Thursday, June 14, 2007

Saturday June 23, 2007 Vintages Release

This week in Vintages there’s a major and a minor spotlight. The major focus is on California – both white and red; then there’s a smaller look at some wines from Israel. Let’s start there then move on to the rest of the world of wine.

Israel … We’ll start with Israel because there are only 6 wines to choose from (1 white, 5 red) … but not all 6 are worth picking up; in fact, I can recommend two and highly recommend one. There’s the consumer friendly Tulip Winery 2005 Just Cabernet ($19.95 - #35097), nothing earth shattering here, in fact the nose might turn you off, but the mid-palate should swing you back into the yes column, with sweet oak, vanilla and some red and black fruit flavours. But if you only want one Israeli wine that’ll shine, check out the Vitkin Winery 2005 Carignan ($19.95 - #35071) – ignore the high alcohol (14.5%), focus instead on the spicy red fruit nose; or the licorice, red fruit and sweet oak flavours … this ones the real winner from the promised land. Pick up a couple, this one should age nicely over the next few years.

Now that we’re done in the holy land its time to look at La La Land … Cali-forn-i-a. There’s a lot of pricey stuff coming out from the Schwarzenegger-state, but there are also some good values too; if you’re willing to look for them.

California (White) … Value isn’t what Grgich Hills is all about, it’s about the name – Mike Grgich was one of those winemakers who helped topple the French during the ’76 tasting. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a bad Chardonnay, just the opposite in fact, this is a darn tasty Chard that has good staying power for the cellar and a wonderful fruit finish – but value it’s not: Grgich Hill 2004 Chardonnay ($60.95 - #43901). Save it for that really special occasion.

California (Red) … A few different reds, a few different styles. Blackstone 2005 Syrah ($19.95 - #740035) has good pepper and spice, which follows through on the palate. Two Zins are better than one, as long as they aren’t deadly. There are a few in this release, it being the unofficial grape of California and all, but only two really stand out. The Wine of the Month, Gnarly Head 2005 Old Vines Zinfandel ($17.95 - #678698) is made by the Delicato Family. This is textbook old vines – the red fruit is there, so are the rum and raisin aromas, the stewed fruit compote and an overly ripe squishy-peach. The palate is delicious, seemingly sweet, but definitely dry with its all red fruit compote flavours. If you have never tried a Zin, the Head is where you should begin. After that you can graduate to this next one: Rosenblum 2005 Zinfandel – Appellation Series from Paso Robles ($29.95 - #31781). This has a typical Zin nose that any Zinfandel fan could pick out across a crowded room with the added bonus of black plum. The taste is almost typical with its sweet plum and ripe strawberry, but there are a few bonuses thrown in for good measure, like a dash of rum and coke … and the finish is quite persistent. Stonehedge 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($24.95 - #25122) has a peppery black fruit and raisin nose, but currently the fruit is masked by the weight of the oak. There is some smooth chocolate and white pepper in there though, making this an easy recommend - but let it sit for a bit to better integrate with the wood … try it again in the next year or two. Finally, the Tablas Creek 2004 Cotes de Tablas Rouge ($25.95 - #36624) is very consumer friendly, with lots of red fruit and sweet berries; there are some smooth tannins here too. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Counoise it’s a very interesting wine, especially with the red licorice finish that seems to hang around an extra, extra, extra long time. Though I think the Parker score of 88 jacked the price past the twenty-dollar mark where it belongs.

Australia (White) … Summer’s here so the whites are back in vogue. Australia has 2 Chards and a blend that might speak to you white wine lovers. First, there’s the Tapestry 2004 Chardonnay ($19.95 - #31500) with a fantastic nose of melon and tropical fruit, the palate has similar features and some barely detectable oaking. Definitely worth it’s price. Tobacco Road 2005 Unwooded Chardonnay ($16.95 - #30924) is a welcome wine from the Aussies; it’s good to see them scaling back from the heavy use of wood in their Chards. This one is more pear than apple on the nose with tropical tastes and a mere hint of butteryness, although it is unoaked, hmmm … tasty though. Watershed 2006 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon ($16.95 - #31468) is a great summer refresher with citrus and grapefruit on the nose. In the mouth, the Semillon reigns in the more citrusy Sauv and creates a nice harmony of flavours – this one’s an easy recommendation for those hot summer days.

Australia (Red) … Summer’s here and the BBQ season has most certainly begun (must find all kinds or reasons to praise summer while it’s here). There are a number of Australian reds that’ll go perfectly with those get togethers around the grill. Kicking things off there’s the perennial favourite Clarence Hill 2004 Shiraz ($19.95 - #599811) with good spicy red and black fruit and a mouthful of tannins … this wine has red meat written all over it. D’Arenberg (you know the wine with the red line across the label) has The Cadenzia 2004 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre ($25.95 - #661587), I always find that the price of these wines is going up, but so is the quality. There’s a wonderful nose of sweet cherries and rhubarb pie with a titch of black pepper, the taste echoes the nose with a good tannin grip. Taltarni 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.95 - #940692) has a sweet red fruit and mint nose; the palate is red berry dominated with smooth tannins and a good lengthy finish. Finally we have two wines from Lucky Country, a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.95 - #29389) and a 2004 Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend ($16.95 - #642702), both are good value for what’s in the bottle, but for the same price go for the blend there’s just a whole lot more going on and it’s as fun to smell as it is to drink.

France (White) … Hooray for Alsace, especially this time of year, they’re always making great whites to enjoy and the price doesn’t take too big a bite out of you. Willm 2005 Gewurztraminer Reserve ($16.95 - #686303) is a prime example of that. Soft rose petal and lychee on the nose while in the mouth there’s orange peel, white peach, and some floral notes that have a faint roseyness about them. This one truly is delicious and worth every penny.

France (Red) … We’re also being supplied with some really nice bargains in the red department this month. Starting it off in Bordeaux, Graves to be exact, the Chateau de Gaillat 2001 ($20.95 - #35834) – smoke and black fruit dominated with some cedar on the palate … this one has the stuffing to last a few years anyway, so give it a little rest in the cellar. Cheateau de Vivier 2003 ($19.95 - #35618) from the Medoc has licorice, black berry and some raspberries on the nose, with cinnamon, vanilla and black fruit on the palate; there’s also some oak in this one, my recommendation is to hold this one for a couple more years, cause it’s only gonna get better. Chateau Rousset 2003 ($18.95 - #731380) has good cinnamon with allspice on the nose, along with black fruit and licorice. The palate is rich and loaded with black fruit, thick tannin and oak. This one should also find a spot in your cellar for 2-4 years. Finally, rounding off our adventure in France is a fun little wine called Le Grand Noir (Black Sheep) 2004 Cabernet/Shiraz ($15.95 - #30296). Here’s another of those animal labels, though sheep don’t usually don’t inspire one to buy wine – well think again. This one has both red and black fruit on the nose and palate, with touches of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla brought on by the 6 months spent in oak. Here’s a BBQ wine that’s fun for the whole family – the kids can look at the outside and the adults can have what’s inside.

Germany (White) … Dr. Pauly- Bergweiler 2006 Riesling ($13.95 - #596601) from the Mosel … need I say more. Alright, how about this, enjoyable sweetness in the mouth, lemon and peach on the nose, good acidity, well balanced, lingering finish, 10% alcohol and $13.95 … what are you waiting for, write it down, circle it, but for godsake don’t pass this one up.

Spain (Red) … Ending this tour through the world of Vintages we stop in Spain for this Marques de Valcarlos Gran Reserva 1998 ($22.45 - #687251) – this 9 year old wine has good plum, spice, raspberry and raisins on the nose; the plum and raspberry continue on to the palate with some strawberries for good measure; there’s also enough tannins here to match well with something from the BBQ – you decide what you want to eat, just make sure it’s grilled. Happy eating, and drinking.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Saturday June 9, 2007 Vintages Release

It must be summer … In their May 26th release, the LCBO majored in New Zealand with a minor in Ontario Roses … this time round they bring in another 18 roses from around the world, including 3 sparklings (2 Champagnes and one from Spain). Below, I look at my favourites amongst the pinks then we’ll tour the globe for the rest of the release.

Drink the Pink … the rose wines were broken down into 3 categories: light, medium and full bodied; with a variety of colours to chose from: light tangerine, rose-petal pink to fuscia; I think I even saw something in the neon variety. Starting in the light bodied department the best of the best is from Germany, the 2006 Dr. Loosen Villa Wolf Rose de Pinot Noir ($14.95 - #033662). Loosen seems to turn everything he touches into gold and this wine is no different. The first thing you’ll notice is the unconventional colour, it has more orange tinge than pink, the nose is almost non-descript and I found very little to draw me in. But the flavours literally explode in your mouth: savour the candied strawberries and raspberries as they pass through – then once the liquid has gone from your mouth, you can suck those tastes right out of your tongue and cheeks like ringing out a dishrag. The lingering aftertaste reminds me of a red-chocolate covered cherry I recently had in Niagara-on-the-Lake at a place called the Chocolate Fix. This is surely a summertime patio winner if I’ve ever tasted one.

Of the medium-bodied pink elixirs two stood out for me, the Argentinean 2006 Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Syrah Rose ($11.95 - #034322) and the New Zealand 2006 Selaks Premium Selection Merlot Rose ($17.95 - #025478). The Argentine wine has a raspberry nose and cherry taste and at 11.95 is the bargain of the bunch. New Zealand’s is a little pricier at $17.95, the colour of strawberry juice with matching strawberry nose and black cherry taste – quite tasty, but for the money I stay in South America.

Fuller bodied rose seekers should look towards Australia for the 2006 Peter Lehmann Rose ($15.95 - #034298) lots of ripe cherries all the way through from the nose to the taste. Lehmann also has a red this release that I’ll highly recommend.

Canada (red) … The LCBO goes to British Columbia for their reds this release, picking up some of the award winning 2003 Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Shiraz ($23.95 - #033241). B.C. is proving to be very adept at Shiraz and the Jackson-Triggs winery in the Okanagan is proving they can make some of the best in the world (winning just such an award with the 2004 version of this very same wine). Spicy black fruit on the nose gives way to black fruit and spices on the palate. Best of all, there’s a smooth lush mouthfeel to this wine with just a hint of tannin dryness. Great for that special event BBQ – father’s day will do quite nicely, but so will Canada Day, Simcoe Day and Labour Day … may I suggest picking up a few.

California (red) … A tasty, value priced wine from producer Round Hill. At $15.95 this Cabernet Sauvignon (#526418) has blackberries and raspberries on the nose, following through with the very same berries on the palate there’s also some minty and jammy characteristics to be enjoyed here … finishing with a full-on cherry aftertaste. Slightly sweet on the palate, this one will be a big party favourite because it’s easy to consume over the course of an evening.

Argentina (red) … Three things make the Argentinean reds released this time a real value especially for the BBQ season now upon us: 1) Argentina is making huge in-roads with their wines and 2) Argentina is known as a meat eating country and 3) of course, is the price. The 2004 Don Eugenio Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva ($13.95 - #032094), good red fruit through the nose and mouth; the 2005 Trumpeter Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.95 - #723288), sweet fruit on the nose and taste, a cherry core and tasty on the palate – this one’s yummy … easy drinking and a real party-pleaser; stocking up would be a good idea. Finally, the 2004 Terrazas de los Andes Malbec Reserve ($16.95 - #029280) calls for a fat juicy steak … good spiciness, good tannins, nice oak nuances in the blend – this one starts off sweet but ends dry. This one could easily hang around for the next few BBQ seasons.

Chile (white) … Concha Y Toro has long been one of my “go to” wineries of Chile; if I need a crowd-pleaser or something to drink myself, and I crave Chilean I couldn’t go wrong by bringing home “the bull”. This 2006 Winemaker’s Lot Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95 - #030932) has good granny smith apples on the nose and all the best aromas of my cat’s litter box – which in Sauv Blanc is a good thing … this one’s tasty without the crunchy, with a wonderful green apple and grapefruit finish.

Chile (red) … The same producer and same label (Winemaker’s Lot) has a real gem of a 2005 Carmenere ($18.95 - #030952) too; there’s lots of blackberry and cassis, a good tannin backbone and a few years of ageability in this bottle.

Australia (white) … Australia is starting to branch out with their grape varieties – at least the grape varieties we see here. Some of those grape varieties you wouldn’t expect to do well in Oz because Aussie-land’s a hot climate, thus the cool climate loving Riesling should not thrive in such a locale. But there are pockets in Australia that are making truly wonderful Rieslings. Stonehaven 2005 Winemaker’s Selection Riesling ($15.95 - #024927) is one of those pockets … delicious stone-fruit and apple aromas with good follow through from the promise of the nose, good acidity and a clean finish, a well-priced, well-structured, Aussie-Riesling.

Australia (red) … Two Australian reds caught the fancy of my tastebuds this time out: the Peter Lehmann 2003 GSM – Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre ($18.95 - #650028) – this truly is a beautiful wine that starts off slowly. Those who like to stick their nose in for a good whiff might be disappointed … but while the nose whispers red fruit the palate screams rich and tasty. Think of this wine as your favourite band: raspberry is the lead singer, with cassis and blackberry as the backing band … there’s a touch of apparent sweetness from the rich fruit flavours but it’s dry – no doubt about it. You also can’t go wrong with the fruit-bomb called Billy Goat Hill 2005 Cabernet/Merlot ($18.95 - #025072) – don’t let the cutesy label distract you, this one’s tasty with sweet cherry fruit in the mouth, a cherry nose and some lasting tannins that could see this one drinking well for the next three years.

New Zealand (white) … To say New Zealand makes good Sauvignon Blanc is stating the obvious, so my obvious pick for New Zealand is the 2006 Sileni Estates Cellars Selection Sauvignon Blanc ($15.95 - #662882). Most Sauv Blancs from New Zealand are priced in the upper teens and above, this one sits in the mid-teens but tastes like it should be at least $5 more … it has typical pink grapefruit, grassy, lemon, asparagus and pear aromas – the taste is pretty in pink grapefruit and seems to last forever. You’ll also find the typical racy Sauv Blanc acidity present, but not too tart on the finish.

France (white) … Alsace is known for Riesling and Pinot Gris, and like the folks at Reese, Willm wondered what would happen if you put these two great tastes together. The good news is the experiment works and you this wonderful zippy Willm 2005 Pinot Gris/Riesling ($15.95 - #030627), tasty and juicy. Aromas of pears, green apple and peach on the nose; while in the mouth it’s soft and sweet-ish (but not too much so) … mac apple, some peach and good minerality – very nice and well priced. If you aren’t serving this wine at least once on your patio you’ve got more willpower than I.

France (red) … A buddy of mine turned me onto wines from Cahors a few years ago. Sure they need time to develop; sure they’re chewy and woody when young, and sure they’re as tannic as all get out; but what wine can you buy for fourteen bucks that you’ll be drinking and enjoying in ten to fifteen years. This Chateau Haut-Montplaisir Cahors 2004 ($13.95 - #673590) is a mountain of pleasure for you Cahors fans. The wine is black as pitch, typical for Malbec wines from this region, and has the stuffing to go the distance. Spicy blackberries on the nose with a tannin rich mouthfeel full of blackberries, currants and cassis flavours along with some spicy oakiness … and did I mention chewy. Value for the Q this year or for several years down the road.

Germany (white) … There are 3 German Rieslings in this release, all are delicious and worth the money – but if I had only one bottle to buy and felt like splurging a little, the St. Urbans-Hof 2005 Riesling Kabinett ($20.95 - #955328) would be my choice. Typically German with a low 9.5% alcohol, it’s light and refreshing with apple and peach notes on both the nose and taste. There’s also just a touch of sweetness and spritz as it enters the mouth … a yum factor of 10 with an exceptionally good length. If splurging is not your thing on June 9, save the 6 bucks and pick up the Zilliken 2004 Butterfly Riesling ($14.95 - #028456) it’s higher in alcohol (11.5%) with more citrus and lanolin tastes; not as refined as the Urban-Hof, but it does have a nice length to the finish and it’s quite tasty.

Spain (red) … If you’ve read this report till the end then you deserve to read about the real steal of this release: Raimat 2004 Tempranillo/Syrah ($13.95 - #014696), all I can say here is “hooray for Spain” – putting good quality, tasty wines in bottle for half the price of anyone else. This bottle would sell for $50-plus if it were French and $30-plus if Australian. Hip black cherry aromas intermingle with black pepper and spice – the taste is all dark fruit and fine tannins, with a good finish that keeps you coming back for more. Toss it in the cellar for a few years or bring it out at the final BBQ of the season, this one is guaranteed to be a real hit – and you’ll be remembered for bringing/serving it. What a way to end the summer.