Monday, December 3, 2007

Saturday December 8, 2007 - Vintages Release

The December 8th release has the distinction of not only falling on my birthday but also features “our finest” – coincidence? I think not. What “Our Finest” really means this time out is high priced wines from recognizable producers that have huge reputations to live up to … and along with those huge reputations comes the price tags to match. Sadly, these days, the gap between the big names and the unknowns, when it comes to taste and quality, has never been narrower – and a bottle with a price tag of $150 is hardly distinguishable from something selling for one-sixth the price. Alright, I’ve said my piece, if you have the dough you can make the comparison yourself. In this report I’ll unveil 9 wines from the “Our Finest” picks that seem to bring a little more to the table for their inflated price tag … there’s also 12 reds, 3 whites, a delicious Sherry and something interesting for dessert. So let’s get right down to it.

“Finest” Sparklings and Champagnes … Kicking us off is the Lanson Black Label Brut Champagne ($44.95 - #41889), fresh, lively and fruity – a real pleasure to sip on with a seemingly sweet mid-palate … the bubbles fade quickly so the longer it sits the easier it is to sip. Then there’s the pretty in pink Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut Champagne ($89.95 - #158550), it claims to be extra-dry but with its strawberry/raspberry smells and flavours it gives the feeling of sweetness in the mouth. Finishing off “Our Finish” sparkling are these highly affordable, delicious numbers, one from California – Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($23.95 - #192898), this one’s light and fruity with a gentle fizz, the taste is ripe apples with a citrus splash; the other is from Australia – Katnook Founder’s Block Sparkling Shiraz 2004 ($19.95 - #53330), everything you’d expect from Shiraz but with some fizz … imagine black fruit and pepper with a picky bite.

“Finest” Whites … Fans of Alsatian Gewurztraminer should flock to this Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Gewurztraminer 2005 ($43.95 - #993352) – what a nose … spicy with rose petals and apricots, the mouth’s reaction is just as nice, here the floral continues along with some dried tropical fruits like papaya and pineapple. Trust the Germans not to let the French steal the show as the Wegeler Riesling Spatlese 2004 ($29.95 - #918771) is a medium-sweet-Riesling fan’s dream; all peach, pears and apples – this one is just nice to sit and sip on; picture you and whatever friend you deem worthy to join you.

“Finest” Reds … I was once in a wine cellar where the owner had many back vintages of Elderton Command Shiraz ($74.95 - #716142), if what he’s holding onto is anything like the 2003 model (the current vintage released) I can see why. There is so much fruit here that it literally overwhelms the senses. First, there’s the nose of floral, pepper, red fruit and plum; then it’s onto the mouth. Starting off fairly innocuously with a slight cherry cola tinge, then everything kicks in – the brawny black fruit, the acid, the tough tannins and yet it all seems to come together in a sweet, smooth finish. Wow … gotta try that one again. Italy, known for big, brawny, powerful reds – graces the LCBO shelves with La Serre Nuovo Dell Ornellaia 2005 ($58.95 - #606194) – sweet tannins, good use of oak, lush red fruit, fine tannins … this wine is elegance and finesse in a bottle. Two Spanish wines will round out the “Our Finest” section of my report: Alion 2003 ($69.95 - #707166) – with its spicy black fruit which flows creamily through the mouth ending with a lengthy dark chocolate finish; and the Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 2004 ($38.95 - #977843) is even more interesting. Great dark fruit with plum and spice, the tannins are barely noticeable in the mouth as it slips through, leaving behind a sweet cherry kick at the end … if you buy wine to drink, buy the Les Terrasses, if you buy wine to hold, go with the Alion.

White Wine …

As I mentioned in a previous report, winter time is not a good time for whites, so those craving pale wine are gonna be disappointed … 17 whites are being released, of which 3 are deserving of your hard earned cash. California shows up with two of them in the form of these Chardonnays: Rodney Strong 2005 Chalk Hill Chardonnay ($24.95 - #275552) … the nose is oak and sweet vanilla, while each sip brings in vanilla and toffee flavours. Then there’s the Sanford 2005 Chardonnay ($26.95 - #956003), which is at the other end of the spectrum … kiwi and tropical fruit greet the nose, while in the mouth you’ll find similar flavours and a dash of vanilla for extra depth of character. Australia is the location of my third and final white wine pick this release: Skuttlebutt 2005 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon ($17.95 - #47621) … you’d swear this one’s a New Zealander if you didn’t read the label … grapefruit nose with pink grapefruit flavours – it’s pretty smooth going down with fairly light acidity (I didn’t get the “zesty acidity” claimed in the notes) – this one’s a palate pleasing sipper.

Red Wine …

Unlike the whites, reds are plentiful this time of year – I have an even dozen to pitch …

California … One of my favourite California wineries is Ironstone, they make good wine at prices most people can afford. One of my perennial favourites is their Old Vines Zinfandel ($16.95 - #951889) – the 2005 edition is jammy with strawberry, raspberry and cherry qualities … this is typical of Zins in this price range, and probably why I love them so much – because it reminds me of those BBQ ribs I enjoy with it. Ironstone also has a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.95 - #537597) in this release … this sweet cherry fruit bomb contains milk chocolate and vanilla on the palate. You can buy both these great offerings using two 20’s and still take yourself out for a cheapie breakfast afterward.

Oregon … Not sure why I break the U.S. into states and everybody else into countries – as if California and Oregon are their own separate entities and not part of the greater whole we call the U.S and A (thanks for that Borat). Next time I’ll make a conscious effort to amend my way of thinking, but for now let’s check in on the Big Fire 2006 Pinot Noir ($26.95 - #54841). We so rarely see something from Oregon; a state making a name for themselves in the Pinot department … so here’s your chance to find out why. Dry cranberry, sour cherry, red fruit and vanilla oak … quite nice.

Australia … I have some Aramis Vineyards wines on my rack, which I have not tried in a few years, but tasting their 2004 Shiraz ($20.95 - #41202) reminds me why I bought them – this just might be the bargain red of this release: pepper, cassis, blackberry, with a creamy, spicy finish and hold-ability to spare; which is why I’m still sitting on mine. Another value is the Mitolo Jester Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($22.95 - #43224), very jammy and rich with plenty of blackberry … this is a ballsy red, which seems to still find time to mix in some playful floral and herb notes – jester is a good name for it. Of course you can’t go wrong with Penfolds, and their Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2004 ($34.95 - #309625) is a nice, if not typical Aussie blend, combining the black fruit of Cab with the spiciness of Shiraz, all wrapped up in chocolate … can’t find anything wrong with that.

South Africa … You’ve heard me rant and rave about my aversion to the typical South Africa stink (road tar and rubber) I get from many of their red wines, especially the lower priced ones, but Cathedral Cellars Triptych 2004 ($16.95 - #53124) – a blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Shiraz is a value priced wine that finds its footing on the fruitier side of the street. It does have a little bit of funk in the mouth, but it is nothing that won’t blow off with time in the bottle or some aeration in the glass or a decanter. When it comes to South African wine I find the Cathedral is good place to start you prayers in the hopes of finding a good one.

France … Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2004 ($38.95 - #41954) drops this smooth red fruited number onto Vintages shelves … it has some sweet herbs on the palate, I would go as far as to chill this one for 30-60 minutes before serving. Another piece of the same pap, Domaine Grand Veneur Les Origines 2005 ($54.95 – #43059) adds layers of black fruit and hold-ability.

Italy … If you prefer your wines in the Italian style, and below $20, you’ll get a kick out of Il Conte Villa Prandone Marinus 2004 ($18.95 - #52456) – plumy-black fruit goodness with flavours of oak and Mediterranean spices. Ending off the reds in this release are these two wines, which are my favourite Italian-red styles, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone. Remo Farina Vigna Montecorna Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2003 ($19.95 - #56267) is the best of the Ripasso’s in this release. Plumy, black fruit and chocolate nuances, along with a hold factor that could see you drinking this wine 5-10 years down the road. Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone Delle Valpolicella 2003 ($43.95 - #685107) has pepper and spice (and everything nice), dried fruit and plum, black cherry, heavy tannins and high alcohol (15.5%) … everything we love Amarone for.

Oh Sherry …

Last time out Gonzalez Byass brought us a half bottle of Noe ($25.95), a Pedro Ximenez derived sweet sherry … if you thought that was a little to pricey for such a pittance of wine (375ml) – then you can rejoice in the Osbourne Pedro Ximenez 1827 Sweet Sherry ($17.95 - #47944) – a 750ml bottle that delivers Pedro sweetness in spades. This one could almost be considered sickeningly sweet, but it’s definitely a “little dab’ll do ya” kind of wine. Pecan pie innards, raisin pie, candied raisins (choose your descriptor) with a rich chocolaty coating … there’s also a bit of tannin – hard to believe it’s there in and amongst all that sweetness, but it is.

And now for Dessert …

There are plenty of Vintage Ports in this release, ranging in price from $36.95 to $69.95 … and each one has something to offer the Port-lover, of which I am one; but the value of this release in Port-like wines, lies in a sweet wine from Greece: Kourtaki Mavrodaphne of Patras ($12.95 - #208413). At last year’s Gourmet Food and Wine show I discovered this wine just in time for the LCBO to delete it from their general list … now back at Vintages this tawny-port-like wine has sweet prune, cherry, raspberry notes on the nose, with dried red fruit character in the mouth – so port-like if I poured it for you blind you’d swear it was the real thing. For $12.95 buy a bottle or two and see what I mean … well worth it.

Happy Shopping … Happy Holidays … Happy New Year. Heck Happy whatever – enjoy the holidays.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Saturday November 24, 2007 - Vintages Release

For today’s release the focus is on “premium reds” … not whites, not rosés, simply reds – and so in honour of these Simply Reds I’ve named each of the wines I enjoyed after a Mick Hucknall voiced song … why Mick Hucknall? Because he is the lead singer of the band Simply Red.

To start off our look at these “Simply Reds” we’ll start with their most notable songs and move towards the obscure. “Holding Back the Years” goes to this Italian cinnamon-raspberry number that’s rich and robust with a touch of cedar: Antonari Pian Della Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2001 ($61.95 - #651141) … what’s more, it’ll last quite a few years. “Something Got Me Started” takes us to California where many people’s first love for wine began; there you’ll find Raymond 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($31.95 - #715979) a jammy little number rich in strawberries and cinnamon with nutmeg, pepper and some vanilla-red fruit laced throughout. Zinfandel is my “If you Don’t Know me By Now” selection; many know Zinfandel as sweet and pink, but this grape is not normally so effeminate – it’s bold and red and furthermore, it’s as Californian as sunny days and surf-boards. Chocolate and berries fill the bowl on this one (blackberries and red currants) with cherry cola, white pepper and compote flavours – there are also some interesting seemingly sweet notes on the palate; wondering what wine I’m talking about it’s the Rosenblum’s 2004 Annette’s Reserve Zinfandel ($54.95 - #686204). Then there’s the $64.95 Catena Alta 2004 Malbec (#982355) from Argentina … I have never seen or heard of a Malbec for that price, which is why I thought of “Money’s Too Tight to Mention” as it’s parallel song. It’s mostly because I can’t afford this beauty, but if you have the dough this expensive and expressive wine is one to get: Chocolate and blackberries that are smooth and easy on the tongue. There is the picture of a stick on the front label of the bottle, so it can serve a dual purpose – first you drink it then throw it to the dog to play fetch with (that or they are being very blunt about sticking it to you at that price).

Let’s head off to France for something to “Mellow My Mind”, Chateau de Pez 2003 ($51.95 - #717389) is a wine that should come with a flip-top head for easier access. This tasty number has a nose of cinnamon candied fruit with a whiff of pepper. The tongue acts as a sponge when you drink this one, soaking in all that great flavour – then you suck and squeeze and each time you do it delivers a whole new fruity treat sensation. Another “Thrill Me” red comes from France in the guise of E. Guigal Cote-Rotie Brune and Blonde 2003 ($81.95 - #352534) – this one’s the 4 B’s: big, bold, brawny and beaucoup (as in d’argent). Rich blackberry, cassis, plum, smoke and tobacco. We head back to Italy for this “Sad Old Red” not because it’s fading fast, but because it’s the oldest red on my list of like-it-a-lots. Lungarotti Rubesco Riserva Vigna Monticchio 2000 ($38.95 - #51771) – a nose of sweet red fruit and hickory; the hickory sticks around in the mouth along with some plum jam, blackberry and a tannin streak that shows that although its 7 years old this wine still has some life left in the bottle. Maybe this is my politically incorrect side coming out, but my “Ghetto Girl” wine is from Spain, Montecastro Y Llanahermosa 2004 ($34.95 - #15016) – and why you may ask – because this wine is urban in nature … black black black (colour, nose and taste). Finally, amongst all these “Stars” is this simple red born in Australia: The Colonial Estate 2005 Envoy – Grenache / Shiraz / Mourvedre ($31.95 - #47563) with its plumy, blackberry jam nose and its lush flavours, despite its higher than usual alcohol; it also has smooth milk chocolate on the palate, a real pleaser. And that’s my look at the songs of Simply Red as they pertain to the “Simple Reds” of this week’s release … as for the rest of the impressive wines:

Sparklers and Champagne … Champagne’s the way to go this time round, with a bottle of Ayala Rosé Majeur Brut ($61.95 - #51359) - good fruit finish with a lively raspberry kick as it goes through the mouth.

White Wine … As we get closer and closer to those cold months the selection of white wines start to dry up at Vintages; there are only 3 worth getting your hands on this time out; two from California and one from Germany. Two Chardonnays from the West Coast, Berringer Third Century 2005 Chardonnay ($23.95 - #47696) a light Chard with touches of buttery oak and palate friendly vanilla. On the other hand, the Ferrari-Carano 2004 Chardonnay ($41.95 - #295055) is a heavy duty Chardonnay with lots of oak, more butter and vanilla than its counterpart above, and plenty of apple, toffee and caramel notes.

There are two German Rieslings in this release, the Mosel wins out as the more elegant of the two at the same price point: Studert-Prum Riesling Spatlese ($23.95 - #912659).

Red Wines …

Canada (not Ontario) – You’ve probably heard of Mission Hill out in British Columbia – and with wines like this 2004 Reserve Merlot ($24.95 - $553313) it’s no wonder. Smooth and supple in the mouth with a touch of vanilla and cinnamon, you’ll also find black fruit and cassis floating around in the glass.

Chile – This is a real beauty from Chile. Estampa Gold Assemblage 2004 ($18.95 - #47522), a blend of Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot that has a rich, if not typical, Chilean nose: black fruit, chocolate and sweet plum. In the mouth it’s rich, smooth and delicious with black fruit and mint flavours. Yum! At this price it’s a multi-pick-up.

Australia – Five Australian reds make the grade this time out, starting with the D’Arenberg The Galvo Garage 2003 Sauv / Merlot / Petit Verdot / Franc ($26.95 - #907584), loaded with spices and herbs I found it very tasty and what’s more, it’s got lots of other flavours like chocolate, rum, cherries and cola; this one’s another winner from the folks at D’Arenberg. Grant Burge has a 2004 Barossa Vines Shiraz ($17.95 - #738567) that’s jammy with raspberry and cherry flavours on the tongue – pepper, black fruit and chocolate are the aromas that’ll get up your nose. Grant also has a 2005 Miamba Shiraz ($19.95 - #727127) a year younger and all red and black fruit with bigger tannins and plumy chocolate in the mouth. Maybe you’re looking for some really ripper stuff from down under, Hope Estates delivers with The Ripper! Shiraz ($19.95 - #686865), another jammy red fruit behemoth that has candied red fruit on the palate with a big cherry finish. The final Aussie Shiraz and the real monster of these five - one that’ll be going strong well into the next decade - is the Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Barossa Shiraz 2005 ($24.95 - #18796) is just too good to properly describe: chocolate, cherry with beautiful elegant fruit flavours and a hint of coffee on the nose – this one’s well worth every penny.

France – Not to be outdone, the French bring out a couple of wines that hit the taste mark dead on. A single vineyard Gamay from Beaujolais, Domaine de Champ de Cour Moulin-a-Vent 2005 ($19.95 - #430876) – a quaffable, chillable red that has some cherries and spice … delicious. Chateau de Montmirail Gigondas Cuvee de Beauchamp 2004 ($24.95 - #685198) brings a little something extra to the table in the form of anise, herbs, spice, red fruit and a kick of pepper … there’s also some coffee bean, mocha and espresso … all with a high 15% alcohol.

Italy – Another proud wine culture brings us a couple of good reds. Casa Emma Chianti Classico 2004 ($20.95 - #56952) is soft spicy and plumy in the olfactories, and follows through with the same in the mouth. Then there’s the Monte Del Fra Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2001 ($45.95 – #47506) everything you drink port for but without the sweetness and thickness – though it smells like it’s loaded with sugar: chocolate, cherry, plum, dried fruit – one of the best deals in this release, even at 46 bucks a bottle.

Spain – The Spanish put another tasty, well-priced red on the table: Vina Hermina Excelsus 2004 ($22.95 - #50567) – smooth and juicy with sweet red fruit, cinnamon and herbs throughout.

Other Wines …

Japan – I rarely get to put the land of the rising sun down as its own title so this is a thrill – and so is the sake I am about to recommend. Sudo Honka Sato No Homare Junmai Ginjo ($38.95 - #740142) – a top grade sake. The smell of sweet sticky rice with a touch of fruitiness; there’s a funky citrus taste on the tongue which cleanses the palate and becomes very enjoyable on the finish.

For Dessert …

It’s Sherry or Port this time out. I’m a huge Port fan, and the Quinta de la Rosa LBV Port 2003 ($24.95 - #726885) is a beautiful example of Late Bottled Vintage Port with its sweet cherries, plum, nuts, berries and dark chocolate in the mouth – there’s even a touch of cinnamon that you might be able to smell. But it’s really hard to beat the Gonzalez Byass Noe Pedro Ximenez Muy Viejo ($25.95 - #721159 – 375ml) – this thick sweet sherry kept me coming back for more and more and more. This “wine” coats the mouth completely and tastes like raisin pie in a glass, or better yet, the pecan pie filling without the crunch of the pecans. This is so lush, so smooth and so delicious I’m salivating just remembering it.
Enjoy … and Happy Shopping.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Beaujolais (and the likes) Nouveau at the LCBO ... 2007

The Nouveaus are coming! The Nouveaus are coming! That’s right, just in time for the American Thanksgiving the Beaujolais (and other) Nouveaus hit the shelves … it’s the bell-weather for the coming harvested grapes and wines in France (and other places). These wines are picked, fermented, filtered, fined and packed off around the world with little to no manipulation – let alone any oak treatment (there just isn’t any time for that). “They” say they drink best from now through to Christmas, but I’d say a year is about the outside if you want those fresh fruity flavours – afterall, they have nothing to hold them up, so they’ll fall flat quickly. Right now they’re ripe and ready to go. This year, of the crop of 6 that I tasted (4 French, 2 Italian), 3 caught my fancy, 1 is borderline (more for price than taste) and the others can stay on the shelf no matter what the price … let’s take a taste of the Good, and stay away from the Bad and Ugly.

Once Upon a Time in France …
George Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau 2007 ($8.95 - #891846) … Gamay is the grape of Beaujolais, so this one’s telling it like it is. Nothing pretentious here, it’s all sweet fruit and candy on both the nose and palate. Cherries, cotton candy and red licorice greet the nose, while a touch of spice grazes the palate along with sweet-fruited strawberries and a titch of black licorice.

For only a Dollar More …
Seemed only fitting to use some Leone movie titles in my review because one the “nouveaus” on my list comes from Italy. Novio Vino Novello 2007 ($9.95 - #669275) made from Teroldego and Lagrein grapes, is a more sophisticated nouveau that remains a little rough around the edges – in a rustic sort of way. Black cherry and spice on the nose that follows right through on the palate. This might be the choice for those who find nouveaus too candied and fruity.

A Fist Full of Syrah …
At $9.95 this might be the best “nouveau” and it has nothing to do with Beaujolais or Gamay. Jeanjean Syrah Primeur 2007 (#899948) has the most inviting nose of the lot …a tad spicy with cinnamon candy aromas that change into sweet red fruit with further whiffs; and with that you’ll want to dive right into the glass and taste those cherries and candied red fruit all with a sprinkling of pepper. Light and easy – everything nouveau should be.

Duck, You Sucker (aka – A Fist Full of Dynamite) …
How one is expected to pay $15.95 for a nouveau I’m not sure, Nouveau should be a cheap and cheerful bargain, a guilty pleasure for some, and all for under $10. I enjoyed sipping on the George Duboeuf’s Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau (#932780) but the price is not what I’d be willing to pay. Sweet cherry, strawberries and one of those fruit gums or chews that are all the rage, fill the nasal passages. It’s a little more bold and flavourful in the mouth than say the Gamay Nouveau with it’s black cherry dominated taste, but again look at the price of the three above – there’s gotta be something up there, and under $10 to catch your palate just as good, or better. As for me, I think the Syrah is the real winner of the lot.

Cheers, and to our American friends – Happy Gobble Gobble.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Saturday November 10, 2007 - Vintages Release

This Vintages release seemed to be taking us to Italy (mama would be so proud), because there were at least 12 Italian wines on the table … but recently I learned the focus was Burgundy (France) – of which there were only 10 wines, all from the ’05 vintage. Being that this report was already based on the Italians I thought I would keep it that way (with apologies to Burgundian wine fans.

I’m a big fan of Italian wine; in fact Vapolicella and Ripasso are some of my favourites, because they offer up some really good values, the Ripassos especially due to their ageability. Now with the holidays just around the corner, the LCBO thinks you’ll be in the mood to plunk down a little more money for a bottle of wine, Italy just happens to be the country to deliver those bottles. Speaking of bottles, the folks at the BO also thing you’ll be willing to buy big bottle (maybe you’ll be doing some entertaining, or going to entertainments, at this time of year) so they have magnums (1.5 litres) and double magnums (3 litres) – that way one bottle will quench all, but remember, big does not always mean less expensive. Let’s take a look.

Italy … As mentioned there are plenty of over-priced Italian wines this time out. For value I was able to pick out two. The Montezovo 2004 Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso ($29.95 - #23523) an elegantly packaged wine that follows it up on the inside. Plum, dried fruit and cherry on the nose; rich blackberry and cherry flavours with a touch of apparent sweetness (but have no fear, it’s dry). A wine you could easily hold on to for the next 3-5 years. Then there’s the Zanato Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2004 a wine where you go high (or in this case big) or go home. You can buy the sample size (375ml) for 13.95 (#43547) or go all the way up to the 3-litre bottle for $127.95 (#43554) – great dried fruit and plum, but you’re either buying a little or a lot, there’s just no middle of the road here. Then there’s the Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato D’Asti 2006 ($12.95 – 650440 – 375ml) – small packaging seems to be all the rage (as you will soon see) – this fizzer has a big grapey taste and its got some good sweetness to liven up the tongue – there’s tons of fun in this little bottle. Buy a few to make the fun last – or better yet, use it as a way to start off that special breakfast for the one you love over the holidays, or the one you are trying to impress.

France (Champagne) … We come home from Italy with very little to show for it … so let’s move north to France and see if we can’t pick up something nice there. Those looking for some French sparkle should check out the half bottle (375ml) Drappier Carte D’or Champagne Brut ($21.95 - #40576) – toasty-apple and citrus notes with an interesting touch of sweetness (apparent again) in this extra-dry wine.

France (White) … How ‘bout a little white Burgundy (one from this month’s feature) – Maison Champy Pernand-Vergelesses 2005 ($29.95 - #8151) with its buttery, vanilla, nutmeg nose – you’ll find the buttery gives way in the mouth to tree fruit and vanilla – quite yummy. We move on to the Loire for another fine white, this time it’s a Chenin Blanc – Les Coteaux de Tufiers Vouvray Demi-Sec 2005 ($15.95 - #57018). Sure there’s a little bit of sweetness (for real), but what do you expect from a wine that has so much fresh sweet pineapple on the nose and follows through on the mouth ending with peaches and pears … this one’s delicious.

France (Red) … Wanna pick up some French red? Well then the Chateau Fugeres 2001 ($51.95 - #46748) is all Bordeaux Grand Cru, right down to the price. Licorice, black fruit, cinnamon and cedar (nose) with a lush and smooth mouthfeel that was just too good to spit – you can drink now or hold for a number of years with great results. There’s a Cotes de Blaye that’s more than okay, in fact it’s red and black fruit based with a touch of cedar and some bold tannins, all at the nice price of $19.95 – Chateau Roland La Garde Tradition 2003 (#46565). Lastly, in Franc there’s the Chateau de la Gardine Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2004 ($35.95 - #604124) with dark fruit, chocolate, plum and cherry – the mouth also feels cool (even when the wine is warm), full on cherries and soft cedar. It’s an easy drinking red that’s got some ageability to it.

Portugal (Red) … Staying old school, or old world, we’ll go to Portugal for two nice reds. The Quinta Das Sentencastas Alenquer 2005 ($13.95 - #50930) has deep, dark, rich black fruit throughout; while the Porca de Murca Reserva Tinto 2003 ($17.95 - #684753) brings more to the table for its four-dollar bump: juicy red and black fruit, some plum and chocolate notes – and, hold-ability (3-5 years easy).

Spain (Red) … Something’s definitely not kosher in Spain, well hold on a second, this one is, Makor De Elviwines 2004 ($18.95 – #39917) red and black fruit with a touch of coffee on the nose, great cherry flavours with some plumminess in the mouth – there are so few good kosher wines, but this one has the stuff, and what’s more, it’ll keep for a couple of years – don’t Passover this one. Where else but from Spain can you find a wine just released onto shelves for under $20, that’s 8 years old and still tastes vibrant and alive. Vina Albani Gran Reserva 1999 ($17.95 - #9621) has well integrated berry fruit and some wood, along with a touch of tannin – drink now or over the next two years.

Georgia on my mind (Red) … I’ve been waiting a long time to use that opening line in print; Georgian wines aren’t usually all that good, sure they have their fans, but they are rarely worth recommending, nine times out of ten the packaging outshines the wine inside the bottle. But here’s one that just might be worth your $15.95 – Telavi Napareuli (#48116) – it’s one of the best Georgian wines I’ve ever tried with its cinnamon-red fruit flavours and aromas.

California, here I come (Sparkling) … Only seems fitting after the Georgia song quote, but now it’s off to the new world to check out what’s coming out. We’ll start you off with some bubbly: the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($11.95 – 53504 – 375ml) to be exact. Good apple and citrus notes on the nose with a light bubble in the mouth and at half the price of the French wine this may be your ticket to happiness.

California (White) … Two nice whites come out of California this time out. The 30th Anniversary Vintage from Calera, 2005 Chardonnay ($22.95 – #713313) – upfront fruitiness with tree and tropical aromas and flavours; there’s also a nice lingering, almost sweet, finish, thanks to the vanilla and oak. Speaking of sweet, if you haven’t checked out Ironstone’s Obsession Symphony (2006) – ($14.95 - #355784), you owe it to yourself to do so. It’s made the same way every year from the Symphony grape (a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris) … the smells are grapy and Riesling-like, while the taste is best described as Asti without the fizz.

California (Red) … There’s big and small coming out of California this release – and I’m not just talking about taste. There’s the J. Lohr Seven Oaks 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon that has chocolate, mint, cherries, plums and cinnamon all the way through. The LCBO doesn’t care what size bottle you buy because there’s no break for bulk: 750ml, 19.95 (#656561) or 1500ml, 39.95 (#16915) – in fact it’s 5-cents cheaper to buy two small bottles. It’s also no deal to buy the bulk (1500ml) of the Joseph Phelps 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon with its fruit bomb cherry flavours. A half bottle (375ml) will run you $39.95 (#36939) while the big boy (1500ml) will set you back $179.95 (#36921) – you do the math on this one, remember you need 4 of the smalls this time to make up the big gun. Coming out in standard bottle size (750ml) is both the Toasted Head 2004 Merlot ($19.95 - #969816), so typical Cali-Merlot I can’t even describe it cause you’ve tried it a hundred times before, if you like California Merlot try it, you’ll like it; and the Truchard 2003 Zinfandel ($18.95 - #54858) – all the typicity of Zin, but I like Zin (and I like this Zin), so shoot me for recommending it.

Argentina (Red) … Altos Las Hormigas 2006 Malbec ($13.95 - #640490), there’s good value in this bottle. Spice, chocolate, oaks, berry flavours with some coffee inspiration – drink now or hold up to 3 years.

Chile (Red) … One high priced and one low priced wine – both very nice. Casa Lapostolle 2005 Cuvee Alexandra Merlot ($32.95 - #459206) has deep rich colour to go along with its red fruit and chocolate nose, cherries, chocolate and coffee, by way of mocha, in the finish; absolutely lovely … if not for the price I’d be buying 3 or 4. The Vina Casablanca El Bosque Syrah 2005 ($15.95 - #46276) is more in my price range. This Aussie knock-off, with a hint of mint and eucalyptus, goes whole hog to copy Ozland, except for the name; they opt for the French spelling. Smooth with a touch of pepper along with some chocolate and red fruit for good measure.

Australia (Red) … You knew sooner or later I’d get to these guys, can’t go a whole report without touching on something from the great down under. There’s a Shiraz any good Australian wine lackey would love: Kilikanoon The Lackey Shiraz 2005 ($17.95 - #5199) pepper, black fruit nosed, and chocolate cherry smoothness on the tongue. Then there’s the Two Hands Gnarly Dudes 2006 Shiraz ($24.95 - #660043) smooth with spicy black fruit and some white pepper on both the nose and taste. But the real wows come from Yalumba. Tricentenary Vines Grenache 2003 ($30.95 - #588186) with a fantastic smoothness and flavour that has been squeezed from those low yielding vines; and the 2002 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz ($44.95 - #528356) – big fruit, rich tannins, good acidity – this one’s big and brawny with tons of age-ability to spare.

South Africa (Red) … Regular readers have heard me talk about the typical South Africa stench in their wines (road tar, galvanized rubber, earthiness) but it seems as you go up the price ladder the smell goes away. Graham Beck 2002 The Ridge Syrah ($26.95 - #607812) foregoes “the smell” for spices and fruit (red plum, cassis and black pepper); very nice.

Canada (Red) … How’s about a quick detour into our own country before heading off to the desserts table … Church & State Wines from out British Columbia-way has this 2004 Merlot ($24.95 - #56861) that caught my fancy. With its oak, pepper, cherry, plum nose and taste, it’s a little sweet in the mouth with a high 14.51% alcohol and almost port-like aromas (cherries and dried fruit), but it’s a lovely wine from the other coast.

What’s for Dessert … There are lots of treats this release, from ports to sherries and some great stuff from the fringes of winemaking, so let’s get right down to it. From Hungary comes Royal Tokaji Aszu Blue Label 5 Puttonyos 2000 ($19.95 - #972836 – 250ml) as sweet as the day is long, but heavenly for those who like their botrytis wines, imagine Riesling icewine without the price tag. Sherry-lovers get a double dip this release, with two half bottles from Emilio Lustau. There’s the sweet East India Solera Sherry ($13.95 - #713636 – 375ml) with its almond and apricot flavours and smells; or the nutty and drier Palo Contado Almacenista Vides ($21.95 - #745554 – 375ml). Port-fans will be glad to see the return of Quinta de la Rosa Finest Reserve Port ($21.95 - #715540), which is down a dollar from last year’s price. Rich cherries, plums and chocolate dominate, with all kinds of other delicate and robust flavours and smells – your favourite chair in front of the fire beckons for this one. Finally my fringe dessert selection comes from south of the border; we go back to California for Quady Elysium 2006 ($13.95 - #276840 – 375ml) a 15% alcohol Black Muscat sweetie. Raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and a touch of alcohol hit the nose, while the taste is wonderful and delicious, if not fully explainable in words. This one’s a must try – serve it over the holidays.

Enjoy making your list and Happy Shopping.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

LCBO Holiday Gift Guide 2007 – Part 2

This is the second part of my holiday gift guide; the LCBO spread the wealth out over 2 viewings – and while the first batch had some nice stuff that tasted good for the discriminating palate on your list; this second crop is all about the packaging and the “giveaways” than what’s in the bottle.

Let’s Give ‘em Something to Wine About …
We’ll start the SWAG giveaway with Inniskillin’s VQA wine tote gift set (#8623 - $29.95) a neoprene bag with a bottle of ’06 Pinot Noir and ’06 Chardonnay. Not to be outdone Jackson-Triggs goes one better with their faux-leather insulated zip-up bag complete with stopper and embossed with the JT logo (#594002 - $25.15) … the wine inside: ’04 Meritage and ’06 Chardonnay – both, thankfully, VQA.

Out of province, we have the cellared in Canada XOXO Chocolate Fondue Set (#49528 - $24.95) … this one’s all about the fondue set: four skewers, bowl and holder, candle for heat and the Belgian chocolate are all included – pair this with something interesting, like port, and keep the XO wine for marinade.

Thinking of taking your money out of country, like say Australia, you might think about picking up the Banrock Station Christmas Gift pack (#328880 - $23.45) – the real winner in this one is the 2006 Unwooded Chardonnay (probably one of my all-time favourite whites), there is also a bottle of ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon, but the real winner in this pack is the Chard, you’ll be remembered for introducing your giftee to it. Sticking with Australia, there’s the Jacob’s Creek Mixed triple pack (#49718 - $34.95), which any Aussie wine fan on your list would be thrilled to receive. A bottle of 2005 Shiraz / Cabernet, 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 2006 Chardonnay; the reds are the stars of this show here. Finally from Oz, the Wyndham Estate Duo Pack (#49692 - $35.95) has the right idea, stick with what Aussies do best: Bin 555 2004 Shiraz and 2003 Shaw Reserve Shiraz.

Just in it for the kitsch? Kittling Ridge delivers. Their white Zinfandel/Vidal blend comes loaded in a cool single bottle tote bag, complete with corkscrew – great for picnics and bike rides (#699173 - $17.95) - the bag is anyway; while their Chardonnay/Vidal is packed up with a wine chiller (#6775 - $19.95). You’re paying for the extras here because these wines certainly aren’t worth that much on their own.

For My Brother, the Beer Drinker …
I bring wine over every time I’m invited over to my brother’s house, and each time my brother looks at the bottle, gives me that “hmm”-face, then goes downstairs and gets a beer – thank goodness his wife has taste, in wine anyway, so these gifts are for him (at least dedicated with him in mind).

The Corona Extra Gift Pack (#579300 - $10.95), a good deal for Corona lovers because the glasses would cost that much just on their own. Stella’s home pouring kit (#50260 - $24.95) gives you two Stella Artois’, two glasses, coasters, opener and other Stella-phanalia in a metal suitcase presentation. Big Rock slips you a holiday gift pack (#676502 - $14.95) giving you two thin beer glasses and 4 beer: two Grasshopper wheats and two English brown ales. Sweet.

Those looking to ring in the new year with a beer might want to haul out the Heineken decorative Magnum (#685636 - $14.95) – now that’s festive.

Other Gimmicks and Gimmes …
John Daniel’s (who-ah), you know him as Jack, gives you dice and recipe/playing cards along with his traditional no.7 in a 375ml bottle (#502070 - $19.95).

Bacardi wants you to decant your 8-year-old rum (750ml) in their stylish decanter (#2741 - $39.95).

I once had a friend who would swear Tequila Rose was the best drink on the planet … here they offer their Strawberry Cream with two nifty shot-glasses with black-spotted based (#3236 - $29.95).

Bailey’s lovers will like the new flavours: Caramel and Mint in their very own Bailey’s glass ($33.95 – caramel #49437 / mint #49445).

Feeling lazy about spiking the eggnog this year, then pick up the tasty egg noggy cinnamony libation: Phillips Original Holiday Nog (#49239 - $17.95).

Finally, Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur gift pack (#49502 - $32.95) comes with an enormous mug and recipe book … lovers of chai flavouring should be all over this one.

The Real Gift …
I go back to my first gift release to give another plug for the Polish Cherry Port-style wine (Nalewka Babuni #589333 – now $15.55 – up from $13.60 … too much good press) still a steal at that price; you should be stocking up for yourself, as well as for others … and if you run out of ideas or time, give them a bottle of that cherry stuff you’re hoarding … they’ll love you for it, and it give you a reason to go over for a visit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

LCBO Holiday Gift Guide 2007 – Part 1

It’s getting near that time of year when you’ll be looking for gifts to give to those who are near-and-dear to your heart, and those that you must get gifts for. The ever-helpful LCBO is gearing up for the holidays with new and wonderful gift ideas from their suppliers. Some are of the hokie and cheesy variety, some I wouldn’t waste my money on and others seem like re-packaged rip-offs of something you could buy year round. But then again there are some unique and interesting gift ideas that truly are worth the coin you’ll plop down. Here is part one of my LCBO holiday gift guide – there are things that I would spend my hard earned dough on to give to my friends, acquaintances, loved ones and those I just plain wanna (or hafta) suck up to.

For the Wine Lover …
Most gifts for wine lovers at this time of year really aren’t about what’s in the bottle as much as the outside packaging and/or the trinkets they come with it. There’s the Gioielli Casa Bottega Rosé Spumante (#49700 - $29.95) that comes with two tapered champagne flutes … the flutes really aren’t much to write home about but the Spumante is a pink bubbly with lots of strawberry, raspberry flavours with a touch of sweetness. This one’s a total party pleaser, but at this time of year it’s what you’re looking for.

For your Italian loving friend (be it wine or the country) check out the Sangiovese Di Toscana (#5520 - $9.95) in the Leaning Tower of Pisa bottle … the bottle actually leans and is in the shape of the famous tower – archways and all. The wine inside is an easy drinking, fruity red that is best chilled … the bottle can either help you convince people they’ve had too much or can be refilled with the liquid of your choice for display year round.

Your Spanish wine loving friends are in for a treat. Osborne Solaz Wooden Gift Box (#621433 - $16.95) contains a 2005 Merlot / Tempranillo and a 2004 Tempranillo / Cabernet Sauvignon in an attractive wooden box … considering that at some wineries the box alone is $20, this is an excellent deal, and the wines inside are a good value too. So you can think of this in one of two ways: either you’ve bought two wines and got a free box, or you bought a box and got free wine – either way you win.

Mom likes wine; dad likes to cook (or vice versa)? The Masi Serego Alighieri and Balsamic vinegar box set (#898460 - $19.95) is the best of both worlds: a bottle of delicious Masi red and a bottle of Masi balsamic vinegar, served up in a corrugated sliding box … Now mom can watch dad cook with a matching wine in her hand - bon appetite.

Riesling fans have three options … though in actuality it’s the same wine just in different packaging. Moselland brings back its Ars Vitis Winter Scene (#589929 - #19.95), a bottle with a clear window-like pane at the front of the bottle looking in on the “painted scene” on the back of the bottle. This time you are looking through the window at a winter scene by a lake. What you’re paying for here is the bottle, which makes a nice showpiece for the holiday mantle. The wine inside is light and fruity, with plenty of peachy flavours – obviously made to be as much a party pleasing white as ever there was one, especially for those holiday parties it will undoubtedly find itself. This is also one of those artsy-fartsy gifts for those that will probably never drink the wine inside. The same wine can be found in the cat-lovers package (Moselland Riesling Coral / Torquoise Cat Bottle #49676/49668 - $9.95) a 500ml bottle that Moselland puts out every year in different colours. This year they’ve added pastel colours to the cat family – for the cat lover or collector on your list.

For the Beer Lover …
I find myself gravitating towards craft beers these days; beers that toss away the homogeneous flavours and instead give you something bold and unique. I think it comes from growing up with lots of Molson products being consumed by friends and then living in a Labatt town for 12 years (London, Ontario). You get tired of the ordinary and want some diversity, even in your beer. There’s a De Koninck Belgian Gift Pack (#612101 - $13.95) with three distinctly different beers: Blond/Triple/Pur Malt and what my university friends would have termed a “Big Ass Beer Glass”. The beers are all tasty, the package is well-priced and I could see myself enjoying one, or all three, of these in an evening.

St. Ambroise Raspberry Ale (#45591 - $3.95) is a beer I’d give my mother, that’s not a shot at the beer or my mother. It’s a tasty full-on raspberry flavoured brew that seems to forget its beer. It comes in a solid gift tube with only one beer inside, no accessories. I figure in a pinch you could use the tube as a makeshift glass.

Not sure whether this was a gift pack or not because it had no extras, but the Royal Extra Stout 6-pack (#24638 - $9.85) is a sweet tasting stout with some coffee and toffee notes that is very enjoyable … and would make for a great gift for those looking for something different, even if it doesn’t come with any holiday extras.

Something Different …
It took a long time for La Cache de Pomme to get into the LCBO – they make the most awesome iced apple wine and were exporting this sweet nectar to many countries before the LCBO finally agreed to put it on their shelves … could their Quebec address be a problem, hmm? But let’s forget the politics and instead check out their offerings for the holiday season. Their Domaine Pinnacle Sparkling Ice Cider (#52365 - $44.75) and the still Ice Cider (#6924 - $39.95), each comes with a set of glasses (triangular with the sparkling, mini-ISO’s with the straight). Great apple flavours in both: one is bubbly, sweet and light in flavour, the other is intense with sticky apple sweetness. Each comes in an attractive gift box.

For the Liquor Lover …
The LCBO is being very good to Scotch and Vodka drinkers over the holidays.

For $99.95 you can pick up the 4 pack of Johnny Walker Family Edition (#630467), 200ml bottles of Johnny’s Red, Black, Blue and Gold. Not to be outdone Glenfiddich has their Tasting Collection (#604686 - $69.95), 3 – 200ml bottles of their 12, 15 and 18 year old scotches.

Vodka lovers will get a chance to try the flavoured world of Absolut with the Five Flavours Gift Pack (#49262 - $14.95), presented in a cute little holiday rack. 5 – 50ml bottles in lemon, peach, pear, raspberry and grapefruit flavours.

Looking for something a little more interesting? There’s the Navan Nomad Gift Pack (#49080 - $52.95). Navan is a delicious vanilla liqueur that is packaged with two attractive glasses in a suitcase like packaging.

For those Chocolate Lovers …
There are two choices for those on your list who love chocolate, both from Mozart. There’s the Mozart White Chocolate with glasses pack (#3905 - $36.95) a deliciously creamy white chocolate liqueur that goes well on it’s own or as a mix for hot chocolate, The other chocolate lovers treat runs the gamut for cacao devotees. Mozart Trio Pack (#624221 - $16.95) – 3-50ml bottles, the creamy milk and white chocolate liqueurs and the more liquidy dark chocolate version … this truly is a chocolate lovers paradise in a glass.

Unique and Wonderful …
You’ve read this far and maybe you’ve checked off a few things, but here’s a definite get, if not for a gift then at least for yourself: Nalewka Babuni Gift Box with Glass (#589333 - $13.60). This gift is incredibly well priced for what you get. Nalewka Babuni is a cherry dessert wine from Poland, fortified to 18%, has deep, rich cherry flavour and port-like thickness, presented in a squat square bottle (750ml) with a large cherry shaped cork. The wide-mouth bottle opening makes it a challenge to pour from, but the liquid inside is delicious. This should be your drink around the fire on Christmas Eve, settin’ up your Hanukah bush, decked out in your Kwanzaa attire or whatever you celebrate … this Babuni will make your holidays even more special, and it’s fun to say when people ask you what it is … Nalewka Babuni.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Saturday October 27, 2007 - Vintages Release

Someone in the tasting room made a comment that it was a “very light tasting this week” … he wasn’t talking about the wine’s flavour profiles here, he was referring to the amount of wines. On the other hand, someone also mentioned that the quality was up, “which means the holidays are coming” … and finally, the theme of this weeks release was vague: entertaining. So what the LCBO wants you to do this holiday season, from what I gather, is entertain lightly with good wine … I guess. So let’s get right down to it.

Sparkling Wines … A party just isn’t a party without some bubbly to pass around; Vintages kicks 6 new ones onto the shelves this week … 2 represent good value, while one is just pricey, because its real, true, authentic Champagne. Taittinger Champagne Brut Reserve ($59.95 - #814723) is a great special occasion fizz … one to pick up for New Year’s Eve with someone special – toasty, tasty and lovely with apple and tropical fruit in the mouth. Hungeford Hill 2002 Dalliance Sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot Noir from Australia ($24.95 - #39354) smells of apples and peaches while the mouth follows the nose’s lead with a seemingly sweet taste. But the true bargain in bubbly comes in the form of a Cremant de Bourgogne (France) Louis Bouillot Perle D’Ivoire Blanc de Blanc ($18.95 - #48801). I swear there is some pink colour to this wine made from Chardonnay grapes – there’s also a lemon freshness that’s been squeezed over fresh raspberries and strawberries (that’s the nose); I would have thought with those smells it would be a bit sweeter in the mouth, but instead it finishes slightly dry with raspberries as its finale, and at $18.95 it’s the best bargain in the bubbly bunch.

White Wines … There are also only 3 whites of note to speak of this release: one from Australia, another from South Africa and one from Germany. Australia’s Yalumba Winery brings us a 2005 Wild Ferment Chardonnay ($17.95 - #39271) a lemon, floral and tropical nose is followed by peachy, floral, almond and vanilla tastes. South Africa’s KWV strikes again with it’s 2005 Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay ($14.95 - #328559) the woodsy, buttery, nose would seem it’s been over-oaked; but there’s tropical fruits in the mouth – and a hint of some oak on the palate, but not enough to be off-putting in any way … this is a very pleasant sipper when sufficiently chilled. Finally, Germany comes along with a pretty pricey Riesling, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler 2006 Riesling Spatlese ($28.95 - #727370), but of the two being offered, this is the one to get. Petrol, peach and florally nose with apples, pears, lychee and apricots in the mouth … very pleasant with an easy, smooth finish.

California (Red) … From Lodi comes the Van Ruitten 2004 Old Vines Zinfandel ($18.95 - #58685). Zin fans should be happy with this one: cola nut, red fruit and sweet cherry nose – red fruits, raisins and plums in the mouth.

Argentina (Red) … Two from the Argentines, the value priced Catena Alamos 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.95 - #467944) with its chocolate, red fruit, plum nuances that linger all the way through to the finish. There’s also the sleek sophisticated look of Michel Torino 2004 Ciclos Malbec/Merlot ($18.95 - #37895). Sometimes I’m a real sucker for packaging and this one looks good, so maybe that influenced my tastebuds – but I don’t think so, cause my nose was fooled too. Mocha, blackberries, coffee and anise aromas; chocolate, plum, blackberries, sour cherry and black raspberry flavours all mingle with the bit of persistent tannins – and a good value at that price.

Chile (Red) … A drink now 2005 Carmenere from Arboleda ($16.95 - #46284) – rich black fruit, plum and chocolate follow though from the nose right into the mouth. Pleasant and very enjoyable.

Australia (Red) … Three from Australia, including the best value wine of this release: Jim Jim [the Down-Underdog] 2006 Shiraz ($14.95 - #682005) its gotta whole lotta spice (cue the Jimmy Page guitar riff here) – ya, a whole lotta spice (and again); with flavours reminiscent of chocolate and black cherries. Up the price ladder is Wits End The Procrastinator 2005 ($16.95 - #684100) I’d tell you about this 60% Shiraz/30% Cab Sauv/10% Grenache wine … but I’ll wait till later; first I’ll talk about the Yalumba Mawson’s Wrattonbully 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95 - #39107) which is all red fruit and yum, with sweet herbs and chocolate. Now, about that Procrastinator … um, just give me a second here …

France (Red) … From the Midi comes Domaine de Triennes St. August 2003 ($24.95 - #726554) – a slightly chillable red full of plums and spice with a touch of cinnamon and chocolate – there are also hints of strawberries and raspberries here. The Rhone produces Rasteau (never sure how these guys keep those dreadlocks clean, but anyway…) – Domaine Grange Blanche Rasteau 2005 ($16.95 - #35436) is great value in a friendly yet age-worthy sipper. Red fruit and cinnamon with a little bite from the tannin. Great flavours that warm the cockles of your heart, soul and stomach.

Did I finish talking about that Wits End wine yet … I’ll get to that in a minute.

Italy (Red) … Batasiolo 2004 Barbaresco ($23.95 - #37051) with its raisin, black fruit and plum nose; raspberry, strawberry with a lengthy finish in the taste department, is enjoyable all on it’s own. Also from Italy Luigi Righetti Valpolicella Campolieti 2005 ($16.95 - #695890) is a beauty of a Ripasso with tons and tons of red fruit, plumy, raisiny goodness – drink now or hold a few years – that’s the beauty of Ripasso.

Spain (Red) … Searching for something with cedar, cinnamon, nutmeg and black fruit throughout that can sit in the cellar for a few years and comes out tasting like a rose (so to speak) Condado De Haza Crianza 2004 ($24.95 - #963348) is just such a creature. 5 years in the cellar should do it some justice, if not more.

As for the Procrastinator … spice, tobacco and black fruit are the smells; cherries, white pepper and a jumble of red fruits … delicious – if you can remember, or find the time, to drink it.

And for Dessert … I always find the dessert wines fascinating. This time out its Perrin & Fils Muscat de Beaume de Venise 2005 ($16.95 - #4713) sweet grape infused ginger ale without the fizz … great for after dinner.

Cheers and Happy Shopping.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Saturday October 13, 2007 - Vintages Release

The first Vintages release of October takes us to Bordeaux and Scotland … now in truth I am not much of a scotch drinker, no matter how much water I cut the stuff with I still can’t get it down the throat, so unfortunately you scotch drinkers are on your own – though I must tell you there are some interesting Cask Strength Arran Malts coming out, ranging in alcohol strength of 46 to 57.8% … enough to set fire to your mouth … if that’s your thing - enjoy.

As for the Bordeauxs being released, there are a few good values on some excellent tasting wines; and although the French are getting their arses kicked by the Aussies worldwide as far as who’s buying what from where … French wine still remains the benchmark by which all others gauge themselves. So, without further ado, I present to you some of the wine, if you dare, by which all others are compared.

Bordeaux … When most people think of Bordeaux they think red wine, but Bordeaux also makes quite a few tasty whites – the Chateau de Cruzeau Blanc 2004 ($22.95 - #966010) is just such a creature. The nose has oaky and vanilla notes, while the flavours are all over the map: vanilla, soft apple, floral and tree fruit, quite satisfying and delicious. Now it’s onto what most people know Bordeaux for … red.

Red wines from Bordeaux come in all price categories. I tried to stay under $40 for this report … I have 2 under $20, 2 under $30 and one for $37.95, that would be the Chateau Colombier-Monpelou 2003 (#43851) with its lush red fruit in the mouth, with good cherry and plum nuances – my notes say “very tasty”, and that should suffice. Dropping down the price-ladder by $10 is the Chateau Pont de Guitres 2003 ($27.95 - #45666). Cherries, chocolate and great red fruit with a tannin backbone – delicious now but definitely something to hold onto for another few years. At $21.95 Chateau Bellevue 2004 (#45708) is a tasty treat that keeps you coming back for more; never mind that funky off-putting nose, once you get it past the lips its delicious. Domaine de Contemerle Grains de Terroir 2003 ($18.95 - #47217) is a wine at a price many of us can afford. Plumy, cassis, black cherry nose; good mouthfeel, rich tannins and black fruit dominate past the gums. Finally, the Chateau Haut-Colombier 2005 ($17.95 - #47217) needs to be opened in advance or decanted, but once it is you’ll find cherries, raspberries, chocolate and coffee rule the roost … there are also some definite oaky flavours but they dissipate with some time open, leaving you with dried black fruits.

Italy (Sparkling) … Italy will kick off the rest of the world for us with this Santa Margherita Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene Brut ($18.95 - #687582). A nose of green apple, a little pear and some citrus, culminating in the mouth with toasted apple chips and a dusting of lemon juice.

Germany (White) … Staying in the old world of wine we get this German Riesling from Langwerth Von Simmern 2004 Kabinett ($22.95 - #49890) with its peachy, minerally nose – peach beginning and petrol notes mid-palate; very tasty. If you have your heart set on a Riesling this release, this is the one to get.

Spain (Red) … Spain is known for good wines and good value; this Juan Gil Tinto 2005 ($21.95 - #1677) may be a little pricier than you’re used to from Spain, but then again it really is worth it. In my effort to put descriptors on this wine I found myself lost in the beautiful aromas and luscious flavours. This wine defies description, it truly is one to just sip and enjoy – with or without a slab of meat.

France (Red) … I have this wine listed as my “Holy Crap Selection” – partly due to its price and partly due to its flavours. From Burgundy comes Vigne de L’Enfant Jesus Beaune Premier Cru 2005 (#43257) – a delicious lush Pinot that must be what “they” talk about when “they” talk about a sublime Pinot. The earthiness is suppressed by the plums, strawberries, raspberries and cherries – but it’s there nonetheless; good tannin and excellent length. And all this could be yours if the price of $104.95 is right. Waiter, I’ll have two, and he’s paying.

Australia (White) … From the old world to the new world in one easy step. We’ll kick off our tour of the wines outside Europe with a trip through Australia. D’Arenberg 2006 The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne ($16.95 - #662775) is quite a treat with apples and pears dominating the nose with a little pineapple back-up and a “fizzy” smell. The mouth exhibits lots of tropical fruits and is quite yummy.

Australia (Red) … Long names can either detract from a wine’s appeal or enhance it. Last release Elderton brought out “Friends”; – this time out we get a specific friend: Lorraine. Elderton Barossa Ode to Lorraine Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot 2002 ($39.95 - #976423) – this is one heck of a good friend. Cinnamon, cedar and spice are the most powerful smells on the nose with lots more subtler ones in the background. On the tongue I picked up quite a bit of sweet fruit with a niggling of tannin and a port-like finish … very yummy and very enjoyable; a friend well-worth spending time with.

California (Red) – A few weeks back Cline brought us an Ancient Vines Mouvedre, which I quite enjoyed, in my review I hinted at a 2005 Ancient Vines Zinfandel ($18.95 - #719211) I had tried not too long ago. Well it seems I was ahead of the LCBO a U.S.-based friend of mine knew my love of Zin and brought me a few bottles, so I know this wine intimately. This is a supple and enjoyable Zin right from the get-go. Lots of cherry, rum, cola and sweet fruit on the nose. A sweet mid-palate turns tannic on the finish with a zing; this one’s age-worthy for a few more years easy. This release also brings a re-issue of the Cline 2004 Red Truck ($15.95 - #693903), this is a fruit bomb loaded with cherries and plums in a vanilla wash. And Toasted Head brings back its Shiraz to LCBO shelves ($19.95 – 42937 – Vintage 2004); lovely red fruit and spice – this one also dabbles with vanilla nuances.

Argentina (Red) … More value from Argentina in the form of these wines, which are each $14.95. The Alamos 2006 Malbec (#467951) – plumy, jammy and black fruit nose with smooth, easy-going plum-rich tastes, plus there’s some aging years ahead. Jacques & Francois Lurton bring us their 2005 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (#591735) another easy drinking pick with dark fruit all over it.

Chile (Red) … I have always loved the name “Valdivieso”, it just sounds so foreign yet rolls off the tongue: Val-Di-Vie-So. Said right it sounds like a sentence all it’s own, or a girl named Val from a city called Vieso. Anyway, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Valdivieso wine on the shelves at the Lick-Bo, so wasn’t I happy to see a 2005 Syrah ($17.95 - #45153) just so I could pronounce the name again. But you’re probably wondering how it tastes: rich and delicious with chocolate, eucalyptus, herbs and spice – that’s what little Val’s are made of.

South Africa (Red) … South Africa is one of those country’s where I find the wines lacking … well actually that’s not exactly true, it’s not what they lack that I find off-putting, it’s what they have; a funky road tar, earthy, galvanized rubber smell in many of their reds especially; it’s something I just can’t get passed. So wasn’t I happy to find two in this release that toned the typical down to give us something tasty and pleasant. Coleraine 2005 Fire Engine Red ($16.95 - #663237) a 50/50 Merlot/Shiraz blend that foregoes the heavy-handed road tar aromas for more subtle flavours and smells. Coffee, mocha and sour cherry greet the nose; the road tar shows up only slightly on the tongue, but is masked by sweeter fruit flavours and a big lip smacking “yum”. There’s also Raka’a 2003 Spliced ($17.95 - #37457) a blend of four grapes: cab, merlot, ruby cab and Shiraz, which has some pleasant dark chocolate, integrated into it. There again is the South Africa smell, but the taste is so appealing and the finish so delicious you forgive its shortcomings on the nose.

What’s for Dessert … A sweetie from Cyprus called Keo Commandaria St. John ($11.95 - #101451). Sweet sherry nuances on the nose; raisins and almonds, honey, dried apricots, peaches and chocolate notes all kick around on the palate. A delicious sweetie, that’ll warm you up in front of the fire, for those cold nights to come.

Happy Shopping.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Saturday September 29, 2007 Vintages Release

This Vintages release focuses on the Rhone and South of France, where the rules aren’t as strict and the wines are lots more fun … and good wine is very affordable. You don’t have to deal with the high priced Bordeauxs or the finicky nature of Burgundian grapes (which also amount to high prices). In this part of France we deal with the freethinkers and experimentalists, who jones to try and do something exciting and new. And that preamble leads us right into this release, with 5 reds and 1 white fitting the bill.

Rhone & South of France (White) … Talk about a mish-mash of grapes you’ve probably never heard of … but accorindg to sources these are the white grapes of the Rhone (not all of them, just the top 6): Viognier, Rousanne, Marsanne, Clairette, Bourboulene and Grenache Blanc. All blended together to give you something fruity and enjoyable. Melon and peach dominate with some fresh lemon-like acidity on the finish. With only the two wines to choose from in this category it’s a no-brainer, skip the $58 wine and pick up a few of the Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2005 ($16.95 - #290296).

Rhone & South of France (Red) … From Provence comes this Cuvee Carolle Cote de Provence Rouge 2004 ($16.95 - #43174) … sure it says organic, but it would seem that some French producers have wrapped their heads around what makes for a good organic wine and not just organic for organic-sake (or jumping on the bandwagon to make a little extra money). A nice cherry, woodsy and smoky nose is followed by rich red fruit in the mouth. Don’t like organic you say … this one’s very interesting, and worth the purchase. The Rhone itself brings us a few very nice cork-poppers, starting with Chateau du Trignon Sablet Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages 2004 ($20.95 - #33878) a blend of Grenache (70%) with a splash of Syrah and Mourvedre (15% each) … the nose seems a little closed at the moment giving me little to nothing to smell, but in the mouth it’s very fruity with tons of rich, ripe red fruit. This is one tasty sucker for something I couldn’t even get a whiff of. Here’s another tasty number that’s primarily Syrah and Mourvedre (heck, I don’t recommend it if it don’t taste good – what would be the point?) – Chateau Le Devoy Martine Lirac Rouge 2004 ($17.95 - #33803) – floral and dark fruit dominate the nose with an Asian inspired taste: blackberries soaked in soy sauce – interesting and yet yummy at the same time. Another fruity mouth-filler is the Domaine Grosset Cairanne Cote du Rhone-Villages 2004 ($17.95 - #33852) … I’ll start by describing their great old time movie poster-style label, the name rushes in from the background as if to say “It Came from Grosset”. Next comes the taste: cherry and raspberry all the way through – pleasant, enjoyable (and chillable if you wish). It came from Grosset alright, and thank goodness. Finally, I’ve always gotta put at east one higher priced feature wine into each report; this time it’ll only cost ya $35.95 for the Domaine Duclaux Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2004 (#722264) but for your money you’re getting intense strawberry and red fruit on the nose – lush red licorice, anise and a smoothness you won’t soon forget. Pricey, but I wouldn’t turn down a glass … if you’re buying I’ll be you’re drinking buddy.

California (White) … From the country that made wine famous to the state that made wine infamous. I’ll kick it off in California with a 2005 Chardonnay by Kali Hart ($19.95 - #46417). Pineapple, vanilla and oak hit the nose then amalgamate in the mouth with a smooth tasty finish.

California (Red) … A few weeks ago I opened a bottle of 2005 Ancient Vines Zinfandel from Cline that was superb; now here comes his brother: Ancient Vines 2005 Carignane ($18.00 - #32177) – another superb offering from Cline. Deep rich black fruit on the nose with some cedar and a titch of red fruits playing backgammon at a corner table. The sweet mouth on this one tastes of plums, red licorice and rum; to me it tasted almost Zin-like … and crazy-enjoyable.

Chile (White) … Chile again brings value to the table in the form of this $15.95 2006 Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay from Cousino-Macul (#730044). My notes say “yummy” in bold letters, with vanilla, oak and lemon on the nose; melon, banana, vanilla and a soft touch of oaky on the tongue … this one gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside … was it the wine or was it the price for such a delectable wine? You decide.

Chile (Red) … This wine took many turns both in my nose and on the palate, but in the end it was very pleasing. First the nose of pine nuts and red fruit. Then tasty red fruit in the mouth and a finish that’s black fruit and nutmeg. A few interesting checanes but this Torode Piedra 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.95 - #39262) is good value and receives high marks from me.

Australia (White) … Yalumba is a name you’ll see on the general list and they make some well priced decent wines. But this 2006 Viognier ($22.95 - #954644) deserves its place in Vintages. Hints of honeydew on the nose, lively and lemony in the mouth with a bit of a bite from the acidity and a crisp clean finish that lasts; in addition this is quite a powerhouse in the alcohol department at 14.5% - so be careful when drinking. A little pricey, but Viognier seems to go that way.

Australia (Red) … Two Aussies caught my eye this time out. Elderton 2005 Friends Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95 - #595389) – a perennial favourite. Luscious cherries and chocolate are the best words I can use to describe it … and it’s definitely a sharin’ wine, very enjoyable with friends around to help you polish off a bottle. It wouldn’t be Australia if we didn’t talk Shiraz, and the Two Hands 2006 Angels Share Shiraz ($30 - #9480) is truly stunning. Lots of plum, raspberry and spice with a sweet nose and palate. My notes say “smooth, delicious and lush” – another high alcohol wine (15.2%) that you should be careful with … this’ll go down easy and the next morning you’ll wake up uneasy.

Italy (White) … Rarely, does it seem, that I am recommending an Italian white wine, but this Fazio 2006 Catarratto ($13.95 - #51680) is very enjoyable with lemon, peach, melon and a touch of honey on the nose; soft lemon and smooth acidity on the palate. This wine is a Sicily exclusive, so sit back relax and let your mind and tongue take you to southern Italy.

Argentina (Red) … The best word that I can use these days for Argentinean wines is “Value” … add an extra two words and they would be “for money”. $12.95 for a red that drinks like a wine twice that price: Jean Bousquet 2005 Malbec (#36988) has dark chocolate, anise and deep red fruit on the nose; black raspberry, plum and a tannin bite in the mouth – very nice indeed. And you can throw some age onto it too … what a value.

New Zealand (Red) … Here’s a tasty treat from New Zealand that’s not too much money: Sileni Estates 2004 The Triangle Merlot ($18.95 - #586081) soft and easy now, but could stand to be held for a few more years. The notes I have say “red fruit – long finish – excellent” – that about sums it up.

France (Red) … We’ll end this report where we began, back in France … we’ll stop into Burgundy for a check in on the Louis Jadot Santenay Clos de Malte 2005 ($37.95 - #47811) … pricey, but what good Burgundy isn’t? The nose is cherry and red fruit dominated, while the palate has black cherry, cinnamon, cedar and good tannin heft. Of the two Burgundies in this release this one is definitely better, and is well worth the $5 price difference.

Interesting … One more for good measure. From Portugal comes this J.P. Vinhos Moscatel De Setubal 2001 ($11.95 - #996181) – the price is right to take a chance on. It’s fortified Moscatel de Satubal (17% alcohol), a cousin of Port and Madeira. The nose intrigued me with pine needles, honey coated grapes and some orange peel … the taste was also funky, with dominant orange and apricot notes, a tasty oxidized finish that lasted and lasted. This really is tasty, but not something I could drink too much of – it is definitely a limited quantity sipper. Got twelve bucks? Wanna try something interesting. Plunk it down and give it a go.

Happy Shopping.