, NZ, #009142 $19.95 (May 8) 92-2
  13. Goldwater Chardonnay 2006, NZ, #991463 $19.95 (May 13) 92-2
  14. Darting Riesling Kabinett 2006, Germany, #950212 $15.95 (Jul 7) 91-2
  15. Jekel Vineyards Gravelstone Chardonnay 2006, USA, #421016 $15.95 (Aug 21) 91-2
  16. Anakena ‘Single Vineyard’ Viognier 2007, Chile, #045138 $13.95 (Sep 15) 91-2
  17. Mouillard Mâcon-Azé 2006, France, #084632 $16.95 (Oct 4) 91-2
  18. Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué 2007, Canada, #246579 $15.95 (Oct 23) 91-2
  19. Freie Weingärtner Wachau Grüner Veltliner 2006, Austria, #061127 $18.45 (May 15) 90-2
  20. X&Y Chardonnay 2006, Australia, #048561 $18.80 (Jan 11) 90-2
  21. Grove Mill Pinot Gris 2007, NZ, #001693 $16.95 (Apr 8) 90-2 
  22. Sileni Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2007, NZ, #662882 $15.95 (May 25) 90-2
  23. Lammershoek Barrique Chenin Blanc 2007, S. Africa, #058206 $18.95 (Jun 4) 90-2
  24. Anakena Ona Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Chile, #059501 $16.95 (Jun 10) 90-2
  25. Schloss Shönborn Riesling Kabinett 2005, Germany, #928184 $18.95 (Jun 25) 90-2
  26. Forrest Estate Riesling 2007, NZ, #060103 $18.95 (Jun 23) 90-2
  27. Momo Sauvignon Blanc 2007, NZ, #009167 $19.95 (Jul 20) 90-2
  28. Calamus Pinot Gris 2007, Canada, #Winery $15.20 (Nov 2) 90-2
  29. Schloss Shönborn Riesling 1994, Germany, #107557 $14.95 (Aug 23) 90-2
  30. Jackson-Triggs ‘Delaine Vineyard’ Chardonnay 2006, Canada, #623454 $19.95 (Sep 16) 90-2 
  31. Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio Trentino Riserva 2006, Italy, #032714 $15.95 (Nov 21) 90-2
  32. William Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux 2004, France, #276436 $21.80 (May 16) 90-1