Saturday, April 23, 2011

Virtual or Absentee?

Mimico Cruising Club on the Bay?
Every bottle of VQA  wine in Ontario, for that matter in Canada, gets a badge saying it's successfully passed the hoops and hurdles of a regulation called the  Vintners Quality Alliance Act, 1999 .  Pick from the approved grape varieties, declare the blend, pH, sugar and yeast, specify the appellation or sub-app, the vineyard or not, meet the label type size, font and nomenclature and submit the paperwork and tasting samples - and a million other things I can't even guess. It’s an arduous task but if successful the Winery can then use the term VQA, a designation of Quality certified by an Alliance of Vintners. The Act has been increasingly effective in maintaining high standards for Ontario wines since it was established just a short while ago on June 29, 2000.

There is another side to the VQA Regulation - it results in conformity. Every brand with the symbol goes through a predictable path ending with the prescribed information in a similar format. It’s this side of VQA that is open to abuse...

Follow the regulations, bottle the ferment from local grapes, juices or wines. Add an imaginative label styled to standout on an LCBO shelf but still complying with regulations and your product earns the VQA badge. However, there may be no dedication to viticulture, no investment in vineology, no participation in the Wine Route or the winemaking community. Instead of quality VQA becomes a symbol promoting commercialism, a deception more insidious than CIC. How can this happen?

An Investor can operate under the guise of a 'Virtual' winery although to distinguish this type of operation I prefer the term 'Absentee' winery, similar to an absentee landlord - collect the monthly and contract out the other stuff - not quite the same but close enough. Some differences: the 'Virtual' winery is driven by a winemaker that maintains and harvests vineyards he selects albeit they’re owned by others. He also oversees the grape selection and maceration process from start to finish. An 'Absentee' winery is driven by a business entity contracting grapes and using the overcapacity of cooperative wineries without the watchful and responsible care of a dedicated winemaker. The labels of the ‘Virtual' winery often designate specific grape varieties and VQA geographical or viticulture areas. The labels of the 'Absentee' winery use a catch phrase targeting a chosen market and can rest comfortably with 'VQA Niagara Peninsula' or the broader 'VQA Ontario'. Under VQA there is no delineating one Winery from the other. In fact, a traditional winery can operate in the same manner as an 'Absentee' winery by spinning off rebranded bottles of VQA Ontario blends - or as a `Virtual` winery with small lots of premium wines from select vineyards. Whether investing in wine for immediate consumption or for cellaring, consumers are on the hook to tell the difference, to know the principals, to discover which is 'Virtual' and which is 'Absentee'.

How to close this loophole is the difficult question. Perhaps an online list of certified winemakers associated with each label? Perhaps some additional verbage that identifies a level, and thereby the integrity of a winery's viticultural husbandry? Terms such as ‘Biodynamic’, ‘Natural’, and ‘Additive-free’ come to mind. But how to do anything and not burden all wineries with more paperwork? 

Generally the wine industry will continue to be a ‘Buyer Beware’ state in which a consumer and the winery must co-operatively discover each other. Taste and learn. Follow changes in winery ownership and their winemakers. Note changes in successive vintages as they can vary considerably depending on factors other than the weather. True Virtual wineries tend to produce low volumes their wines not likely on LCBO shelves - but hopefully this will change. Some may have websites and some may use the site of their sponsoring winery. Check out signs along Wine Routes. On your travels you’ll be rewarded by meeting some very motivated winemakers producing some very interesting wines. 

My standard practice when I come across a winery advertising itself as 'Virtual' is to look for a sub-appellation, a grape type(s) and vineyard on the label...  anything else can stay on the shelf.

My opinion, Ww


The following principals were present at a tasting by the
Wine Writers of Canada Circle  on April 15, 2011.  It’s not my intention here to vouch for any of the following as 'virtual’ wineries. Sommelier Sarah Goddard has described many Virtuals at Sommelier Scribler - A Wine Blog.

Lists of Ontario Wineries:
I hope this has been useful in some way, Ww

Friday, April 01, 2011

April 2011: 30 Tasted of 30

Have I acquired a taste for Niagara wines? With 10 local wines in this Lineup I'm certainly trying!
Looking back over the last few months I find there are a higher number of Niagara wines showing up in my blogs. And yet, I haven’t made as many side trips to the Niagara Peninsula since moving further east toward Toronto. It used to be a quick forty minute drive
on a clear day, 'clear' meaning no sign of the OPP as well as clear weather with dry roads, and I’d be on King Street cruising the Niagara Wine Route. Now it’s a sixty to ninety minute excursion. I almost have to pack a bag. What’s changed?

Is it possible? Could it be there’s more VQA labels at the local monopoly?  I haven’t counted but it might be the answer!

And having visited several ‘new-to-me’ Outlets I have to congratulate the Cornwall and Trafalgar LCBO Outlet.

On a biweekly schedule Vintages Releases normally line the Vintages area in boxes somewhat organized in rows of wines from various countries. From left to right: Argentina/Chile, Ontario, California, New Zealand, Italy, France/Spain/Portugal, then in front Australia etc., but then the alignment could be entirely different at another outlet. Product cards identify each stack although sometimes falling to the floor as I move through the narrowing aisles.

Not the case with Cornwall. Rows of wooden columns organized by country and sequenced by grape: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, shiraz, etc. and the white: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio/gris, etc.  Thank Bacchus I haven’t lost my eyesight as yet… but I have lost my patience trying to find the elusive label… and the always busy therefore elusive Vintages manager. Cornwall is a welcomed change.

But that’s a side point from the relative abundance of Niagara wines. Now what’s needed is more Ontario customers weened off  [yellow tail], French Cross and the innumerable mongrel brands. My message to the LCBO:

  • Be patient - they will come.
  • Keep an Ontario labels presence - not just the commercial labels but craft wineries as well (even if they can’t afford it) - in your weekly glossies.  The commercial brands compete with the international cheapies but often at the expense of the small local wineries. Overall cheap labels cheapen the LCBO image.  
  • Don’t insist on high volumes for each local label - not all of us can subscribe to OnLine deliveries by the case.  Sales of Niagara wines would be much higher if consumers could buy single bottles other than making the journey to the winery. We need these labels in the Outlets.
  • Move (hide) the ’Canadian International Blends’ away from the VQA inventory.  
That’s enough for now…. I think,
Cheers, Ww    

  • Second Thoughts:

This morning an LCBO enclosure came with my G&M.  Called TheTRENDREPORT five Niagara wines were featured with the products referred to as the “Coolest Ontario wines” on the front cover.  The wines were from 3 principles and a fourth by former association: Jackson (Union), Vincor (Jackson-Triggs), Hillebrand (Trius) and Diamond Estates (EastDell, Birchwood).  I would hope these are not ‘Trends’ although certainly have a place in the entry level Ontario market. The publication is credited to an LCBO Vice President, 2 Directors, a ’trend consultant’ and was liberally distributed at the Outlets as well as with Ontario newsprint.

This high quality glossy also included 10 foreign wines, 17 liquors and many local and imported beers.  Being ‘passionate about drink trends’ this 'Trend Report' is purportedly the LCBO executive's 'crystal ball‘ for summer imbibing.   April Fool!   Their joke is on the Ontario wine industry. The Ontario wine content is superficial and minimal at best. Get serious!!

My opinion, Ww

 THE LINEUP - grouped by reds, whites, rosés, sparkles and other:
  • Niagara College ‘Teaching Winery’ Cabernet Franc 2007 VQA St. David’s Bench,  93-3  --  V, NOTL, Ontario, #155671  $18.95
  • Michael David Petite Petit 2008,  93-2  --  V, Lodi, California, #213017 $24.95
  • Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc 2007 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, 93-3  --  V, NOTL, Ontario, #013763  $19.95 
  • Cline ‘Ancient Vines’ Zinfandel 2009,  92-2  --  V, Sonoma, California,  #719211   $17.95 
  • The Watcher 2008 Barossa Valley Shiraz,  92-2  --  V,  Adelaide, S. Australia, #219196 $19.95 
  • Valle Perdido ‘Reserva Patagonia’ Malbec 2006,  90-1  --  V,  Patagonia, Argentina, #222760 $19.95
  • Rosewood Estates Merlot 2008 VQA Beamsville Bench, 89-1  --  V, Beamsville,  Ontario, #211896 $20.00
  • Calamus Reserve Red 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula, 89-1  --  V, Jordan, Ontario, #223990  $19.95
  • Cline Zinfandel 2009, 88-2 --  G, Sonoma, California, #489278 $13.00
  • Hedges Cellars ‘Columbia Valley’ CMS 2008,  88-1  --  V, Benton City, Washington, #948992 $17.95
  • Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2008 VQA Twenty Mile Bench,  88-1  --  V, Beamsville, Ontario, #112177 $20.00 
  • Chanson Père & Fils Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2008, 85  --  V, Beaune (Côte d’Or), France, #050575 $18.95
  • Vina Mayor ‘Ribera del Duero’ Reserva 2004,  85(Cellar)  --  V, Valladalid, Spain, #209155 $24.95  
  • Trumpour’s Mill ‘Estate Bottled’ Cabernet Franc 2007 VQA Prince Edward County, 84  --  V,  Hillier, Ontario, #173187 $17.95  
  • Château Goudray Cuvée Excellence Rasteau 2009 Côtes du Rhône Villages, 83  --  V,  Rhône, France, #195032 $15.95   
  • Nyarai Cellars ‘Veritas’ 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula,  76  --  V, Jordan, Ontario, #222794 $24.95

  •  Thelema ‘Sutherland’ Sauvignon Blanc 2008, 92-3  --  V, Helshoogte, Stellenbosch, S. Africa,  #203877 $13.95
  • Tawse ‘Quarry Road Vineyard’ Estate Bottled Riesling 2009 VQA Vinemount Ridge,  91-2  --  V, Vineland, Ontario, #198853 $21.95
  • Rosewood Estates Natalie’s Sussreserve Riesling 2008 VQA Creek Shores,  90-2  --  V,  Beamsville, Ontario, #164483  $18.00
  • Graham Beck ‘The Game Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc 2009, 90-2  --  V, Franschhoek, S. Africa, #205856  $14.95
  • Caves de la Tourangelle Grande Réserve Touraine 2009,  88-1  --  V, Loire, France, #196733 $14.95
  • Cline ‘North Coast’ Viognier 2009,  88-1  --  V,  Sonoma, California, #128421  $14.95 
  • Adega Vila Real Douro Reserva 2009,  88-1  -- V, Douro, Portugal, #218289 $14.95 
  • Vineland Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2008 VQA Niagara Escarpment,  86  --  G, Vineland, Ontario, #551168  $16.95
  • Ménage à Trois Chardonnay 2008,  86 --  V,  St. Helena, California, #158592 $18.95 
  • Fog Head ‘Highland Series’ Reserve Chardonnay 2009,  85  --  V,  Monterey, California, #158568 $17.95
  • Cooralook Pinot Gris 2008,  85  --  G, Victoria, Australia, #212712 $14.95 
  • Domaine des Aspes Viognier 2009,  83  --  V, Languedoc, France, #712638  $15.95 
  • Santa Margherita ‘Valdadige’ Pinot Grigio 2009,  80  --  V, Alto Adige/Trentino, Italy, #106450 $16.95  
  • DB ‘Family Selection’ Traminer Riesling 2009,  80  --  G, Bilbul, NSW Australia, #207381  $12.95
 (G - General Listing, V - Vintages, r-v - Rating-Value)


COORALOOK PINOT GRIS 2008, Victoria, Australia, 14.0% D, #212712  $14.95  (Tasted April 26, 2011)  CS
The back label gives the source of the grapes as the Strathbogie Ranges (90%) and Mornington Peninsula (10%) and the wine having  “… floral aromas with nuances of exotic fruits including lychees, guava and melons. … a bright and refreshing finish.”  My notes: There’s a tawny tint to a medium gold colour and an aroma of blended tropical fruits: Mayer lemon, papaya and lychee nut. The film holds well and runs long legs evenly from the rim. The first sip has a refreshing tartness and is full of lychee changing to a light peanut oil finish. An unusual sipper that some may adapt but many may not. Nicely textured and easily quaffed. Have with Thai appetizers, beef or chicken satay or a lightly spiced stir fry. A drink now.  85

VINELAND ESTATES SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008 VQA Niagara Escarpment, Vineland, Ontario, 12.0% XD,  #551168  16.95  (Tasted April 6, 2011)  CS
My notes:  A Vintages release on February 5, 2011. There’s a pale golden blond colour, shiny clear and fragrant floral tainted with apple and citrus.  Fast tears leave islands of lace and a first sip has a firm acid seam that lays a shot across the palate along with citrus and beeswax flavours. A luscious start to a long finish that ends with a drying dose of tangy minerals. This has an interesting ability to change in mid swallow starting with a burst then subsiding smoothly. Better paired with a seafood buffet or grilled fowl. A drink now.   86  

CHÂTEAU GOUDRAY CUVÉE EXCELLENCE RASTEAU 2009 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France, 14.5% D, #195032  $15.95  (Tasted April 23, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on February 19, 2011 and a Gold Medal winner at the Concours des Vins Orange 2010.  My notes: A blend of Grenache and Syrah showing spicy pepper and blackberry in the nose. A strong acid seam with flavours of blackberry provides some interest as a sipper but primarily beef red. Have with hamburgers or bbq’d back ribs. Full-bodied as well as the strong acid makes this a bold sipper - a raw edge shows in a long hot tannic finish. Preferred as a companion with a full flavoured hamburger. Cellaring two to five years may smooth some raw edges but not likely improve overall. A drink now.  83     
NYARAI CELLARS ‘VERITAS’ 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Jordan, Ontario, 13.0% XD, #222794  $24.95  (Tasted April 2, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on March 5, 2011 and a blend of 33% Cabernet Franc, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 13% Syrah.  My notes:From a ‘virtual’ winery residing at Calamus Winery in Vinemount Ridge, the largest sub-appellation in the Niagara Peninsula.  A leather and herbal nose lacking fruit or floral, a carbon hued ruby and a firm film with lots of slow tears from the rim leaving a questionable initial impact. A sip brings the herb flavour first overwhelming any possibility of black fruit. The texture is full with light tannins balanced by a mild acid. Herbs continue through the finish leaving the palate on a flat flavour note. Not much matches the blend varieties listed (unless it's a vegetative Cab Franc) and doesn’t encourage solo sipping. Have with Mongolian beef or a teriyaki mushroom stir fry. A screw cap. I missed the veritas in this red.  76

FOG HEAD ‘HIGHLAND SERIES’ RESERVE CHARDONNAY 2009, Monterey, California, 13.5%  XD, #158568   $17.95  (Tasted April 25, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on March 5, 2011 from Fog Head Wine Cellars, Manteca, California.  My notes: I enjoyed the 2008 last February rating it 93. This is labelled at 13.5%, a percentage point lower and $2 lower in price. A greenish tinge to bright gold and a firm film with slow tears accumulating at the rim. Initially full and soft in the mouth carrying a cooling tang with a flavour of melon and crushed lemon seeds. An aroma of melon and seeds as well. The fullness fades soft leaving seeds going into a long dry grassy finish. Deserving the lower price point but still a well balanced meal white and a excellent  sipper if you prefer a grassy chardonnay. Have with grilled chicken or, in my case tonight it’s roasted Rock Cornish hens on a bed of leeks, lemon wedges, garlic and grape tomatoes - excellent.  85

DOMAINE DES ASPES VIOGNIER 2009, Languedoc, France, 13.5%  XD, #712638  $15.95  (Tasted April 23, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on March 19, 2011.   My notes:  The 2008 was rated 88 in April 2010 down from a 92 when first tasted in September 2009. I’m wondering if the 2009 has returned to the original ‘creamy mouthfeel’ and nicely developed fruit - after all the price is up a loonie. A soft and faint honeysuckle aroma accumulates but is much subdued from last April’s 2008. The first sip is soft with a strong acid seam and extra dry, full of grass and tart. Light flavours of lime, stone fruit - no pear this time - starting a finish that is fairly pithy. Have as a sipper with a buffet of fingers foods or with chicken fingers. Uninteresting when matched with Swiss Chalet chicken and chips. Pairing with bowtie pesto and sun-dried tomato pasta should be OK. A drink now.  83   

THELEMA ‘SUTHERLAND’ SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008, Helshoogte, Stellenbosch, S. Africa,  13.0%  XD, #203877   $13.95  (Tasted April 7, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on March 5, 2011. Thelema Mountain Vineyards.   My notes:This is a light golden blond, crystal clear in the glass with, after airing thirty minutes, a soft aroma of fresh gooseberry - the initial faint nettles having dissipated. A firm film clings with long legs and there’s a silky roundness with ample tangy tropical fruit and gooseberries that fade slowly for a long finish that ends extra dry. Full-bodied with sipper appeal, half way to NZ with feet still in Bordeaux, ie. it's South African. Have with grilled chicken pieces, lobster/King crab feast or any seafood. Cellaring for several years is likely with some loss of fruit but remaining smooth, full and dry. ‘Stock up’ is my view!   92

GRAHAM BECK ‘THE GAME RESERVE’ SAUVIGNON BLANC 2009, Franschhoek, S. Africa,  13.0% XD, #205856   $14.95  (Tasted April 19, 2011)  CS

Released by Vintages on March 19, 2011. The back label says “Harvested from vineyards… close to the ocean. …. Presents an explosion of tropical fruit on the nose and hints of passion fruit, litchis and ripe figs on the palate. Full, juicy, crisp and refreshing finish.”  My notes: Vintages staff said this was ‘softer than the Thelema’ so I bought.  A light blond colour in the glass, a thin film with fast tears and a soft grassy blend of gooseberry and grapefruit - appealing. The first sip has a long refreshing finish, starting with mostly lemon, grapefruit and kiwi fruit, well blended with prominent acid and ending clean and dry. A seafood or creamed chicken white and may cellar several years softening the acids perhaps laying down some silkiness - or just sip.  90

THE WATCHER BAROSSA VALLEY SHIRAZ 2008, Adelaide, S. Australia, 14.5% XD, #219196  $19.95  (Tasted April 23, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on March 19, 2011.  No. 61 on the Wine Spectator's 2010 Top 100 wine list. Rated 91 and described by Harvey Steiman  (June 30, 2010) as "Fresh and vibrant, this is medium-weight and juicily focused to show its blackberry, black plum and white pepper flavors, lingering with hints of white chocolate on the harmonious finish... "   My notes A Fetish wines product.  A royal purple tinge with deeply scented blackberry aromas with a touch of spice makes this appealing in the glass. A firm film with slowly forming tears at the rim and a silky first sip of tangy berries steely edged. The tang carries through a long metallic finish as berries fade. An interesting sipper. Have with sweet or sour Italian sausage pieces, bacon wrapped mushroom caps or Nan bread and dip. Would go nicely with hamburgers, a half rack of ribs or T-bone - that ilk. Cellaring for several years will likely mellow the ample tang.  92

SANTA MARGHERITA ‘VALDADIGE’ PINOT GRIGIO 2009,  Alto Adige/Trentino, Italy, 12.5%  D,  #106450  $16.95  (Tasted April 18, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on May 15, 2010.  My notes:  A Vintages Essentials with a following. I don’t expect this to change vintage to vintage. The 2008 was tasted in April 2009, rated 82 with the comment, ‘A one dimensional sipper’.  This has the same straw blond colour leaving a thin film that seems to stick to the glass - a few long legs.  A faint herbaceous straw nose and a softly textured flavour of mild citrus and eucalyptus finishing quickly ending on a straw dry mineral note albeit mild. A thirst quencher if nothing else is around - add ice and a slice of lime. Have with lightly flavoured seafood pastas. A drink now.  80

VALLE PERDIDO ‘RESERVA PATAGONIA’ MALBEC 2006,  Patagonia, Argentina, 14.0%  XD, #222760   $19.95  (Tasted April 18, 2011)  CS

Release by Vintages on March 5, 2011. Rated 91 and described by Jay Miller (Aug. 2009) as "...nose of smoke, pencil lead, violets, black cherry, and plum jumps from the glass. Medium- to full-bodied, it has loads of rich fruit, savory, spicy flavors, ripe tannins, good balance, and a pure finish."   My notes: With 14 months in French and American oak this Malbec is expected to have rich density with prominent vanilla. We’ll see. The colour is a rich deep ruby with a purple cast giving a ring of nobility. The film is very firm showing long tears around the rim. Smells of muted blackberry and spice, some warm earth tones with a first sip that’s velvety, has a sharp seam of acid and flavours of earthy berry. Warm going into the finish taking the berries and earth then ending with a touch of mint and somewhat woody. An interesting sipper if you like bold. Rich density? Yes, without a predominance of fresh fruit (or vanilla). Have with prime rib, beef tenderloin, any steaks or ribs.  Likely at peak now and for the next few years.  90
CLINE ‘NORTH COAST’ VIOGNIER 2009,  Sonoma, California, 13.5% XD, #128421  $14.95  (Tasted April 8, 2011)  CS

Release by Vintages on January 8, 2011. The back label says ’…loaded with pineapple, peach and apricot flavours accented by floral and citrus notes…. ’  My notes:  A straw blond colour leaving a film with a slightly lacy edge and long legs. There’s a spicy aroma of honeysuckle and orange zest leading to a round burst of tart followed by a smooth layer of crushed orange seeds. Fruit and silk fade as a citrus tang takes over for a moderate finish that ends dry and delectably pithy on the palate. A well balanced, polished white having reserved interest as a straight sipper - more interest at a buffet or as a meal wine with fresh oysters, grilled scallops, lobster, crab cakes or a saucy bouillabbaise .  88 
HEDGES CELLARS ‘COLUMBIA VALLEY’ CMS 2008, Benton City, Washington, 13.5% XD, 948992  $17.95  (Tasted April 1, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on October 30, 2010 rated 16.5 of 20 and described by Julia Harding, MW  (Feb. 24, 2010) as ‘46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 6% Syrah. Finely dusty black fruit, refined cassis and a mineral overlay and just a hint of vanilla sweetness. Attractive dry texture even though there's plenty of dark fruit. Fine tannins and elegant length, with just a slight heat on the finish.’  My notes: An oldworld sombre red needing thirty minutes to open up. A granite hued ruby, opaque to view and showing a loose film that slowly forms a rim of tears. The nose is mostly of process: forest floor, tobacco/liquorice, delicate plum and a bright edge rather than spice. The first sip is full-bodied with well established tannins and very smooth. Flavours of black cherries and berries are at first delayed then develop more going into a long ever changing finish. First a velvet cover of mild blackberry then a layer of dusty tannin and ending with a touch of drying earth tones. Three years since harvested and in bottle and possibly another three years cellaring to give a rounder, deeper red without increasing fruit or bite. Have with beef bourguignon or shank of lamb. It went well with a pepperoni and double cheese pizza from Sobey's. I’d call it a drink now.  88

MÉNAGE À TROIS CHARDONNAY 2008, St. Helena, California, 13.5%  M, #158592  $18.95  (Tasted April 12, 2011)  CS


Released by Vintages on January 22, 2011 rated 88 and described by Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast (August 1, 2010) as “… the wine brims with crisp, long hangtime ripeness, accented with toasty oak. Feels rich and creamy, with pineapple, tropical fruit and vanilla flavors.”  My notes:  From the Folie à Deux winery and a blend of Chardonnay grapes from Monterey ‘for citrus aromas‘, Santa Barbara ‘for lush tropical flavours’ and Mendocino ‘for fine structure‘ - an enticing combination. On pouring there’s a golden glow in the glass with a thin film and a rim falling as lacy islands down the sides. Scant aromas of vanilla and lemon rind scent the first sip then a silky smoothness combines with a sharp acid fronting flavours of melon, lemon and soft butter making this interesting as a sipper. Flavours fade slowly into a long tangy finish of crushed lemon pits - no longer that interesting without nibbles of cheesy crackers or toasted bruschetta. Did not add to a herbed roast chicken - much better with grilled cod. A drink now.  86

NIAGARA COLLEGE TEACHING WINERY CABERNET FRANC 2007 VQA St. David’s Bench, NOTL, Ontario, 13.0% D, #155671 $18.95 (Tasted April 5, 2011)  CS

.A Vintages release on January 9, 2010.   My notes: Several Ontario wine reviewers tweet that Cabernet Franc is their preferred Niagara grape and this bottle supports that view. I found just two Cabernet Francs at the local Vintages and selected the higher priced one from Niagara College. The colour is an opaque ruby, in the right light a vibrant and voluptuous prelude. The aroma is a deep, savoury blackcurrant with a touch blueberry and violets. A swirl brings lots of slow legs and the first sip is smooth, full-bodied with excellent tannins and balanced acids. The flavour is a bright blackberry and carries into a long dry, black fruit finish.  A great start to a sliced roast beef dinner perhaps hollow in the middle then recovering nicely at the end. Cellaring for several years would be OK although has lots of character now. Open bottle doesn't keep. 93

CAVES DE LA TOURANGELLE GRANDE RÉSERVE TOURAINE 2009, Loire, France, 12.5% XD, #196733 $14.95 (Tasted April 13, 2011)  CS

Released by Vintages on March 19, 2011.   My notes: Beppi picks this as a value Sauvignon Blanc compared to the pricier Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé and says ‘…serves up flavours of grapefruit, honeydew and grass.’ Printed on the plastic cork is  Famille Bougrier . A delicate lemon floral scent tended to dissipate quickly - a tulip glass brought back the focus. A pale golden glow in the glass with the film quickly fragmented into lacy patterns. Dry with blended flavours of honeydew melon, apple and grapefruit in clear contrast with a NZ gooseberry tang. The finish remains flavourful eventually revealing a touch of tart grass. A medium-bodied white for seafood dishes. Cellaring for several years could show more of the underlying silk.  88

TAWSE ‘QUARRY ROAD VINEYARD’ ESTATE BOTTLED RIESLING 2009 VQA Vinemount Ridge, Vineland, Ontario, 10.5% D, #198853  $21.95  (Tasted April 3, 2011)  CS

The back label states “each wine reflects its individual terroir”  and “…is bottled according to the biodynamic calendar”.  My notes:  For colour this is light blond with a green tint: for a nose, a slight hint of asparagus on light lime and a swirl leaves a firm lacy film with a few fast tears. Like biting into a fresh lime, the first sip is both tart with a sweet fruit edge and is a luscious smack to the palate. Dry as clay in a long finish with sweet edged lime throughout. Overall would be a refreshing intro to fresh oysters or a cold shrimp ring. Have with fresh sushi or a Chinese buffet and will likely cellar for 3 - 6 years. Personally I’d cellar.  91

ROSEWOOD ESTATES:  The winemaker is Natalie Spytkowsky for the following three Rosewood wines. Each of the back labels has the same description for the vineyard, harvest and process as: clay loam soil, hand picked at peak then whole cluster pressed followed by controlled fermentation to retain the terroir of the vineyard although the VQA sub-app is different for each.

ROSEWOOD ESTATES NATALIE'S SÜSSRESERVE RIESLING 2008 VQA Creek Shores, Beamsville, Ontario, 11.0% M, #164483   $18.00  (Tasted April 21, 2011)  CS

 A Vintages release on May 15, 2010My notes:  An interesting nettles and grass nose no fruit that I could discern. A blond colour crisp and clean in the glass and a swirl brings a thin film that recedes slowly.  A touch of sweet, hardly noticeable, with the tart apple-lime ending dry with a medium-body, satisfyingly full on the first sip. Moderate succulence makes this a pleasing sipper, dry on the palate perfect by itself or as an aperitif with deep fried deep sea creatures or to have with grilled tilapia or cod filets. Cellaring for awhile would enhance body and texture without harming subtle fruit.  90 

ROSEWOOD ESTATES MERLOT 2008 VQA Beamsville Bench, Beamsville, Ontario, 13.0% XD, #211896   $20.00  (Tasted April 4, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on January 22, 2011. My notes: A dark ruby charcoal tinted and an aroma of spicy blackberries that’s slow to show. Let breathe for forty minutes minimum. A thick film sticks to the glass slowly developing a rim of tears. The first sip has a red liquorice flavour one that could mellow out 2 - 3 years. The liquorice isn’t jammy and is blended with firm tannins, distinct acid, muted blackberry and some young raspberry flavours. Smooth, bright and nicely balanced with a long finish ending with extra dry smoky berries. Have with Italian tomato dishes, grilled steaks, prime rib or anything beefy.  89
ROSEWOOD ESTATES PINOT NOIR 2008 VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Beamsville, Ontario, 12.5% XD, #112177  $20.00  (Tasted April 6, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on September 4, 2010.  My notes: Tasted just last October and rated 90 with a recommendation to air twenty minutes - I was impressed enough to check how it’s doing on the LCBO shelf after six months. This has the same bright deep cherry glow in the glass, a thin lacy rim with long legs and a delicate aroma of crushed smoky strawberries - leave thirty minutes to develop though. Silky texture, dry to the lips and well blended flavours of red cherries and tangy beetroot - a sipper unless one is looking for distinct fruit.  The finish is long and drying ending with an added touch of silk and bramble, not objectionable. Have with salmon, char or lake trout - veal or a tuna steak.  Its true character is a mystery to be experienced. Cellar for several years or drink now - it’ll stay light and elegant.  88

DB ‘FAMILY SELECTION’ TRAMINER RIESLING 2009, Bilbul, NSW Australia, 11.5% M, #207381   $12.95  (Tasted April 27, 2011)  CS


The back label says “A blend … having a great balance of floral rose, musk, spice and sweet fruit finished off with a crisp lemon citrus bite. A De Bortoli wine."  My notes: The sweetness is a subtle component of this blend that emerges in the finish. A pale blond colour with green tint, a weak floral nose and a soft apple-pear with slight musk and lemon flavour add up to a pleasing but shallow sipper. Pairing with sweet and sour, not too hot Thai or Caribbean fare is likely. A one dimensional drink now.  80
CHANSON PÈRE et FILS  LE BOURGOGNE PINOT NOIR 2008, Beaune (Côte d’Or), France, 12.5% D, #050575  $18.95  (Tasted April 13, 2011)  CS

Released by Vintages on  May 15, 2010. My notes:  Hmm, wonder why it’s still around?  Recommended by Konrad Ejbich ( @WineZone ) in a tweet so thought I’d try it.  The film appears firm on a swirl then separates to form a lacy patchwork. The colour is a deep ruby and the subdued nose is a combination of cherries, rasp- and black- berries. Lightish medium-bodied with a slight herbal taste that  precedes red currants and brambleberry levelling off for a long, dry, flavourful finish. Enjoyable as a sipper, quaffing brings out a lasting brightness on the palate with a hint of tar. Better as a companion to grilled, bbq’d or roasted beef, pork ribs or slices of venison. Serve in a large bowl and let air thirty minutes. Cellaring a few years should be OK but without much improvement - primarily a drink now.  85
VIÑA MAYOR ’RIBERA DEL DUERO’ RESERVA 2004, Valladalid, Spain,  14.0% D, #209155  $24.95  (Tasted April 22, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on March 19, 2011 rated 91 by  Gord Stimmell  in his column Cult classics and Iberian wine values (March 24, 2011) and a 93 by Thomas Matthews  (May 31, 2010) saying  “... shows focus and depth, with admirable purity to its black cherry, mineral, tobacco and tar notes. Offers an excellent balance of firm, well-integrated tannins and clean acidity. Not showy, but rock-solid…”  My notes: Ebony hued, ie. opaque, ruby colour and aromas of overripe black cherries and sweet liquorice, nicely sharp on the nose and leaving a viscous film running slow legs on the glass. The first sip is acerbic to the tongue leaving prickles lasting through a long, dry sweet tobacco finish. If one likes a full timbre and bitterness that only aged barrels can add this is it - for me, a taste I haven‘t acquired. Airing for an hour didn’t mellow although leaving open for the next day softened a tad. Have with bbq’d ribs, Barbarian rubbed steaks or Texas chili. Could cellar for years mellowing reasonably in five.   85 (Cellar)
ADEGA VILA REAL DOURO RESERVA 2009,  Douro, Portugal, 13.0% D, #218289  $14.95  (Tasted April 15, 2011)  CS

Release by Vintages on March 19, 2011. Rated 90 by Gord Stimmell in his column Cult classics and Iberian wine values (March 24, 2011).  Winner of a Silver Medal at the 2010 Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2010.  My notes:  A pale yellow and a nose of subdued grapefruit, not much there to be objectionable. A thin film sticks to the glass until tears slowly form and fall. Refreshing on the palate with some viscosity that carries a dry white grapefruit flavour taking it to a slowly fading clean finish. Extra dry for sure, grows on you as a lone sipper and could shine with deep fried octopus, a Bento box of tempura veggies and shrimp or grilled tilapia with lemon risotto. A drink now or keep up to two years.  88

CALAMUS RESERVE RED 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Jordan, Ontario, 12.7%  XD, #223990   $19.95  (Tasted April 15, 2011)  CS

Released by Vintages on March 19, 2011 and rated 4 of 5 (87-89) by Rod Phillips  (December 8, 2010).  My notes: A blend of 53% Cabernet Franc, 30% merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Syrah and a ‘full 30 months on French oak’ before bottling. The back label says this can be consumed now or cellared. A clean Niagara (cold climate) red with aromas of tangy black berry with some plum. A swirl brings a thin film with long legs that fall quickly and the first silky sip is full of tangy berries. Well balanced with building tannins and needing airing an hour to develop fully. A sharp sipper and I‘d say it would be too bold as a companion to light meats - better with grilled steaks, rack of lamb or burgers. Cellaring for several years should smooth some of its brightness and bring fruit and silk to the fore.  89

CLINE ZINFANDEL 2009, Sonoma, California, 14.0% D, #489278   $13.00  (Tasted April 14, 2011) CS

My notes: A General listing and bought to compare with the ‘Ancient Vines’ Zinfandel, (#719211, $17.95). From the back label: “we still do it the old fashioned way…. displays a wide array of dark berry fruit including black cherry and raspberry, spice notes and a lasting finish of vanilla….”  To use the words of the previous Zin tasting ‘A charcoal hued ruby, almost opaque’  then a firm film with long legs falling from the rim. A dusty scent of blackberries then flavours of brambleberry, a light pepper to brighten the way for a spicy edge. Very smooth with respectable tannins and an interesting tang carrying the dark fruit through a long finish. Delectable as a sipper - medium-bodied, moderately bold but mildly flavourful to hold up well with anything beefy, grilled or roasted. Not the depth as the ’Ancient Vines’ - half way there.   88 

CLINE ‘ANCIENT VINES’ ZINFANDEL 2009, Sonoma, California,  15.0%  XD, #719211   $17.95  (Tasted April 12, 2011)  CS

Released by Vintages on April 2, 2011. The back label claims ’flavours of dark berries, coffee and chocolate with great vanilla oak character and a long, lingering finish.’ Grapes are from old vines in Oakley as well as other Zinfandel regions.   My notes:   A charcoal hued ruby, almost opaque, with long legs falling quickly from a lacy edge on the first swirl. Spicy brambleberry, black pepper and a light American oak sets off the sensors for the initial sip. Not tasted for a few years Zinfandel differs with prominent berry mixed with a somewhat flat purple plum and dark chocolate, smooth on the tongue and finishing dry with a touch of tar. A great reserved sipper for a buffet table or main course of roast prime rib or T-bone yet muted enough for a tuna steak. Perfect with lamb chops with lemon and Tzatziki . Cellar potential 2 - 4 years or drink now.  92

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET FRANC 2007 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, NOTL, Ontario, 13.5% XD, #013763   $19.95  (Tasted April 19, 2011)  CS

Released by Vintages on April 2, 2011. Rod Phillips (December 15, 2009) gave this 3 ½ of 5 (85-86) saying “… a refreshing cabernet franc that pairs well with red meats and goes equally well with herbed roast poultry and pork. The flavours are solid right through, and the wine is nicely balanced.” The back label describes it as "… spent 17 months in both new and aged French and American oak barrels…. Shows off some big flavours of dark cherry, rhubarb and cracked pepper with sensations of tobacco and molten chocolate…"   My notes:  A dusty ruby rich and deep and a spicy blackberry aroma, a thick film leaving long flowing legs. Silky, a flavour of blackberry jam but not too, dark chocolate and liquorice, full-bodied and well integrated.   A very interesting sipper… perhaps not for light of heart. Should be great with seasoned grilled or roasted beef, lamb or pork ribs and should cellar for several years - ie. five or more although acids are mellow and it’s drinking well now.  93
TRUMPOUR'S MILL ESTATE BOTTLED CABERNET FRANC 2007 VQA Prince Edward County,  Hillier , Ontario, 13.0% D, #173187   $17.95  (Tasted April 9, 2011)  CS

Released by Vintages on May 1, 2010. The back label says “… ruby red dinner wine… delicately spicy lemon pepper and cranberry nose. The sweet blackberry palate and soft oak tannins offer a lingering finish.”  My notes: The first Prince Edward County wine I’ve purchased for many years. This is from The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery and has a fresh black cherry colour. A swirl brings a thin film with many long fast legs. On opening there’s a touch of BRETT that dissipates quickly leaving a soft spicy cherry scent. Lightish medium-bodied, smooth textured, tangy, flavours of red cherry and a light herb provide interest then a dry tannin layer accompanies cranberry/cherry leading into a long dry berry finish. I’d call it a polite red sipper enjoyable without an attractive highlight. Match with hamburgers, a pepperoni pizza or cheesy panzerotti. Not enough there to cellar although could ‘keep’ a year.  84

MICHAEL DAVID PETITE PETIT 2008, Lodi, California, 15.0% XD, #213017  $24.95  (Tasted April 27, 2011)  CS

A Vintages release on April 2, 2011 that Robert Parker Jr. (Aug. 2010) rated 89. A blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot. Like it’s label this is said to offer “a joyous explosion of color and fun, it is a substantial, dense, full-bodied, whopper style of wine loaded with pure black fruit flavours that coat the palate. It reveals remarkable richness for a wine of this price…”  My notes:  Any winery that puts together a label so expressive deserves a following. Vinted and bottled by Michael & David Phillips. An opaque ruby, a warm aroma of plums and spicy blackberries leaving a firm film with many slow tears. The first sip has a bright edge and a long soothing minty tone layered on spicy blackberries, full-bodied and dry. The finish eventually ends loses the berry leaving a slight bramble. The BottleDJ paired (w/o tasting) this red with the Black Crowes. There is a rawness and an originality in this blend, enjoyable but also needing to be tamed. Have with bbq’d ribs of any kind, a Barbarian coated T-bone or a Texas chili (mostly meat). Cellaring for several years is likely.  93