Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yeringberg 2002

There is nothing like an under the radar wine - it's like exploring a hidden world and flirting with a new personality. It may work, it may not - but when it does it's a fantastic experience. This is one such wine. I picked up this 2002 Yeringberg at about half price at Marquis wine cellars; for some reason it was not selling well and I got the benefit of other people's oversight.

This is not a typical Aussie wine - insofar as typical means big jammy, syrupy fruit bombs with no finess, which is not always a fair characterization of Aussie wines, many of which are nothing like this. However, what typically gets imported into Canada, and especially the mainstream stuff, is usually fruit bomb over-oaked stuff. This is unfortunate since Australia makes some absolutely amazing wine not of this character.

The Yeringberg is from the Yarra Valley in Victoria, near Melbourne and has been around since 1863. It has a rich opulent medium-red colour and consists of Cabernet Sauvignan, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec and so takes on all sorts of interesting characteristics while being very nicely balanced. The nose is heavy on the eucalyptus and cassis, and after about an our it took on a hint of rich meat. The palate has great integration and balance and simply superb acidity. I got notes of tart raspberry with a smooth minty breeze. It was a tad hot on the finish to begin with, but this dissipated with some air. The tannins are silky and help the wine develop consistently from the up front taste through the mid-palate and into the finish. The mid-palate is particularly well done with some great vegetal characteristics.

Final Verdict: seek out more non-typical Aussie wine.

$60 at Marquis (purchased for $35 on sale)

Burgans Albarino 2006

I was looking for a wine to pair with some halibut and was recommended to try a Spanish Albarino. Always being one who likes something new, and since I'd never had Albarino before I thought it would be fun to give this wine a try.

Albarino is grown in the Rias Baixas region of north west Spain and is neither fermented nor aged in wood. This is meant to give them a unique flavour profile and texture. While this is definitely true of this particular wine, I can't say I think this is a great example of the varietal, even though I haven't tasted others yet. The wine is tangy orange with a smooth texture, but it is supremely simple and, honestly, I found it to be pretty boring. Nevertheless it was much better than your average bottle of white at this price level and is a decent quaffing wine, albeit not an exciting one. Nonetheless, I am definitely going to be seeking out some more serious Albarinos in the future, since its uniqueness is pretty intriguing.

$20 at BCLDB

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Pacific Northwest Beer Sampler

So I've finally had a chance to consume the four pacific northwest beers I picked up at Brewery Creek on Main St. and it is time for the final report. The Pacific Northwest is a beer maven's dream with its dozens of craft breweries and its natural abundance of a wide variety of hops for these crafters to work with. Today I'll be looking at two breweries from two states, four beers, 2 porters, 2 stouts, and a bunch of empty bottles.

Rogue Brewery hails from Oregon and is widely distributed across the US, but not so much in Canada. Elysian Brewery is based in Seattle and is far more of a local micro-brew, rarely seeing the light of day outside of the Pacific Northwest.

Beer #1 - Elysian Perseus Porter

This is one hell of a beer. Balanced and subtle with low alcohol levels for a porter (5.4% abv), this porter has an abundance of robust dark beer malty flavours without being over the top, unbalanced, or overly bitter. It's texture is fantastic and every sip suggests the next. This is hands down one of the best porters I've ever had.

$7/bottle at Brewery Creek

Beer #2 - Elysian Dragonstooth Stout

This heady stout is dark and broody, creamy and delicious. It has great depth and concentration but wicked balance. This comes in around 7% abv, but you don't feel the alcohol as this is quite an easy drinking stout. Rarely do I taste stout of this level. Good job Elysian!

$7/bottle at Brewery Creek

Beer #3 - Rogue Chocolate Stout

I've reviewed this beer before, and it certainly is tasty. However, next to the Elysians it doesn't quite hold up as well as it used to. Yet, this is still chocolate malty goodness in a glass with a beautiful silky texture. So, while not as subtle and well integrated as the Elysian, it's still a very tasty brew.

Very Good+
$8/bottle at Brewery Creek

Beer #4 - Rogue Mocha Porter

The mocha porter is slightly bitter, but still reasonably balanced. It is fairly roasty and toasty with the malts, and has a nice length on the finish. The texture is creamy, but overall this beer lacks the complexity of the Elysian Perseus Porter and the sheer smooth chocolatey intensity of its brother the Chocolate Stout. So, while still a decent beer, this is my least favourite of the four.

Very Good
$8/bottle at Brewery Creek

So what has this tasting shown? The Pacific Northwest is the place to be for a good micro-brew. Plus, Elysian is a fantastic brewer that deserves more exposure - I highly recomment you seek out whatever you can from them. I'll be going to a beer tasting in Seattle in the summer, and if these four beers are indicative of the selection and quality I'll be a party to there, I am really looking forward to it.

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2006

A while back I reviewed the Cloudy Bay Sauv Blanc, giving it an excellent rating and noting that the winemakers behind Cloudy Bay had started another project. Well, this is that project. Dog Point sports an interesting spikey logo on the simple label which connotes some of the spikey character of the wine. I picked this up on a trip to Toronto at the LCBO for $22 - a steal. For some reason it is $11 more here in Vancouver and I think I'd rather go for the Cloudy Bay for $2 more.

This good value gem is like eating a juicy grapefruit on a bed of fresh cut grass on a fresh spring day as your new kitten comes by and pees on your leg. If that description doesn't get you hankering for a sip, what will! The wine has decent acidity but doesn't need to be consumed with food. The texture is silky and yet has a tangy freshness that keeps the mouth awake. The clay-like flavours are subdued, and while the wine has a tinge of cheap sauv-blanc-ness to it, it rises above the regular with its structure, texture, and finish. Plus, the nose is just entrancing.

Very Good+
$22 at LCBO, $33 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre 2004

Keeping with the tradition of pairing a cheaper Italian wine with a simple tasty pasta, I chose to pair my lamb sausage, feta and mint pasta with Allegrini's Palazzo Della Torre, an IGT wine (IGT is a new designation set up by the Italian government that has less strict requirements than the traditional DOC and DOCG labels, but is still supposed to indicate a 'finer' wine) from the Veneto and made in a unique style inspired by Allegrini's methods for the production of Amarone. I won't get into the details of that, since I find it kind of boring - but suffice it to say that it is not a typical ripasso style, although it still borrows intensity from the Amarone grapes, albeit with different techniques. The wine is made from 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Sangiovese.

The nose was black cherry and wood and felt a bit hot. On the palate the wine was moderately tannic and minerally with a health dose of sweet plum. It reminded me of a certain stoney-earthyness and its decent acidity gave it structure and sparkle. If I have a critique it is that the wine is too hot and alcoholic and so tends to have a bit of a harsh feel when swishing it around one's mouth. This mellowed a bit with air and food, but it was not a perfect match with the pasta. I think, instead, I would recommend a rich stewed or braised type meat. So, while not as balanced as I tend to like wine, this still had great concentration and flavour and ended up being decent and enjoyable.

Very Good
$30 at BCLDB

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Cult of Zin: A Zinfandel Tasting

This weekend I ran a fun little tasting event using the theme of Californian zinfandel from smaller producers that have built up a reputation based on the grape. It was a great event, and it really highlighted the amazing diversity of wine being made from the Zinfandel grape today. We focused on 3 wines from the Napa Valley and 3 wines from the Sonoma Valley.

We started with Napa and then moved on to Sonoma. Before I begin my tasting notes, I thought it would be interesting to share a bit of my research on the Zinfandel grape (since I didn't know much before the tasting). Firstly, Zinfandel is the 2nd most widely planted red grape variety in California and it tends to produce rich, jammy, robust wines with a purple-ish hue. Zinfandel vines can range from young plantings to super old 100 year old plantings, where the vines look a little something like this:

I remember seeing this on my trip to Napa/Sonoma and always thought Zin vines were pretty wisened. I hoped that since the vines themselves told a story that the grapes would be even more exciting.

What was most interesting about the tasting was that the wines produces a clear divide amongst the participants and that this divide was largely along regional lines. We began the tasting with the three wines from Napa:

Wine #1 - Turley Juveniles Zinfandel 2005

Turley is pretty much the definition of a cult winery. The waiting list is several years long and zin lovers swear by their something like 8 different Zinfandels. We are lucky enough in Vancouver to have a store that gets a small allocation of these wines, and I just had to pick one up for this tasting.

The nose suggested super ripe cherry and raspberry and the colour of the wine was a beautifully consistent light garnet. The palate was sprightly and alive with fruit, especially raspberry. While consisting of a massive 15.7% alcohol by volume, the wine was smooth and not alcoholic at all. Out of all the wines we tasted, this was to me the truest expression of fruit and the most 'authentic' or at least unique expression of the zinfandel grape. It did not have any commercial character, over-oakyness or any hint of over-manipulation. It was truly fantastic.


$40 at Marquis

Wine #2 - Elyse "Korte Ranch" Zinfandel 2005

The Korte Ranch zin from Elyse was heavily toasted and had an incredible nose of caramelized fruit, which only intensified with air. Elyse is another smallish producer that has built up a bit of a reputation for its zinfandels - so I was quite excited to try one. The wine was a dark maroon-like colour and promised to be something intense and dense. It did not dissapoint. The palate brought forth more caramel flavour coupled with boysenberry and had just amazing concentration. If there is any fault with the second wine was that it was perhaps too toasty, which overwhelms some of the purity of the fruit. It was still a fantastic bottle, however, and at least for me one of the highlights of the evening.

Very Good+

$40 at Marquis

Wine #3 - Hendry Block 28 Zinfandel 2004

Hendry is located in the southern Napa valley, right outside of the town of Napa. This zinfandel was completely different from the previous two in that it was built in much more of an old-world earthy style. I was very surprised to see this coming from a Zin. Another rich dark wine, the Hendry had a supremely silky texture and an amazingly subtle nose of blackberry. This was the most balanced wine of the night and had by far the longest finish. The tannins were moderate, but had a decent enough grip to maintain the wine's development from the initial sip through the mid-palate and to the finish. The wine also went fantastically well with appenzeller cheese (one of three cheeses we picked up for the tasting), which brought out a lot of the wine's fruit - mostly blackberry, but an intense and deep version of blackberry.

Very Good+

$55 at Marquis

After Napa we moved on to Sonoma, which actually brought forth a serious change in wine making style, texture and flavour. It was a fun experience!

Wine #4 - St. Francis "Old Vines" Zinfandel 2005

Wow, this was intense! The nose consisted of super open fruit aromas like blueberry and cassis. This wine was almost nothing but fruit and while I didn't love it by itself, with food, like the appenzeller or the Piave we had, it mellowed out quite a lot and became a little more balanced. This is pretty much the definition of a New World fruit bomb, and I felt it had almost no subtlety. It was not my favourite. However, at least half the group loved this wine, which goes to show you there is no accounting for taste! :) What it really shows is that palates differ greatly and that wine tastings are a great way to explore those differences. Rather than debate about the quality of the wines our group ended up having a lively discussion about the different styles of wine making and the various facets of wine in general. The divide made for an exciting night.

Good+ (My Rating, although I anticipate several people would have rated this Excellent)
$36 at BCLDB

Wine #5 - Seghesio Old Vines Zinfandel 2004

Seghesio has been receiving some rave reviews from major wine publications of late, but they have also developed quite a reputation amongst zin lovers. So, I had to give them a try. Interestingly, Sonoma tends to have much more old vine zinfandel than Napa. Part of this is probably due to the fact that Sonoma is twice as large as Napa, but I wonder about the density of Zin plantings in Sonoma vs. Napa. I also read that Sonoma was planted with vines long before Napa. Interesting!

The Seghesio had a nose of dustry earthy cherry. The palate revealed yet another fruit bomb, but this time with added complexity and depth. I found the wine to be intense, alcoholic, and heavy on the cherry and cassis. I didn't love it by itself, but when paied with Piave in particular it took on a whole new character and became quite a bit more balanced. Overall, a solid effort, if not my favourite.

Very Good
$45 at BCLDB

Wine #6 - Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2005

I have been waiting to try a Ridge wine for quite some time. They make a very wide range of Zins from both Sonoma and Napa. The Lytton springs version I think is the most readibly available and while it didn't meet my expectations it was a decent bottle of wine. However, given the interesting divide between the Napa and Sonoma Zins, I'd love to try out a "York Creek" zin bottling from Ridge since that particular wine hails from Napa. On to the tasting:

The nose was very blackberry and actually a little coarse. This wine is blended with petite sirah and carignan which added a realtively strong tannic backbone to the wine and helped to concentrate its flavours. Still, I was not overly impressed with the balance of the wine, especially compared to the Hendry. Nor was I overly excited about the fruit, which I found somewhat typical. I feel as though this wine would improve a lot with a couple years, although many zins are meant to be drunk young. With appenzeller the wine took on a much more blueberry like character, probably from the petite sirah. Overall this was good, although a big disappointment for me based on my expectations.

Very Good
$50 at BCLDB


So, there tended to be a huge divide between the Napa and Sonoma wines, with the Napa wines being far more drinkable on their own and the Sonoma wines requiring some food/cheese to temper their intensity. I tend to be a fan of balanced wines unless the intensity of a fruit bomb is tempered by some other characteristics. I have no hard and fast rules, though, as I do absolutely love Howell Mountain wines from Napa and they tend to be super intense - see, for example, my review of the Beringer Howell Mountain Merlot.

The Turley provided the truest expression of fruit out of all the wines and I will definitely be seeking out their higher-end bottlings in the future (the Juvenile is their cheapeast wine and is supposed to lack some of the character of their single vineyard zins). The Hendry was the most old world, and was perhaps the most elegant of all the wines. The St. Francis seemed to be a favourite amongst many, and it is good value at that. Just be warned that it is also a mega fruit bomb. The Elyse was probably the most concentrated of the wines while the Seghesio was the most complex of the fruit bombs. The biggest disappointment for me was the Ridge, although I preferred it to the St. Francis. However, given the ridge is $15 more, I would not go for it again.

In the end it was a fantastic tasting and I highly recommend everyone who has the chance to either organize one of these or attend one since they are a great way to compare wines and learn about wine amongst friends.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Binchoise Biere Speciale Belge

A little trip down to Brewery Creek beer and wine store on main street brought forth a bunch of beer that I have not seen elsewhere in Vancouver. I will have a special updated Pacific Northwest Beer tasting note within a week or so, but I thought I'd start off the reviews with this little Belgian beer from Binchoise. Now I've had many from Binchoise, including their tasty Speciale Noel ale, but I've never seen this anywhere before. As seems to be the trend in Vancouver, the beers the BCLDB doesn't carry are so much tastier! This was a great find.

The Biere Speciale Belge is very floral and slightly metalic in taste. It also has a strangely pleasant sea-shore like odour that is extremely subtle but also a nice level of complexity. This is a smooth and easy drinking Belgian and comes in at only 5% ABV. A tasty, although expensive, way to froth up the evenining.

Very Good+
$5 at Brewery Creek

Friday, February 15, 2008

Majella Sparkling Shiraz 2005

It was a foamy red-pink Valentine's last night with a bottle of the 2005 Majella Sparkling Shiraz, which I first had the opportunity to taste at least year's Vancouver International Wine Festival. I met the winemaker at the show and his personality definitely shows in the wine: buoyant, exhuberant and over the top. This is pretty fun stuff and well suited for a lovers tryst.

The nose is spritely and very berry-heavy. The wine has a great creamy texture, perhaps assisted by the small amount of port that is mixed in. The bubbles give it great freshness and the palate is alive with fruit such as black current and black berry, structured by a tinge of mineral flavours. If anything, this will wake up the mouth and put you in a good mood. Tasty stuff.

$40 at BCLDB

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro 2003

This week brings another Wine Blogging Wednesday Extravaganza brought to you by Andrew from His clever theme involved picking any Italian wine and then giving a tasting note in 7 words. WBW's have had an illustrious tradition of encouraging the humble wine blogger to break their regular patterns and do something creative, whether it is trying an unheard of region, a unique varietal, or in this case approaching wine in a unique fashion.

The wine I chose for this week was a special pick from my cellar - a 2003 Ruffino Chianti Classic Riserva Ducale Oro - a renowned chianti. And, without further ado here is the review:

"Fruit alive with wit, but classically tempered."

I look forward to reading everyone else's notes! My full tasting notes are as follows:

This is a beautiful wine - in fact one of the best I've ever tasted. It consists of stunning fruit, excellent balance, perfect acitidy (crisp but mellow), and moderate and well structured tannins. The fruit is very light berry flavours like rasberry and strawberry, but it is tempered by earth and stone-like sentiments and structured, as I suggested in my 7 word review, with great wit and yet with a strong classical temperament. Great wine, great theme, great night.

$50 at BCLDB

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Phillips "The Hammer" Imperial Stout

Being ill is not fun. Being ill when you love wine is just cruel. I am finally on the path to recovery and had the chance to taste a tiny bit of this beer. I limited my intake to a couple ounces so I don't have the full experience, but I just couldn't resist trying this new beer from a BC brewery I generally like a lot and in a style I also tend to love.

The first time I tried this beer I had it at room temperature, which tends to bring out the flavours a bit more in this style. It was very dark, chocolately, very roasted charcol-like flavours and also reasonably bitter. It wasn't my favourite Imperial Stout since I felt it lacked complexity and depth in the finish, despite being pretty well balanced.

However, when I drank another couple ounces of this cold it was quite a bit tastier and smoother, as the bitterness was tempered and the balance accentuated. So, while not a favourite of mine in this style, I think it might be a great place for someone new to heavier beers to start, given it is far more balanced and less alcoholic than many.

Everybody raise a glass to getting better!

$7/650ml at Private Stores

Monday, February 4, 2008

Beni Di Batasiolo Barbera D'Alba Sovrana 2005

Today was another pasta day, which called for another simple rustic Italian wine. I chose a Barbera D'Alba from Beni Di Batasiolo to match my Fettucine con Osso Buco made with a light parsley mushroom sauce. Barbera D'Alba is located in northeast Italy in Piemonte nestled between the Barolo and Barbaresco regions, and generally produces relatively inexpensive and yet ageworthy wines. I usually like to go to Barbera to pair with simple Italian dishes because it has depth and a high level of natural acidity without being overly complex or tannic so as to conflict with the simple flavours of Italian cooking. So, on to the tasting...

This is a simple but quite tasty wine with a nose largely of burnt hay and smoky barnyard. The palate consists of sour cherry, very slight cassis flavours, a tinge of earthiness, and barnyard. The firm acidity holds up well to food and the simple finish is none the worse to wear when coupled with a tasty pasta dish. Overall, a good value and proof that the Italians know how to make fine and tasty simple wines.

Very Good
$25 at BCLDB

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Abbaye D'Aulne Triple Brune Special Brown Ale

Despite my previous post, this is actually a dark triple ale - and I think that's maybe what gives this its unique character and style. The Abbaye D'Aulne is a moderately sweet brown ale at 9% abv with slightly metalic floral aromas (although in a good way, at least for me). It's not as great as the Koningshoeven, but it is great for a basic brown ale - it's smooth and not overly carbonated - so it's easier drinking than many Belgians. I feel like this will be a love it/hate it type of brew since its flavour profile is pretty unique. But, for me, something unique and complex is usually what I'm looking for, so I find this to be quite a nice beer.

Very Good+
$10 / 750ml Bottle in Seattle

Stag's Leap Winery Petite Syrah 2003

So I had heard that Stag's Leap Winery was well known for their petite sirah and had produced a cult following for their take on this varietal. Given that I'm a petite sirah lover, I had to give this a try, even though it is reasonably pricey - and, I have to say that I'm quite impressed with the effort.

First off I have to note that this wine is exceptionally well balanced for a petite sirah, and I thought it at times suggested a fine cab sauv in its balance and power. What elevates this beyond basic petite sirah, though, is that this balance is coupled with a great flavour profile with a nice ebbing and flowing of flavour developments ranging from toasty caramel flavours to cherry and boysenberry (but well balanced) and red licorice. The tannins were a bit too heavy on the first day I drank this, but really mellowed by the 2nd day, although if you do pick this up you might want to let it sit a while longer or pair it with a moderately flavoured creamy cheese to moderate the tannins and bring out the fruit. In any case, I very much enjoyed drinking this and while maybe a tad expensive it is definitely unique for the petite sirah varietal.

$50 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Thoughts on Wine Tasting

I was just reading a very interesting posting on wine ratings and reviews over at vinicultured and felt the need to say a little something on the topic.

Wine reviews and tasting notes are a strange thing. When made by "experts" they create the pretense of objectivity and support the idea that one person's taste should dictate another's. I think this fundamentally misses what makes wine so great. Wine is not about winning, about ranking (there is enough of that in law school already), or about evaluative comparisons. Wine, at least for me, is about the sensuous expression of our inner life mediated by the nature of the grapes and the crafting of the wine by the winemaker. Writing a tasting note is, thus, more about trying to express the inexpressible and it is this attempt that is most indicative of what makes wine so great.

I always thought it was interesting that the sense of smell is so closely linked to memory and is perhaps more evocative of distant reminiscences than any other sense. That is probably why we rely on metaphor and memory so much when writing wine tasting notes. I think this brings wine to a level beyond just alcohol - it is evocative of our past, our memories, thoughts about life, etc. It is a wonderful sensuous expression of our intellectual life that should never be reduced to some sort of ranking system of objectification. Otherwise, what's the point?

Koningshoeven Quadrupel Trappist Ale

I actually drank this ale over a week ago, but forgot to put up my tastings notes. I am a big fan of heavy-duty belgian style ales, especially those that are dark and have a high alcohol content. This Quadrupel, at 10% alcohol, pretty much fits that ideal and is a fantastic bottle of beer. Quadrupel refers to the number of times the beer has been fermented, so you can imagine that after 4 fermentations it's hard to keep the alcohol very low. Also, it is interesting to note that Dubbels and Quadrupels are generally dark beers while trippels are light. As far as I know there is no real reason for this - but maybe I am missing out on some nuance of belgian beer crafting. Koningshoeven is here clearly working in the tradition of great beers like St. Bernardus abt. 12 and Rochefort 10, and I think they did so pretty successfully while not quite reaching the level of those two beauties.

As with most heavier Belgians the Koningshoeven is quite carbonated, which may be to some people's distate as it forces you to sip rather than gulp the beer (which is a pretty good idea given it is 10% abv) unless you want to fill your belly with a lot of air :). There are excellent root flavours, vanilla, and a little spicy herbalness to the palate. The finish is quite nice and of a decent length (given this is beer after all). Overall I'm pretty impressed with this and it will definitely be added to my rotation of top heavy Belgian ales.

$6 / 280ml bottle in BC - ($10 for 750ml in California)