Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

It’s that time of the year again – here in Canada our Santa Claus Parades are happening, our houses and malls are decorated for Christmas and, in the United States, we are just a mere two days away from Thanksgiving, football, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our malls are packed, our thoughts have turned to holiday cards, parties, family dinners and what to buy for whom. For those of us who aren’t quite sure what to buy for the boss, the neighbor, and the person in our family that has “absolutely everything” here are a few suggestions that may spark your imagination…


This time of the year is all about celebrating – Christmas, family get togethers, ringing in the New Year – so it isn’t too surprising that this is the time of year that sales of Champagne (or other sparkling wines) go through the roof. For the longest time, I have always been a fan of Moet Chandon and its California version but a friend of mine had me try Piper-Hiedsieck this past weekend at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show in Toronto and I knew it had to be the Champagne of choice for this year’s celebrations.

Piper-Hiedsieck Brut Champagne
CSPC # 462432, Available at a wide range of LCBO stores
$49.95 per bottle

Now, not everyone enjoys Champagne – some of them cause headaches, some are too dry – so I always try to have a sparkling wine from Ontario as a nice alternative. This year’s Ontario Sparkling of choice comes from The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery. One of only three sparkling wines that come from Prince Edward County, and the most recent release, this inaugural version of sparkling wine is crisp, clean and truly refreshing. It’s only available at the winery and it is bound to move quickly so get in touch with the winery quickly to order yours or make a trip to their tasting room.

The Grange of Prince Edward 2007 Brut VQA
Available exclusively at the winery, Released on November 21st
$29.95 per bottle

Normally, when recommending wines at this time of the year, I tend to stick to sparkling wine and Icewine. To me, they fit the celebratory mood of the season best and that is what I like to focus on. However, this year, while at Gourmet Food and Wine Show, I found a 13 year old white wine that just amazed me enough that I feel it needs a mention here. When you see a bottle of wine that is this old, our brains just automatically think that it should be rather pricey. This one is under $15 and is one of the best aged German Rieslings I have ever come across. Amazingly, there is still quite a few available throughout Ontario but I would recommend you pick up a few bottles quickly.

Balthasar Ress Oestricher Riesling QbA Rheingau 1996, Stefan B Ress
CSPC #142299, Available at a wide range of LCBO stores
$14.95 per bottle

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a little bit of sweet decadence to finish off the evening. If you are not big into the sweet desserts then might I suggest a glass of Icewine. Pillitteri Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the largest estate producer of Icewine in Canada and they do not always make their Chardonnay Icewine. It doesn’t surprise me that they chose the 2007 vintage as the year to “re-introduce” this unique Icewine as the 2007 vintage has been proclaimed to be the best vintage Ontario will have this decade. Be sure to pick up a couple of bottles of this Icewine before it disappears – and it will disappear…

Pillitteri Estates Winery 2007 Chardonnay Icewine
Available exclusively at the winery
$35.10 per bottle


Not everyone likes Icewine – it tends to be a little too sweet for some people – but with this book, there is a nice alternative to that unfinished bottle of Icewine than allowing the wine to oxidize and go bad. Along with an extensive history of Icewine production, there is a large section of recipes that incorporate Icewine in thus allowing you to use up the unfinished bottle and try some new foods.

Icewine: Extreme Winemaking
By Donald Ziraldo & Karl Kaiser
Published by Key Porter Books, Available at Chapters
Online Price: $33.00 per book


Why not try out some of these ideas for gifts? I have a couple of people on my list who definitely fit into this category and when I need an alternative, I always seem to find them in the gift pack section of my local LCBO store.

Armagnac de Montal VSOP
CSPC #618496, Available at a wide range of LCBO stores
$49.95 per bottle

Forty Creek Barrel Select Gift Pack
CSPC #603688, Available at a wide range of LCBO stores
$29.95 per gift pack


I have never been much of a gadget person but over the years, a couple of friends have given me wine gadgets that have been very interesting. If you’re going to drink wine, at least 75% of the time you need a corkscrew. There are many out there and it is definitely an area of wine gadgets that can be rather confusing but one I keep going back to for people who are not comfortable with the type of corkscrews that servers use in restaurants is The Rabbit (or a similar style)…

The Rabbit – Silver
Available at The Wine Establishment
$60.00 each

Given the size of most Champagne bottles, and the small amount of champagne that people like to drink, a stopper for a partially filled bottle of bubbly is definitely a good thing to have on hand for those holiday festivities. Traditional wine stoppers WILL NOT work in this case – the amount of pressure still inside the bottle and the amount of bubbles remaining even after a bottle is half emptied is still enough to pop a traditional wine stopper out of the neck of the bottle. Believe me – I speak from experience on this one – when I say that is one mess you DO NOT want to clean up inside your fridge. The type of stopper mentioned below is designed to seal the champagne bottle since there’s no way you are going to be able to put the cork back into the neck.

Trudeau Champagne Stopper
Available at The Wine Establishment
$9.95 each

Have you heard the old adage that white wine is served chilled and red wine at room temperature – it’s WRONG! That was set up as a general rule thousands and thousands of years ago when refrigeration did not exist and people lived within a certain area within the world where, basically, extreme temperatures did not exist. The Wine Watch Thermometer takes all the guess work out of serving wine at the proper temperature and even has a set of stickers on the back that shows you the correct serving temperature – in both Celsius and Fahrenheit – for Reds, Rose’s, Whites and Champagnes. In the case of Icewine, my personal preference is to serve it at the White wine temperature but even as low as the Champagne temperature. If I were to say I had a favourite wine gadget – my Wine Watch Thermometer would be it.

Wine Watch Thermometer
Available at The Wine Establishment
$19.95 each


If you were to ask me what line of glassware I have in my collection – aside from the leaded crystal stemware I inherited from my grandparents – I would tell you in a heartbeat that it is Spiegelau. The company is a part of Riedel Glass Works which makes the high end stemware designed to enhance specific wines in specific glasses and the premise has been transferred to the Spiegelau division at a more reasonable price. Below is just a sampling of my favourite glasses from Spiegelau but there are many, many more to choose from.

By the way, if you are not able to make it to The Wine Establishment or do not like to order online, Spiegelau is also available at a variety of places that sell china and stemware.

#01 VG Spiegelau Red/White Wine 15 oz.
Available at The Wine Establishment
$15.00 each or 6 for $75.00

#00 VG Spiegelau Balloon 25 oz.
Available at The Wine Establishment
$15.00 each or 6 for $75.00

#29 VG Spiegelau Champagne Flute 9 ½ oz.
Available at The Wine Establishment
$12.50 each

Spiegelau Cremona Burgundy Box of 4
Available at The Wine Establishment
$30.00 per box

Spiegelau Cremona Bordeaux Box of 4
Available at The Wine Establishment
$30.00 per box

Peugeot Variation Decanter
Available at The Wine Establishment
$100.00 per decanter

Nachtmann Decanter with Handle #2887
Available at The Wine Establishment
$99.95 per decanter

Happy Holidays everyone...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Torrontes: Argentina’s Unknown White Grape

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

There are many wine writers around the world who have discovered the intricacies of the Torrontes grape. This wine is very far from being a traditional white but it is that uniqueness that draws us to it and, hopefully, will draw you to it as well. In North America, names like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and even Gewurztraminer are common names to see on the shelves of our local wine shops. Despite the number of articles from people like Jancis Robinson, David Lawrason and many, many more, Torrontes is still a largely unheard of grape that the average consumer has heard very little of. Just out of curiosity, I decided to do a search on the LCBO website to see how many different Torrontes wines were available through them since that is the only source for international wines in Ontario. The results: I could count the number of wines on my two hands and still have fingers left over. The thing is that with a selling price of less than $15 a bottle in most cases (one of them was $16.95 a bottle), any of these wines could fit into the great value category but if no one knows that they exist and how interesting the taste is to these wines, they may as well be $100 a bottle.

I don’t normally do this when preparing to write a blog but I decided this time around to ask on my Facebook page “What do you know about Torrontes?” The answers were interesting…

“I know I love it when it’s good, hate it when it’s bad!! Tasted on recently from Emilia Romani which was stellar. A different expression than that in Argentina, but beautiful nonetheless.”

“Torrontes is best when grown in higher altitudes (in Argentina) and fermented and aged in stainless steel. I find that too much oak can actually kill this wine. It is originally from Spain -= Galician variety grown in fairly large quantities in the Alicante and Yecla regions. However it is also considered one of the original in Argentina and I would put it up there with their finest exhibits of their best along with Carmenere and Malbec…my three favourites of the Country. Seriously wish we could bet more Torrontes here ;-)”

Now, both of these people work in the wine industry with me so they have had the opportunity to try a wide variety of wines from around the world so for them to say they like Torrontes and wish there were more available up here in Canada certainly indicates to me that this is a grape that should get some attention in the hopes that the general consumer may fall in love with this very unique and different tasting white wine.

Okay, so I have been going on and on about how this wine is unique and different tasting so I am sure you are wondering why I am saying that. You see, the aromas to all of the Torrontes wines I tasted this week had a slight citrus, tropical fruit component to it but the flavours were very different from the aromas. Initially I thought it was a creamy texture that is normally associated with an oaked Chardonnay but that just did not seem right so, upon further examination, I realized that the mouthfeel of these wines had a more soapy, lanolin, oily texture to it than creaminess. Now, I know that none of those flavours sound appealing to many people but, in these wines, the wineries seem to have found a way to make this taste appealing and balance in with the fruit flavours and smokiness that is still present. Honestly, if it is able to disguise itself as a cross between Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and a lightly oaked Chardonnay, which pairs wonderfully with pasta and chicken and turkey just to name a few, I think Torrontes should be a viable alternative in our market. Here are a few of my picks from the Argentinean tasting this week. Enjoy…

Vinas de Altura Rio Seco Torrontes 2009
$9.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Pleasant, fruity aroma – mostly grapefruit and pineapple – that follows into the flavours. There is a slightly oily texture to the wine but not overpoweringly so. Overall, a very pleasant drinking wine that could be paired with most of your weekday dinners or enjoyed on its own.

Vinas de Altura Rio Seco Reserva Torrontes 2009
$13.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Take the previous Torrontes (the non-reserve one) and amplify the aromas and flavours. That’s what you have when you taste and smell this wine. More fruit, more soapy, glycerin mouthfeel, more smoke and more floral on this wine. Just a kicked up version of their entry level wine and just as tasty as the original.

Vinas de Altura Gamela Reserva Torrontes 2009
$26.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Out of the three from Vinas de Altura, this wine is the one that takes a slightly different direction. The aromas and flavours are basically the same but they vary in comparison to the previous two. This wine has an overabundant fruity, floral aroma to it which is rather distinctive. While there is a slight soapy, glycerin mouthfeel to this wine, the flavours are mostly smoke and tropical fruit. This was probably one of the most interesting Torrontes in the room that day.

Rutini Wines Trumpeter Reserve Torrontes 2008
$16.95 a bottle
Available through Profile Wine Group (aquagliozzi@profilewinegroup.com)
This winery is closer to the ocean and slightly further south than Vinas de Altura which, in South America, actually translates into a cooler climate – it is closer to Antarctica than the Equator. As a result, this wine has more of the smoky flavour to it than the soapy, glycerin mouthfeel that the others have had at this point. The fruity, floral aromas are still ever present and they do continue on to the palate but the smoky flavour is the major player in this wine.

Trivento Tribu Torrontes 2009
$8.95 a bottle
Available through Select Wines (haddleton@selectwines.ca)
This was probably one of my favourite wines of the day. It has a very powerful aroma of floral (roses and violets), stone fruit and slight citrus fruit. The flavours are equally powerful with a slightly oily texture and a major backbone of fruit. This is the only wine I described through this day as YUMMY!

Nieto Senetiner Reserva Torrontes 2009
$12.95 per bottle
Available through Cipelli Wines and Spirits (dpancer.cipelli@bellnet.ca)
The last Torrontes in the room this day and what a way to end a day with! More of tropical fruit and floral aromas I have already experienced this day, this wine has more of the fruity, floral flavours than the oily texture than some of the previous wines had. If the sounds of the soapy, glycerin mouthfeel really turn you off of trying this wine, I recommend trying this one as it is not quite forceful with this one.

So, when you are looking to try a wine that is completely different from your standard Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, why not pick up a bottle or two of Argentinean Torrontes? The unique flavour profile is one that will keep you coming back over and over for more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Go Big or Go Home…

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

In 2007, the country of Italy produced 4 349 900 Liters of wine – that’s approximately 5.8 million bottles of wine. Now, a lot of that wine stays in the country as wine is a big part of an Italian’s day to day life, but a large number of those bottles are also exported to a wide variety of countries. So, on the first Monday of November over one hundred of those wineries packed themselves into the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto and laid out 477 of their best wines for those of us who work with wine to try and buy.

Now, I am sure you are looking at that number of wines and are thinking how can anyone get through 477 wines and still be standing? Well, it is impossible – what ends up happening is we simply pick and choose based on what we see in the tasting guide and who we see behind the tables in terms of importers. So, here are my picks for some, and definitely not all, of the great wines that were in the room that day.

Leone de Castris Salento IGT Donna Lisa Bianco 2008
$10.50 per bottle
Contact Philip (Philip@halpernwine.com) for ordering information
This wine is made from 100% Malvasia Bianca grapes, which is part of a family of grapes historically grown in the Mediterranean region of the world. In previous years it has been a blending of Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca but I have to say I like the fact that they kept it to a single varietal for the 2008 vintage because it made the wine slightly unique amongst the white wines there that day.

Lovely aromatics of tropical fruit and melon carry on to the palate where they join a slight nutty toffee flavour. There is a bit of spice on the lingering finish and, at this price, is definitely one of those wines that would make it a hit as an everyday with dinner kind of wine. Cheers,

Patria Soc Coop Sicilia IGT Viognier 2008
Contact falonzi@bridgecon.ca for ordering information
Although the grape Viognier is one that we do see a lot here in Canada, Viognier’s from Italy are definitely a new experience for us. This wine is very aromatic made up floral aromas with a touch of caramel. The palate has some minerality to it but also citrus, tropical fruit and floral components. To balance the wine off and give it a perfect finish, you will find a light touch of spice and crisp, clean acidity.

Cantine Salvalai Veneto IGT Pinot Grigio Salvalai 2008
$14.95 per bottle
Contact abcon@abconwine.com for ordering information
It would be easy to think not much of this wine based on the very subtle aromas coming out from the glass but give this one a chance…or a sip…and you will be pleasantly surprised. The primary aroma is that of grapefruit which does continue on to the palate but the flavours are mostly mineral with a touch of cream and that aforementioned grapefruit flavour. The real surprise to this wine is the Mandarin Orange finish and the amazing mouthfeel this wine has to it.

Vinicola Benanti Etna DOC Rosso di Verzella 2006
Contact info@frontierwine.ca for ordering information
A blending of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, this wine has great aromatics which consist of an earthy base but with a distinctive dried fruit, banana component. That distinctive banana component is also evident in the flavours where it joins and mingles with a lot of berry fruit. There’s only one word for this wine and that is YUM!

Vinicola Benanti Sicilia IGT Il Drappo 2004
Contact info@frontierwine.ca for ordering information
This wine is trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people – every time you sniff the wine you get something else. There is a major berry component to the aromas but there are also some spicy and vegetal notes to the nose. On the palate, this is a very fruit forward wine but there is a nice kick of spice in the back palate through to the finish and a good string of tannins weaving their way through the wine. Either way you want this – you could put it down for a few years if you want or open it up and enjoy it tonight.

Cecchi Umbria IGT Zitto Zitto 2008
$16.15 per bottle
Contact prodhon@selectwines.ca for ordering information
One of my friends who works for Select Wines filled me in on something as she was pouring me this wine – “Zitto Zitto” is Italian for “Quiet, Quiet”. So, with that in mind, what does this wine bring? The aromas to this wine are very subtle, almost restrained, but there is a distinctive floral component to them – mostly violets but a hint of iris as well. The flavours remind me of a smooth jazz number but one that is trying to break out and be a funky jazz piece. The distinctive kick of spice in the back palate and finish make this a very memorable wine. When I first heard what the title translated to I pictured a Grandma calling out to her grandchildren to be quiet and that is exactly what this wine is trying to be. I think if you were to give it a year or so, the Grandma would be losing the battle as her grandchildren would have become loud, boisterous teenagers.

Domodimonti Societa Agricola Marche IGT Il Messia 2006
$72.75 per bottle
Contact haddleton@selectwines.ca for ordering information
This wine is a blend of Montepulciano and Merlot and you can tell because this wine has a complex fruit nose which is a key characteristic of both of these grape varietals. Those fruity aromas continue on to the palate where you get tons of blackberry and licorice flavours but with a good string of silky tannins, some peppery notes and an occasional kick of plums. This wine tastes pretty good now but can you imagine what it will be like in 5-7 years? Pick some up now and try to hold on to it until 2015 or so.

Cantine Spinelli Malbec 2008
$7.95 per bottle
LCBO General List CSPC #143750
To say this wine is HUGE may be the biggest understatement I have made in a while. The wine is so dark it is inky black. The aromas are abundant – fruit, coffee, chocolate, cigar, cedar box…I could go on indefinitely. The palate is just as big as the aromas with jam, fruit, spice and all important tannins. This wine is screaming for food – I would say hearty meats would be the best pick for this big, definitely over the top, day ending wine. There are plenty of bottles available according to the LCBO’s website so pick up a couple of them and enjoy.

Hopefully you will enjoy some of these great Italian wines I found at the Italian tasting last Monday. However, if you happen to find an Italian wine that you absolutely love in your local wine shop, feel free to let us know here. There are just so many Italian wines out there that it is next to impossible to try all of them…

Are You Ready for a Trip to France…

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Although I never received one of the formal invitations to this tasting – just a bunch of emails back and forth between friends – I was told by another friend when I arrived at the tasting that the theme of this particular wine tasting was “All Bordeaux Wines under $30”. When you hear something like that you can almost picture a wine snob sticking their nose up in the air and acting snooty. It is easy to do when you think about how there are a lot of French wines out there that are priced in the hundreds and thousands of dollars – per bottle. Even better than the price, out of the seven wines you will find below, five of them are available in your local LCBO stores. So, please, read on and enjoy these great wine finds that can fit into a myriad of budgets…

Premius Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc
$12.95 per bottle
LCBO General List. Contact Despina Triantos (despina@dionysuswines.ca) to find this wine easily at your local LCBO store.
This wine wins the award for the best value wine find for the day. This light, easy drinking, slightly fruity wine has great balance, could easily be drunk on its own or paired with a wide variety of dishes. A lovely combination of grapefruit and passion fruit in both the aromas and the flavours makes this a great wine to pair with seafood, chicken dishes or even a simple fruit salad.

Dourthe La Grande Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc
$15.95 per bottle
Vintages CSPC #159640
Just as lovely and pleasant as the previous Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is simple and uncomplicated. In my opinion, it is wines like these two that are perfect for any night of the week when you are not entertaining and you just want to enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner. Crisp and clean both in the aromas and the flavours – over abundant citrus, perfect balance of fruit and acidity and a lingering finish make this wine a perfect accompaniment to that dinner for two after a long day at work. Enjoy…

Thomas Barton 2006 Bordeaux
$16.95 per bottle
Please contact Ed Bajus (ebajus@chartonhobbs.com) for ordering information
This is one of two wines that are only available through Private Order and it is also one of two wines available from Thomas Barton. This particular wine is a 60/40 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon respectively and it has this intense dark colour – almost inky purple in nature. A very fruit forward nose of black fruit that continues on to the palate where it is joined by distinctive cedar notes. This wine is definitely not a powerhouse wine but there is something so nice and refreshing in the simplicity of the flavours and aromas and the amazing lasting finish this wine has to it.

Chateau des Laurets 2006 Puisseguin St Emilion
$19.90 per bottle
LCBO CSPC #371401
Bordeaux red wines are almost always a blending of a variety of grapes – typically Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Depending on the vintage and the producer, it can be just two of the above grapes or it could even include a couple of other red grapes not mentioned above. This particular wine is an 80/20 split of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and it is one of those wines that is constantly changing in the glass. When it comes to the aromas, sometimes you smell nothing and sometimes you get a very fruity aroma pouring out of the glass. It has a very BIG mouthfeel to the flavours – fruit, slight licorice and a kick of spice on the finish. There is a good string of tannins to this wine which means it has the ability to age nicely but could easily be drunk now if you are interested.

Chateau Roquetaillade La Grange Vieilles Vignes
$21.95 per bottle
Vintages CSPC #125666
This was probably one of the most interesting wines at the tasting today and the general consensus amongst the wine writers present was the fact that this wine had a small percentage of Petit Verdot in the wine. Tons of black fruit aromas with a slight intermingling of spice weaving through the wine, the palate is silky smooth and very fruit forward. There is a hint of tannins to the wine along with the addition of ginger and pepper that envelope into a long, lingering finish.

Chateau St-Andre Corbin 2006 Saint Georges St Emilion
$22.85 per bottle
Vintages CSPC # 43810
This is a classic Bordeaux blend that is heavy on the Merlot. It has a very fruit forward aroma to it but there are the added complexities of mint, licorice and a hint of menthol. The aromas continue on to the palate and there are still some medium strong tannins that indicate this wine could easily age for the next ten years or so but if you pair it with a hearty roast it could be drunk now. YUM!

Thomas Barton 2006 St Emilion
$24.40 per bottle
Please contact Ed Bajus (ebajus@chartonhobbs.com) for ordering information
The second Thomas Barton wine and the second order that you have to make a private order on but this wine is definitely worth making the order for. It is an 80/20 split of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and the colour is so amazing on it you could easily get lost in it. The aromas are mostly black fruit but when you get to the palate it kicks into full drive with the black fruit intermingling with cedar and spice notes. The wine is trying to be silky smooth but there is an elegant restraint to it that is preventing it from being overblown which is a refreshing change. The long, lingering finish on this wine makes it feel like it wants to go on for hours and hours.

So, hopefully with these wine reviews I have shown all of you that French wine does not necessarily have to be overpriced to be great. Many of the French Chateaus make really great, easy drinking white and red wines for under $30 a bottle so, the next time you are in your local wine shop, why not see what the French are offering up…

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Napa, Napa and more Napa…

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Last week there was not one, not two but three Napa tastings – in the space of two days. How lucky can a wine lover get? Now, on a previous blog, a friend had commented that my tastes tend to run towards wines that fit into the category of “BIG AND BOLD” so as I walked into the first tasting – the trade tasting held at the ROM that Monday afternoon – I had a bit of a mission in mind. I wanted to find wines that had great structure, great flavours but not in a big, over the top manner. Now, when it comes to Napa Valley, a favourite saying is “Cab is King” and it is a very accurate saying. At this tasting there were more than 70 Cabernet Sauvignon’s or blends containing Cabernet with several tables devoted solely to the Granddaddy of red grapes.

Now, on the second day of Napa tastings, in the Queen West area of Toronto, iYellow Wine Club was holding their own version of Napa – NIGHTLIFE NAPA! As we climbed the stairs from the street, you could feel the excitement in the air, hear the music coming from the main room and the hustle and bustle of activity was swirling in front of us. The wines that were at this tasting were the same as at the previous day’s tastings but there is just a little something extra when you come into an iYellow event and you can feel it. Ange and her team know how to throw a party and this party was celebrating all things Napa!

So, what wines did I find that fit my criteria of being aromatic and flavourful but not over the top? Despite the fact that most of Napa Valley is planted to red grapes, they do try to balance it out with a few “staple” white grapes. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the usual suspects and, thankfully, some of the wineries were sure to bring some of their better whites to share with us these two days. Read on to find out about my discoveries…

Grgich Hills 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay
$62.20 per bottle
Available through LCBO – Vintages, CSPC # 346304
Quite possibly the top white wine in the room, the aromas and flavours on this wine are nothing but stellar. Made in the same style since the winery opened in 1977, this wine does not go through malolactic (secondary) fermentation at all and this allows the floral and fruity notes of this wine to come through clearly. Aromas of honey, roasted and tropical fruit with just a slight hint of toffee prevail while the flavours are lovely and complex. More roasted fruit, a hint of caramel, slight spice in the finish and an abundance of citrus and tropical fruit greet you with every sip of this wine.

Cliff Lede Vineyards 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
$22 USD per bottle
Contact Jennifer Desmond (Jennifer@cliffledevineyards.com) for ordering information
Sauvignon Blanc can be described in just about as many ways as it can be made. This particular Sauvignon Blanc has such a wide array of aromas and flavours that just about every time you sniff and taste what is in your glass you will find something new and exciting about this wine. The list of aromas includes lime, floral, passion fruit, herbal, citrus, pepper, berry fruit and nuts…and that’s just to start. Half of these aromas are not even regular components of a typical Sauvignon Blanc but, then again, this wine is far from typical. The great thing is that, although all of these aromas can be detected, none of them are there in an overpowering manner. Although some are slightly stronger than other aromas, they all “play nicely” with each other so that they do not turn you off the wine before you have had a chance to taste it. Now, as for the flavours, they are just as varied as the aromas – lemon meringue, honeysuckle, brioche, tropical fruit and a touch of honey with a slight oily texture and an interesting kick of wild flowers on the finish. Now, I did mention “a slight oily texture” but I do not want you to be concerned. There are a lot of wines out there that will have a slight oily texture to them but it is not like someone accidentally spilled some vegetable or olive oil into your glass of wine. An oily texture – as long as it is not overpowering – gives wine a medium texture and more substance to a wine that could easily be very light without much to it. In the case of this wine, it gives this Sauvignon Blanc perfect balance and an interesting mouthfeel to it.

Clos du Val 2007 Los Carneros Chardonnay
$24 USD per bottle
Contact rita@freehousewine.com for ordering information
Los Carneros is a unique wine region in California – it is the only wine region in California that spans both Sonoma and Napa Valleys, along the south end of both valleys. The region itself is located north of San Pablo Bay, which is the up at the north end of San Francisco Bay. Being this close to water makes the Los Carneros region slightly cooler than Sonoma and Napa Valley which are actually located further north. Consequently, this region is perfect for cool climate grapes and it is a region where Chardonnay absolutely excels.

The aromatics on this wine are very pleasant – a combination of citrus and stone fruit (pear, peach, etc) with just the slightest whiff of honey. The citrus aromas carry on to the palate where it is joined by even more fruit – tropical, melon and apple – with just a touch of vanilla and cream flavours. A really great Chardonnay is one that has the perfect balance of fruit, oak and acidity and this one definitely does – it is SEAMLESS and it has a long, crisp finish.

John Anthony Wines 2008 Carneros Sauvignon Blanc
$19 USD per bottle
Contact john@javwine.com for ordering information
Sauvignon Blanc is a grape that, in theory, works very well in the cool climate of the Los Carneros region of California but is still a relative unknown for the most part when it comes to California wines we get in Canada. What I found with this Sauvignon Blanc is that there is a distinct herbal aroma and flavour to this wine that is definitely not part of a typical Sauvignon Blanc from other wine regions in the world. Alongside the herbal aroma, which is thankfully light as it could overpower the wine easily, was a distinctive roasted pineapple and melon aroma. Both of those aromas continue on to the flavours where they join the herbal quality again with lemon, a faint hint of honey and this beautiful crisp, clean acidity which is so welcoming in Sauvignon Blanc.

John Anthony Wines 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
$21 USD per bottle
Contact john@javwine.com for ordering information
Another wine knocked out of the park from John Anthony Wines. The grapes for this wine come from their Napa Valley vineyard and on the very first sip, I could tell that this was a wine with some real finesse. A mostly floral and fruity aroma but not an overpowering one while the palate packs a punch. It would be very easy to think that, based on the aromas, there was going to be nothing to this wine but that could not be further from the truth. The flavours are mostly citrus and tropical fruit with perfect acidity and balance.

Now, it was not all white wines grabbing my attention at these two tastings – there were some amazing red wines too. A couple of Pinot Noirs, a Syrah, a red blend and a great Cabernet Sauvignon to end the tasting out with.

Clos du Val 2007 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
$30 USD per bottle
Contact rita@freehousewine.com for ordering information
Classic cool climate Pinot Noir – berries, cherries, spice and vanilla in both the aromas and the flavours. This wine has next to no tannins, is ready to drink now and comes from one of the best vintages that North American winemaking regions have experienced in years.

Cuvaison Estate Wines 2007 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
$32 USD per bottle
Contact Prevedello & Mathews (http://www.pmwine.com) for ordering information
This wine is a bit deceiving. The colour of it would make you think you are about to taste a Cabernet or maybe a Baco Noir from Ontario but both the aromas and the flavours tell you it is definitely Pinot Noir. Aromas of cherries and other red fruit with just a slight whiff of cinnamon while the flavours remind me of a blend of cherry, vanilla, some other berry fruits and then this light but distinctive kick of Coca Cola. The tannins are lush and velvety, there is this toasty backbone to this wine that makes it a great overall package. Definitely a wine to be tried.

Frias Family Vineyard 2006 Syrah
$40 per bottle
Contact dan.barrett@rogers.com for ordering information
A lot of the Syrah’s I have found from California tend to have more finesse and subtleties than Australian Shiraz do and this particular Syrah fits that description very aptly. The aromas are fruity and chocolate but almost to the point that they are a whisper of aromas than actually being there. More like a distant memory than being in the here and now. The flavours are just the same – silky smooth, a bit of spice mingles in with fruit and light jam at the midpoint in the palate and the tannins are so faint that you can barely detect them.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 2004 Elivette
$125 USD per bottle
Contact bbostwick@springmtn.com for ordering information
This is a traditional Bordeaux Blend style of wine containing 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. The aromas are mostly fruity with a combination of raisins, currants, cooked fruit and other black fruit mingling together but there is so much more to this fragrant wine. The flavours are this perfect balance of chocolate, black fruit, vanilla, cedar, floral and herbs. There is a slight vegetal quality to it but it is very faint. I do believe that the 9% Petit Verdot is what is bringing such great complexity to this wine as, here in Canada, when we make a Bordeaux blend, we normally do not have any Petit Verdot around to blend in.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 1987 Rare Wine Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
$125 USD per bottle
Contact bbostwick@springmtn.com for ordering information
Now, this is a wine to end an evening with! Probably the oldest wine in the room at Monday’s tasting, this actually has 6% Cabernet Franc blended into the Cabernet Sauvignon to give it a little more complexity. A hint of licorice and cassis up front opens up to further aromas of black cherry, black berry and plum. The flavours are repeats of the aromas with the additions of caramel, coffee and potpourri in this beautiful, long, silky smooth palate. This wine is already 22 years old and, I have to admit, is probably the oldest table wine I have ever tasted. It is in its prime and is definitely ready to drink now.

Although the Napa tastings are done, never fear, because the iYellow Wine Club with their amazing events are here to stay. Check out http://www.iyellowwineclub.com for upcoming special events, tours and tastings.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Trip Down Under

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Australia is known for really great red wines – in particular, Shiraz – but yesterday, in Toronto, I found a great white wine, a couple of surprising non Shiraz red wines and a great dessert wine that I just had to share with all of you who read my blog.

Matt – one part of Plunkett Fowles – came all the way from Australia with a variety of their products to show us what the Strathbogie Ranges has to offer. The Strathbogie Ranges area of Australia is about one hundred and thirty kilometers north of Melbourne and is considered to be one of the “kindest” cool climate regions in South East Australia. Just an interesting fact about the Strathbogie Ranges to consider:

“In the coolness of spring the vines produce only small berries. The months that follow consistently offer low rainfall, cloudless skies and intense summer sun, giving rise to fruit that is dense in colour and flavour. Being inland, the Strathbogie are rarely plagued by autumn humidity so there is less pressure to harvest to beat the spread of plant diseases, helping to ensure we harvest under optimum conditions.”

From the sounds of it, the Strathbogie Ranges are a winemakers dream and, based on their wines, they definitely have a lot to offer. All of the wines from Plunkett Fowles were lovely but the one white wine that truly impressed me was their 2008 Wild Ferment Chardonnay. This particular wine is produced under their Ladies who Shoot their Lunch line and the way they describe this wine is unlike how most wineries describe their wines. Rather than describing the flavours and aromas, they choose to describe their wine in the way you would feel like a lady who has just spent the morning shooting her lunch. What strikes me the most about this wine are the complex flavours in the palate. Instead of using cultured yeast, as most wineries do, they have chosen to use the wild yeasts found in the vineyard to ferment this wine. It can be a tricky process but once a winemaker has mastered how to do this effectively, wild fermented wines can produce some amazing results. When tasting this wine, it struck me how similar the 2008 Wild Ferment Chardonnay was to a Barrel Fermented Chardonnay that was made in a barrel that was 2-3 years into use. As barrels are used year after year, the flavours they impart to a wine lessen and with this particular Wild Ferment Chardonnay there was just a kiss of oak which would equate to a 2-3 year old barrel. The palate was loud and powerful with flavours of citrus and mineral and a long, lingering, lemony finish.

Just as Plunkett Fowles has a very interesting Wild Ferment Chardonnay from their Ladies who Shoot their Lunch line, they also have a 2006 Stone Dwellers Shiraz which was quite enjoyable. Looking at the technical information on this wine you find that it is actually a blend of 98.5% Shiraz with 1.5% Viognier which is something that Australian wines have taken to doing regularly because it brings a nice floral aspect to a normally rich and silky palate. This wine is definitely everything I love about Australian Shiraz – jammy, fruity and a good spicy backbone that lingers on almost indefinitely.

Our next two wines – both reds – find us at Downing Estate Winery in Heathcote, Victoria. They exclusively produce red wines and, at this tasting, they brought along their Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2004 vintage. The Shiraz is chock full of berry flavour, vanilla, chocolate and plums. It is jammy and rich and spicy and everything a really great Shiraz should be. The Cabernet Sauvignon, although great now, will definitely benefit from additional aging – like, say, 8-12 years. It is already showing black currant, vanilla and bread aromas with excellent structure, tannins, more black currant as well as a few herbal hints. Just imagine how great this wine will be in a few years time.

We continue with more reds – this time from a winery called Black Jack Wines. As their website clearly states, “Blackjack is Red!!!” and all they do is red wines…and extremely well at that. The 2004 Cabernet Merlot has aromas of cassis, tea and the occasional hint of mint which carry on to the palate that is complex and firm with strong tannins and the ability to age this for several more years if you so desire. On the other hand, the 2005 Shiraz is very fruit forward with aromas of plums and other black fruit with a hint of chocolate weaving through it. The palate is tight and firm, shows an excellent balance of fruit and tannin, the right about of chocolate and the ability to age for anywhere from five through to ten years from now.

Now, of course, what would a tasting be without a dessert wine to finish it off? Well, Pfeiffer Rutherglen Wines did not disappoint. Made from 100% Brown Rutherglen Muscat grapes, is done in a late harvest style and has flavours of raisins and floral. It was highly suggested that I try this wine with some of the blue cheese and pecans and that was a great combination but if you are not a fan of blue cheese, why not try it out with some aged cheddar. I have often found that sweeter wines pair wonderfully with four or five year old cheddar.

Now, if you are interested in getting your hands on any of these wines, this is where it gets slightly interesting. Normally, in Ontario at least, most international wines are bought through the LCBO in either the regular stores or the Vintages program. In this case, none of these wines are in the LCBO at all but the gentlemen who were standing behind these booths said that if my readers are interested in getting their hands on some of these wines, they can contact them at the winery directly for importer information. Below you will find contact information for each of the wineries mentioned above.

Plunkett Fowles Wines

Downing Estate Vineyard

Blackjack Wines

Pfeiffer Wines Rutherglen

Friday, October 16, 2009

It’s Harvest Time…

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

I love this time of the year – spending time with family and friends, the smell of Roast Turkey wafting from the kitchen, helping friends harvest their local vineyards, and the knowledge that in about a year, those grapes you helped harvest are going to be a delicious bottle of wine.

This year, I was helping my friends at Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery harvest their Chardonnay. Each year it is different – my first year was Pinot Noir, last year was Baco Noir, this year it was a white grape. Just before we started picking early on a Saturday morning in October, I decided I should update my Facebook status to “Picking Chardonnay at Lacey Estates today”. Within an hour of posting that, I was receiving comments on my status like “And great Chard it will be!!” and “Excellent, always nice to open a bottle of wine that you know you had a hand in making.” Honestly, I could not agree more with these two statements. I have already tried Lacey Estates inaugural vintage of Chardonnay and, not being a major Chardonnay fan, I can unequivocally say that it is one of the best Ontario Chardonnay’s I have had in a very long time. As for the second comment, this is what I said, “Most definitely. I was thinking yesterday what a sense of pride winemakers must have when they finally have a chance to try the final product.” In fact, during the whole picking process – which is back breaking work – someone said to me that when it is in the bottle it all feels worth it.”’

With all of the hard work going on in the vineyards at this time of the year, it is very easy to think with longing towards the end of the day and the wonderful meal set to take place at the end of the day. You know, in a way, this is one advantage that – I think – Canadians have over Americans. All of the wine producing regions in North America are in full harvest mode but, for us lucky Canadians, this is also the time of year that we have Thanksgiving while the Americans have to wait a month and a half for their Thanksgiving feast. Canadian Thanksgiving weekend invariably falls half way through harvest time in Ontario so there is almost always a harvest party to enjoy if you are not joining a family celebration for the weekend but, in my family, we always have this wonderful, delicious moist Roast Turkey with all the fixings.

Now, I am sure a lot of you have heard the old adage when it comes to wine pairing – “White Meat, White Wine; Red Meat, Red Wine.” This is the one time of the year that I like to show people that you can completely break those rules and go bold with a Red wine with your Turkey or Ham. A number of years ago, a friend came to me to ask me for a recommendation on an Ontario wine for Thanksgiving dinner so I decided to give him my ultimate change of mind recommendation – Willow Springs Baco Cab Franc. Now, unfortunately, the winery does not make this as a blend every year but they do make each of these wines individually so buy a bottle of each, and blend it in a decanter together. This year, another wine friend of mine (and his) asked him what his wine choice was for a turkey. It turns out he still does the Baco Cab Franc blending…it must be a favourite with his family. So, with this in mind, let me share with you some of my favourite wines to pair with your next Turkey dinner.

Rosehall Run Vineyards 2006 Rosehall Vineyard Pinot Noir
$29.75 per bottle
I speak from experience when I say this one pairs extremely well with Roast Turkey because we had this with our Turkey dinner on Sunday. Black cherry and mocha aromatics give way to a fruity, smoky palate. It has an almost barely there structure to the palate but with the slight tannins and grip to the finish, this wine will be ready to drink anywhere between 2009 and 2012.

33 Vines 2007 Cabernet Franc
$24 per bottle
Quite simply – a really great wine! I love the colour in the glass – it is an inky purple almost black colour. The aromas scream blackberry, jam, violets and currants with a slight hint of herbal at the end. Before you even take your first sip of this wine, it is screaming to be paired with chocolate…and who are we to deny a wine that?

The palate has a hint of spice at the tip of the tongue but only if you are trying it without any chocolate. It is mostly jammy but with a good base of currants and black fruit to bring complexity to the flavours. The great thing about this wine is that not only does it pair extremely well with Roast Turkey, it also is a wine that begs for chocolate so you could easily keep going with this wine through dessert.

Lacey Estate Vineyards & Winery 2007 Baco Noir
$20 per bottle
Baco Noir is one of those great Ontario wines that is over the top fruit in both the aromas and the palate. It is that fruity nature that makes it a perfect match with Roast Turkey and, especially, cranberry relish. Lacey Estate’s Baco Noir is currently sold out but it is definitely one that, year after year, will pair beautifully with Turkey or Ham plus all the fixings.

Cattail Creek Estate Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc
$18.00 per bottle
Cabernet Franc tends to have the fruitiest character of the Cabernet grapes – cherry, plum, black fruit all abound in typical Cabernet Francs and this wine has all three. In this particular version, they also mix and mingle with cigar, tobacco, vanilla and that oh so wonderful chocolate flavour to make this a truly complex wine. Out of all the red wines out there, this one would probably be the heartiest that I would pair with Turkey or Ham but if you do not want a hearty Chardonnay, this is an excellent choice for you.

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery 2005 Baco Noir Reserve
$24.95 per bottle
In the last two years you keep hearing how the 2007 vintage was absolutely outstanding for Ontario wines. Well, two years prior to that – the 2005 vintage – Ontario made a name for itself with red wines specifically. The intensely hot summer was great for the red grapes allowing them to have concentrated fruit flavours and aromas. Consequently, you have a wine here that is super fruity, has great structure to it (i.e. does not taste “wimpy”) and more than holds up to any kind of heavy meal like roasts tend to be.

Chateau des Charmes 2007 St David’s Bench Gamay Droit
$16.95 per bottle
Gamay Noir is the lightest tasting of red wines available in North America and the Gamay Droit clone is unique to Chateau des Charmes winery. Gamay is typically a very fruit forward wine, not at all heavy, and pairs well with a wide variety of food dishes. The major flavours and aromas are cherry and berry fruit but there are the added components of spices, pepper and tannins making this a very interesting wine.

Stoney Ridge Estate Winery 2006 Reserve Cabernet Franc
$17.95 per bottle
Like the other Cabernet Franc mentioned above, this wine has some major fruit components. A combination of cherry, cedar and bell pepper aromas with flavours of red berry fruit, vanilla and oak, this wine definitely has all the necessary components to pair well with either turkey or ham. This wine has the ability to age for another 4-5 years if you so desire.

Remember, if you have already had your Thanksgiving dinner, try some of these wines out the next time you have a big family dinner. You will be amazed at how well red wines go with white meat. Cheers,

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chile Travels North

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Once a year, just before Thanksgiving - Canadian, that is - the Wines of Chile tasting makes its way to The Distillery District in Toronto. You can always be guaranteed that some good value wines will be found because Chilean wine is almost ridiculously priced lower than most wines available on the market today. Although it is easy to find wines that are so-so, disjointed or, in some cases, overpriced for what is in the glass, I certainly found a large number of white wines yesterday that were amazing and fit into the great value category. Now, last year, after looking back at my blog entry from the 2008 tasting, I saw that I only found two really outstanding wines but this year, there are seven plus three that, at the very least, earn an Honourable Mention. Check out my reviews below as well as ordering information.

Vina Botalcura 2009 El Delirio Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
$13.95 per bottle
Available through H.H.D. Imports Inc.
Aromas of stone fruit, pears, herbal and floral with flavours of gooseberry and citrus – mostly lemon. There is great balance and a lively mouthfeel to this wine that makes it thoroughly enjoyable. At $13.95 a bottle, this is definitely one of those wines that would pair well with a number of seafood or fish dishes, although I would avoid anything that has a cream sauce with this wine. Definitely one of many good value wines tasted this afternoon.

Vina Carta Vieja 2007 G7 Gran Reserva Chardonnay
$17.95 per bottle
Available through Small Winemakers Collection
The aromas on this wine are really, really subtle but you can detect slight creamy, buttery aromas and slight stone fruit. The flavours are a continuation of the creamy, buttery aromas but with a distinct thread of minerality weaving its way through. A slight hint of peach, apple and pear on the finish makes this a truly lovely wine. Would be great with Roast Chicken or Turkey or any cream sauce pasta.

Vina Concha y Toro 2008 Trio Reserva White
$12.95 per bottle
Available through Select Wine Merchants
Please note that at the moment, this wine is currently not available anywhere. Select Wine Merchants advised that it is slated to be a part of the Vintages March release so you will have to wait but I can guarantee you that if you enjoy white blended wines, this is definitely one you have to try.
This wine is a blending of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc although, in previous vintages, instead of Pinot Blanc, Riesling has been used. The aromas on this wine are huge and plentiful like – I believe – any white blend wine should be. Lots of citrus aromas – mostly mandarin oranges and lime but there is a healthy mix of fig and grapefruit to add complexity. The palate has great balance to it and along with the aromas mentioned above there is a good threading of minerality through the flavours. There is an almost lively structure to the palate and a great finish making this wine a definite must try and must buy!

Vina Concha y Toro 2007 Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay
$17.95 per bottle
Currently in Vintages, CSPC #342857
The LCBO is currently showing 50 bottles available throughout Ontario of this wine. If you are interested in purchasing this wine, do so quickly!
This wine was barrel fermented on its lees in 1/3 new French Oak and 2/3 second and third fill French Oak barrels making this a rather big, over the top Chardonnay. Aromas of pear, fig and hazelnut meld seamlessly onto the palate where they are super concentrated, have great balance and a silky smooth texture. It has a vibrant mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish. Super Yummy and although it is a little higher priced than what I would call a value wine, it is definitely worth every penny they are charging for it.

Vina San Pedro Tarapaca 2009 Castillo de Molina Sauvignon Blanc
$14.99 per bottle
Available through Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits
This is every aroma and flavour of Sauvignon Blanc known to man wrapped up into one wine. Mineral, citrus, green onion, gunpowder and even a touch of sea salt are the aromas that greet you when you swirl this wine in your glass. The flavours are more of the mineral and fruity character you find in the aromas but along with the green onion there is a rather distinctive hint of thyme and then a very tart finish. Just like tannins will give you a pucker feeling in your mouth with a red wine, this particular white wine gives you the pucker feeling from the distinctive lemon finish.

Vina Santa Rita 2009 120 Series Sauvignon Blanc
$10.45 per bottle
Currently in LCBO General List, CSPC #23606
This is not my first time trying this wine. Back in July I attended a label redesign release party for Santa Rita wines and the 120 Series was a major part of that party. The aromas and flavours of this wine are mostly grapefruit and lemon but with slight hints of tropical fruit and herbs. What the bottle does not tell you is that the winemaker added in 2% Semillon to add some complexity to the wine which is where those tropical fruit aromas come from. In addition to the typical Sauvignon Blanc flavours of citrus, lemongrass and gooseberry, the 2% Semillon adds pineapple, mango and papaya to the flavour. Although the term “fruit bomb” tends to be associated exclusively with fruity RED wines, this white wine could easily qualify for that term.

Vina Santa Rita 2007 Medalla Real Chardonnay
$18.95 per bottle
Currently in Vintages, CSPC #303628
In most cases, Chardonnay goes through the crusher/destemmer when it comes in from the fields. In the case of this particular Chardonnay, 75% of the grapes went through this process but the remaining 25% went through whole cluster pressing instead of ever spending time in the crusher. This whole cluster pressing might account for the interesting olive green colour in the glass, since Chardonnay, and especially oaked Chardonnay, tends to have more of a goldenrod yellow colour. The aromas are a very interesting combination of both fresh and dried fruits as well as mineral. The palate has distinctive flavours of tropical fruit, slight creaminess and a backbone of peaches and nectarines.

Vina Valdivieso 2007 Single Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay Wild Fermented
$22.60 per bottle
Available through Carriage Trade Wines & Spirits
I have never been a major fan of Chardonnay and the other Chardonnay on the table from this winery was definitely not one that caught my attention in the way that this Single Vineyard Wild Fermented Chardonnay did. In general, a lot of wineries shy away from using wild yeast to ferment any of their wines. If you do not understand the complexities of wild yeasts it can be an extremely tricky and sometimes disastrous result to what could be a really great wine. Now, that is not to say you should never try it and if a winemaker knows the process and tricks to working with wild yeast then as a consumer you will have the opportunity to try a very interesting wine.

The aromatics on this wine are, simply put, powerful! Grapefruit, citrus marmalade, vanilla and a major mineral component are the major aromas in play here and they continue on to the flavours where there is major fruit concentration and balance. The mineral component from the aromas is definitely the backbone of the flavours in this wine and then there is this delightful and pleasant spicy kick in the finish.

Vina Caliterra 2009 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc
$8.95 per bottle
Currently in LCBO General Listing, CSPC #275909
Sauvignon Blanc with a tropical fruit aroma – guava, grapefruit and tangerine abound in this glass. These aromas transfer on to the palate where there is a mingling with mineral and then a crisp, lemony finish. The lemon is not overpowering though – it is just a perfect kick of refreshing crispness right at the back of this wine.

Vina Caliterra 2008 Reserva Chardonnay
$8.95 per bottle
Currently in LCBO General Listing, CSPC #257147
I did something yesterday afternoon after I left this trade tasting that I have never done in all the fifteen years I have been a member of the food and beverage industry. I went and bought not one, but three, bottles of this wine which I had just tasted less than two hours previously. It is not a conscious decision on my part – it is just something I have never done. This wine impressed me enough that, without first checking to see which LCBO stores in my area might be carrying it, I just went to the closest LCBO to the train station.

The aromas are tropical fruit Рmostly pineapple Рwith the distinctive creaminess that tells you that this wine spent just the perfect amount of time in oak barrels. The flavours on this wine can only be described as WOW!!! Just about every type of tropical fruit you can imagine Рpineapple, mango, papaya, even a bit of banana and many more I could list Рwith just the right about of cream and cr̬me fraiche. This wine sells for $8.95 a bottle but they could easily make a killing in the stores even pricing it at $20 a bottle.

Now, there were three wines that deserve honourable mentions. The first one is actually more of a situation than an actual wine. When we arrive at tastings like this, aside from getting our tasting glass we are given a booklet where we can make our tasting notes in. They list all of the wineries, with their contact information and – for international wines – their importer’s information and all of the wines that are available at their tables that day. When it is a large tasting it is always smart to take a moment to glance through the booklet and see if there is anything really unique or really outstanding that has to be tried. At yesterday’s tasting the one wine that caught a lot of people’s interest is a Gewurztraminer. Vina Nativa is based out of Santiago, Chile which has a large German population and, combined with the fact that their winemaker was educated in Europe, they have planted one of the most well known German varietals out there. I would not call this an outstanding wine and, at this point, it is not available for purchase in Ontario but I think they deserve a mention for making an effort at trying a cool climate varietal in a decidedly hot climate winemaking region. Hopefully, at some point in the future, this wine will come into its own and be an exciting new varietal for this region.

Now, the other two wines that deserve honourable mentions from the tasting are the two red wines that I had a chance to try after trying hundreds of white wines. Please read the tasting notes below:

Vina Santa Alicia 2008 Reserva Malbec
$11.95 per bottle
Available through Eurovintage International Inc.
Chilean Malbec is very, very different from Argentinean Malbec which is definitely the more known of the two in terms of Malbec producing regions. If you are looking for a red wine that is out of the ordinary, this is definitely a wine you should stop and look at. Aromas of bell peppers, prunes, herbal and even a hint of cocoa, the flavours are similar but also add cinnamon and floral to balance it out. The mouthfeel on this wine is full and plush – it’s almost as big as a Napa Cab – while the tannins are well structured, rounded and complex.
They are showing this wine as not yet available in Ontario but if you contact Eurovintage, they may be able to give you a better time frame on when you will be able to get your hands on this wine.

Vina Santa Alicia 2006 Gran Reserva Carmenere
$18.95 per bottle
Available through Eurovintage International Inc.
Carmenere is a grape varietal that is almost unique to Chile. It used to be in Europe hundreds of years ago but disease knocked the entire crop away and now can only be found in Chilean vineyards. Although it can be commonly confused with some of the heartier red grape varietals, it does have some unique qualities not found in others. The aromas are mostly spice, coffee and raspberry while the mouthfeel is big, round and supple. This particular Carmenere could easily be confused with an Aussie Shiraz given the aroma and flavour profiles but, at this price, it is clearly Chilean. One thing you can always say about Chilean wineries – they know what they are good at and they do not mess with it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sonoma in the City

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Toronto has the opportunity twice a year to try California wines…one in April which encompasses all of California’s wine regions and once in September when the focus lies squarely on Sonoma wines. The tendency is there to always think of Chardonnay when it comes to California wine and, in terms of Sonoma, Pinot Noir seems to be the natural choice for red wine. Although I did find a couple of outstanding Chardonnay’s at this tasting what impressed me more were the non-typical white and red varietals that I tasted this afternoon. Incidentally, although there were a few Pinot Noir’s that I did enjoy none of them stood up to the Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and red blends strategically placed around The Arcadian Court that day.

Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery 2006 Estate Sauvignon Blanc
$29.95 per bottle
Available through Halpern Enterprises
A very powerful Sauvignon Blanc! A myriad of aromas and flavours include honeysuckle, tropical fruit, pear, stone fruit, spice and lemon. Each sniff and each sip of this wine brings something new to the forefront in this ever changing wine without being too overpowering. You could enjoy this wine on its own quite easily but this would also nicely compliment a variety of Asian inspired dishes.

Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery 2006 North Slope Pinot Gris
$40 per bottle
Available through Halpern Enterprises
In terms of grape varietals, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay could not be any further apart on the similarity scale than you can imagine. However, with the North Slope Pinot Gris from Chalk Hill Estate, nothing could be further from the truth. The aromas encompass the full range of stone fruit, nuts and citrus while the flavours are this intense combination of spice, nectarine and cream. This smells and tastes exactly like a typical California Chardonnay…well, a typical Chardonnay in the style most California wineries are now making. The long, lingering finish combines all of the flavours and aromas previously tasted – vanilla, cream, citrus, tropical fruit and spice – which just seems to stay on forever. This is definitely one of the most intriguing Pinot Gris’ I have tasted in quite a while and would pair well with a wide variety of foods.

Pedroncelli Winery 2008 Dry Creek Valley East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
$12.00 USD per bottle
Available through Grape Expectations
(416) 894-5055
If you are looking for an easy drinking, every day kind of Sauvignon Blanc, then this wine is definitely one for that category. Sauvignon Blanc typically displays aromas of citrus fruit, mineral and gooseberry with similar flavours, a crisp, clean mouthfeel, perfect acidity and a medium long finish. This wine has all of that and more – aromas of grapefruit, honey and mineral and flavours of melon, citrus and tropical fruit. The balanced acidity and crisp clean mouthfeel are definitely there and, like most Sauvignon Blanc’s, pair with a wide variety of dishes. Personally, just about any kind of fish or seafood would be perfect.

Now, I did mention that there were a couple of Chardonnay’s that were outstanding this day so I am going to now give them their moment in the spotlight before moving on to the various red wines of the day. The first Chardonnay comes from Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards and Winery where our first Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris came from. The second Chardonnay comes from the Russian River Valley in the middle section of Sonoma from Davis Bynum Winery. Check it out…

Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery 2006 Estate Chardonnay
$25.00 USD per bottle
Available from Halpern Enterprises
I love the KISS rule – keep it sweet and simple – and Chalk Hill Estate has done exactly that with this Chardonnay. The aromas are barely there but the flavours more than come out to the forefront. Pear, a slight hint of floral, cream and minerality are all key players in the palate with a bit of spice in the finish. Definitely an enjoyable, every day kind of Chardonnay. Try it out – on its own or with a chicken dish – and let us know what you think.

Davis Bynum Winery 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay
$25.00 USD per bottle
Available from Mark Anthony Brands
This wine epitomizes everything I love about Chardonnay. Aromatics of roasted and tropical fruit, and a slight hint of smoke; flavours of more tropical fruit, a hint of citrus and a luscious mouthfeel that seems to linger forever. This is definitely one of those “yummy” wines that is begging to be enjoyed with roast chicken at a table of family and friends.

So, now we move on to some absolutely stellar reds. Zinfandels from Pezzi-King Vineyards, Sbragia Family Vineyards and Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery, Petite Sirah and a red blend from Foppiano Vineyards. Read on to find out what I found awaiting me at the various tables that day…

Foppiano Vineyards 2005 Petite Sirah
$28.20 per bottle
Available from Halpern Enterprises
One thing I really love about Petite Sirah’s is their intense, deep, rich purple colour and exotic dark berry aroma. This Petite Sirah does not disappoint by any means. Those aromas continue on to the flavours where they are met with black and blue berry fruit, vanilla, spice and even a slight hint of cocoa. The tannins are still fairly firm but not overwhelmingly so – it would be interesting to see what this wine is like in 2-3 years time.

Foppiano Vineyards Lot 96 Proprietary Blend
$17.25 per bottle
Available from Halpern Enterprises
Not everyone appreciates a nicely blended wine but I tend to think they are unique, enjoyable and sometimes surprising. Foppiano Vineyards Lot 96 – named for the family’s original roots in the area which date back to 1896 – is just such a wine; a blending of seven different grapes, some of which that aren’t even grown in Ontario, and all of which have a percentage of less than 30% in the final product. Here are the specific details on this wine – 28% Sangiovese, 19% Petite Sirah, 17% Zinfandel, 14% Carignane, 10% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc.

Now, what is this wine actually like? Well, to put it simply, it’s a powerhouse at an amazing price. The aromas – berry fruit, red currants, cherry, cedar, vanilla and toast – make this one of the most complex aromatic experiences I have had in a very long time. The palate is slightly jammy but has a great kick of spice and then cherries on the lingering finish. The price on this wine with the jam packed set of flavours and aromas make this wine an incredible value…almost a steal.

Pezzi-King Vineyards 2005 Sonoma County Zinfandel
$18.00 USD per bottle
Available through The Case for Wine
I love Zinfandel’s for their rich, opaque, dark purple colour and this one does not disappoint. The aromatics are really subtle on this wine but the flavours definitely pack a punch. Berry fruit and honey with a jammy mouthfeel, this wine has a lingering, spicy finish, great balance and smooth tannins. It would be very interesting to see what this wine is like in 3-4 years.

Pezzi-King Vineyards 2006 Old Vines Zinfandel
$22.00 USD per bottle
Available through The Case for Wine
Although this wine is a year younger than Pezzi-King’s Sonoma County Zinfandel (previous review), this wine is a hundred times better than it. The aromatics are much more forward than the 2005 – concentrated raspberry and spice – and the flavours can only be described as powerhouse flavours. This wine is BIG and HOT – almost over the top – and the finish seems to go on forever. Even though this wine is amazing now, it would be interesting to see what this is like in a year or so.

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2006 Gino’s Zinfandel
$28.00 USD per bottle
Available through Foster’s Wine Estates Canada
Gino Sbragia was the patriarch of this winemaking family. Having now passed away, his son Ed is now running the business with his family – Adam, Kevin, Jane, Kathy and Gina. Gino’s Vineyard was Gino’s home vineyard which is now taken care of by Ed and Adam and is planted exclusively to Zinfandel with vines that date back 25 years. This is everything you come to expect from California Zinfandel – spice, berry and cherry in both the aromas and the flavours. If I wanted a Zinfandel for every day drinking, this would be it.

So, this brings to a conclusion this blog. If you are interested in getting any of these, the contact information for all of the importers is listed with each wine. Happy drinking…and for those of you in Canada, Happy Thanksgiving next weekend. Maybe one of these wines will make it to your dinner table with your Turkey.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A week of Ontario wine…day 4

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Day four of tastings found the combination of Thirteenth Street Winery and Huff Estates together at the Fine Wine Reserve. With all of the previous tastings, we had done one winery and then moved on to the second winery but the staff from these two wineries decided to take a tag team approach so that we could try all of the wines in the order they would be served if you were doing a wine dinner for example. In the previous blog entries I had been listing the wines according to price but, in keeping with the manner I tasted these wines, I am going to list the outstanding wines in the order they should be consumed. Enjoy…

13th Street Winery 2006 Cuvee 13 Rose
$25.00 per bottle
This is a 55/45 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay respectively which is a traditional blend for pink bubbly in France and around the world. The colour on this is this slightly orangey peachy colour and what looks like a million bubbles rising in the glass. There is a faint whiff of citrus in a mostly toasty nose accompanying a very pleasant palate. Bubbly is one of those types of wines that is very hard to distinguish flavours and aromas in but this one has perfect balance, not a lot of acidity, and some decent toasty, almond flavours.

Huff Estates 2007 South Bay Vineyard Chardonnay
$29.95 per bottle
This has a very powerful nose with major pear and apple aromas. There is just a kiss of oak in the palate, the apple and pear translated into the palate but there is also a tropical fruit component to the flavours which is a pleasant surprise. That slight kiss of oak in the front palate translates into a hint of caramel in the finish. Yummy.

Huff Estates 2008 South Bay Vineyard Rose
$16.95 per bottle
A blending of three different red grapes – 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. The aromatics on this wine are stellar – berry fruit and this interesting little kick of citrus which is not typical for an all red grape rose. The palate is great – it is crisp, has perfect acidity and an almost effervescent feel to this bone dry wine with a lingering finish. I have had several vintages of Huff Estate’s Rose in the past and this does not disappoint.

13th Street Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
$28.00 per bottle
There is a small amount of Merlot blended into this wine to give it some extra diversity but it is very hard to detect as the major aromas and flavours are typical Cabernet Sauvignon. The major aromas are tar and cigars – it reminds me of my boyfriend’s cigars on the patio in the summer heat – with some vegetal and berry components to round it out. There is a small hint of kalamata olives in the aromas which translate seamlessly onto the palate which is silky smooth, has a hint of mint and almost barely detectable tannins.

If you want to order any of these wines, feel free to check out their websites for ordering information:

13th Street Winery
Local Phone: (905) 984-8463
Facsimile: (905) 562-8766

Huff Estates
Telephone: (613) 393-5802
Facsimile: (613) 393-2428

A week of Ontario wine…day 3

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

The third day of wine tastings featuring Ontario wineries saw a new type of winery and the furthest south winery in Prince Edward County meeting in one room. Nyarai Cellars (pronounced na-rye) is a virtual winery – they do not have a tasting room and all of their sales come from their online store through their website. Long Dog Winery, in Prince Edward County, is the furthest south in the County making some great wines with interesting names.

Nyarai Cellars 2007 Chardonnay
$16.20 per bottle
This was the first wine Nyarai Cellars produced and unlike most Chardonnay’s it has a very quiet yet pleasant aroma. It is mostly tropical fruit but there is an apple component to it underlying the predominant banana aroma. There is a slight creaminess to the flavour mixing in with apple and a toffee caramel finish. A very pleasant alternative to typical Chardonnay’s coming from Ontario wineries.

Nyarai Cellars 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
$18.20 per bottle
Nyarai Cellars is gaining a name for their Sauvignon Blanc and it is easy to see why. Already an award winner, you can see the real potential this wine has to become one of the best Sauvignon Blanc’s being produced by an Ontario winery. There are great aromatics on this wine – tons of tropical fruit but with a hint of citrus. The flavours are not too strong but definitely not weak either. Loads of honey and roasted fruit with a slightly lingering finish. All around, this is a very pleasant, easy drinking wine and it shows the real potential this winery has over the years to come.

Long Dog Winery “Tumbling Stone” Gamay/Pinot Noir
$22 per bottle
This wine is technically a non-vintage due to the fact that it is a combination of the 2007 Gamay Noir and the 2006 Pinot Noir from Long Dog Winery. What intrigued me the most from this wine is the really intense colour – it is almost a tourmaline pink. The aromatics are barely there but when they come through they are interesting – spice, herbal and very faint fruit are the main components. When you take your first sip, you can tell that this is a very, very quiet wine – the flavours are barely there. Where it hits is your mid palate where the main flavours are vegetal and spicy. This is definitely one of those wines that will improve with age – say 2-3 years.

Long Dog Winery “Francesca” 2007 Pinot Gris
$34 per bottle
This is possibly one of the most unique Pinot Gris wines I have tasted from an Ontario winery. They tell me that it had extended skin contact which may account for the lovely aromatics going on in this glass. The aromas are a combination of peach, nectarine, lemon, lime and slight orange. The flavours sneak up on you – it is watery first but then major minerality and lemony crispness jump up and bite you soon after that first sip. There is a hint of spice on the finish which is long and lingering.

Long Dog Winery “Otto” 2007 Pinot Noir
$50 per bottle
This is Long Dog’s signature wine and with what I just tasted it is not much of a surprise that it is. There is an absolutely gorgeous dark purple colour in this glass and wonderful aromatics pouring out. Mostly vegetal and herbal in nature but with some floral all of which continue on to the palate where you also find a spicy backbone from the time the wine spent in oak barrels. The palate is silky smooth, has a good backbone and a lingering finish. I do not normally describe a Pinot Noir as yummy – normally that would be a Shiraz or Zinfandel – but this wine definitely fits into the yummy category.

If you are interested in getting your hands on any of these wines, please contact the wineries using the ordering information below:

Nyarai Cellars
Phone: (905) 562-5214
Fax: (905) 562-3999

Long Dog Winery
Phone: (613) 476-4140

A week of Ontario wine…day 2

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Okay, now for day two of tastings featuring great Ontario wines. Today – Monday – featured Closson Chase Vineyards from Prince Edward County and The Organized Crime Winery from Beamsville in the Niagara Peninsula. Whenever anyone hears the name Organized Crime Winery, it almost immediately conjures up visions of Mafia and other organized crime entities but that is not even remotely the case with this winery. With The Organized Crime Winery, it is not Mafia but Mennonite who are behind the story of how this winery got its name. Straight from their website, here is the story behind the winery’s name…

Sometime in the early to mid 1900's there were two quarreling Mennonite congregations who disagreed about the acquisition of a pipe organ.
The feud resulted in one congregation breaking into the other church, stealing the organ, and then tossing it down an embankment. Hence the Organized Crime Winery name.

Before we get into the main tasting, I need to make one honourable mention. Winemaker, Andrzej Lipinski, has done something intriguing with Cabernet Franc. Normally he just says the wine has been oaked in Eastern European oak but due to the general conversation at the table that day, Andrzej indicated to me that the oak for the barrels he used came specifically from Poland. I do believe this is the first time I have ever heard of a Canadian winery using Polish oak. I was not even aware that Polish oak existed in winemaking circles but it certainly made for an interesting and intriguing wine. Unfortunately, for me and for those of you reading this, others have discovered how great this wine is and Krystyna, owner of the winery, informs me that the 2007 vintage is currently sold out. Hopefully the 2008 vintage will be available soon and we will be able to get our hands on it now that we are aware of its existence.

Now onto some amazing wines that really impressed me at the tasting…

The Organized Crime Winery 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
$15.00 per bottle
This wine spent six months in new barrels developing some major tropical fruit aromas and a slight smokiness in the flavours. There is not much to say about this wine except that it has great complexity and a long, lingering finish. Absolutely yummy would be the way I describe this wine…

The Organized Crime Winery 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
$16.00 per bottle
Sauvignon Blanc is generally a fairly clear coloured wine but in this particular case, it is so clear it could be mistaken for water. However, that is the furthest one could ever imagine this as being water because one smell of this wine and one taste from this glass makes it very clear that this is Sauvignon Blanc. It has the typical aromas of gooseberry and lemongrass and a rather tart tasting palate. While it is very in your face at the beginning it almost immediately mellows out with some lovely, fruity undertones. This is definitely an EXTREME Sauvignon Blanc and one not to be missed.

The Organized Crime Winery 2008 Viognier
$16.00 per bottle
Like most Viognier, this wine has a very aromatic nose – figs, honey and some lemon make up the majority of the aromas. The palate has a major fruit component – tropical and stone fruit mostly – with a base of tartness to give it complexity. Although most Viognier go with a variety of fish and seafood dishes, if you want to pair this particular example with fish or seafood I recommend you go with a heavier fish or spicier version to make a good pairing.

The Organized Crime Winery 2007 Pinot Noir
$22.00 per bottle
This wine spent thirteen months in the barrel and has developed a great set of aromatics. There is a large fruit component to those aromas – berry, black cherry and a bit of earthiness to round it out. The palate has almost perfect balance between the earthy and vegetal flavours and the smooth tannins making this a bottle of wine that is ready to be drunk in the next year.

The Organized Crime Winery 2007 Download
$25.00 per bottle
Their version of a Bordeaux blend, this wine contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot, which gives the wine some added complexity that most Ontario Bordeaux blends do not contain. The aromas are mostly cherry, plums and other black fruits and the palate is just amazing. There is great complexity in the flavours which is mostly the same as what is in the aromas with an intermingling of spice working its way through the wine. It is silky smooth, has slight tannins and a great backbone making the aging potential on this wine anywhere from one to four years.

The Organized Crime Winery 2008 Riesling Reserve
$28.00 per bottle
Personally, I love really aromatic, flavourful Rieslings and this is definitely one to add to that list. The aromatics encompass honey, figs, citrus and tropical fruit while the palate just fills up your mouth with similar flavours. It is seamless, with just a little bit of residual sweetness and it is a very food friendly wine. It is definitely one of the best wines to finish the day with.

Having completed the wines from The Organized Crime Winery, we now move on to the wines from Closson Chase Vineyards.

Closson Chase Vineyards 2007 County Pinot Noir
$38 per bottle
The aromas on this wine do not really do justice to the wonderful flavours you find when you take that first sip of this wine. Some minerality with fruity undertones and slight hint of barnyard are the main aromas here but the flavours elevate this wine to a new level. The tannins are firm and there is a good fruit base to this wine. This wine definitely still needs some time to develop but it should really be shaping up in the next 2-3 years.

Closson Chase Vineyards 2007 CCV South Clos Chardonnay
$39.75 per bottle
To make this wine, Deborah Paskus selected ten barrels that held wine from the south side of Closson Road. The result was a wine that had wonderful aromatics of fruit, toastiness, cedar and a slight hint of taffy. There is a slight thread of spice in the backbone of this wine, a slight hit of creaminess and a slight minerality which comes from these vines being deep in County soil for the last ten years.

That brings this blog to a close…stay tuned for more entries on the other great Ontario wines I tasted this week. If you are interested in getting your hands on any of these wines, please see below for ordering information:

The Organized Crime Winery
(905) 563-9802

Closson Chase Vineyards
(613) 399-1418