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.