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.