Saturday, November 29, 2008

Niepoort Redoma 2003

Niepoort is best known as a family firm producing superb vintage ports. However, although this part of their operation has less breadth of recognition, they also produce some fantastic dry red blends from grapes grown in the Douro valley. I think Portugal is an exciting place for wine right now, although they are having some problems with marketing themselves as well as the other big European exporters. They are, nevertheless, worth seeking out for good quality and good value dry red wines.

This particular red blend was very rich and dark in the glass. Its nose of blueberry, plum and earth was powerful and yet restrained. A tasty earthy and blueberry tang fills the mouth as the wine progresses smoothly to a licorice and herb-like mid-palate and into a nice mid to long finish. While not terribly complex, I do think the Redoma strikes a good compromise between flavour, drinkability and length. It is, perhaps, a tad too expensive in this market, but I expect it is less than half price down south.

Very Good
$56 at BCLDB

Friday, November 28, 2008

Conde de la Salceda Rioja Reserva 2001

I have been developing a taste for Rioja lately, but I like a style that walks the line between the new and the old world. Sometimes I find classic Rioja a bit too reserved and out of balance, but some other examples have really sored. I think what makes a good Rioja special is its ability to combine quality fruit with savory characteristics without going too far in either direction. This particular wine was a gift from a good friend.

On the nose I found big red berries - mainly raspberry - and earth. The palate was very juicy with chocolate, cherry and raspberry. The mid-palate and finish brought in earthy notes and a nice mineral core. While not complex, this was a well made and tightly balanced tempranillo, somewhat like an acrobat walking the tight rope: it carries a heavy burden of fruit down a thin wire of earth, minerals and acid. My only complaint is a tinge of mustiness on the palate that may be the result of very slight cork taint. Otherwise, this was very well made.

Very Good+
$? (Gift)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Marquis Wine Cellars' French Fete

Marquis is a special wine store here in Vancouver. They seek out lesser known and high quality producers from around the globe, but especially from france. I have had the good fortune of benefiting from their expertise and recommendations for a couple years now. This event was their celebration of all things French while also being a charity fundraiser for the Fraser Academy - and what could be better than drinking wine for charity!

The event was well constructed and Marquis had plenty of fantastic wine to go around, although I found the importers less impressive. However, one big problem was that nearly all the restaurants who came to show off their wares and provide some bites to accompany the wine ran out of food in ONE HOUR! Yes, one hour. I don't know what these chefs were thinking, but running out of food at a wine tasting event so close to its opening is a huge faux pas in my books and reflects very poorly on the restaurants (Le Gavroche, Cru, Salt Tasting Room, Provence and Senova ran out of food very quickly while Bistrot Bistro and Benton Brothers cheese had enough for the majority of the evening), especially considering 1. this was a charity event, and 2. all the guests paid $75 each to attend. That said, Marquis itself did a fantastic job and I hope they send out a nasty email to the restaurants chiding them for this ridiculous oversight.

There were quite a few wines, so I will only be discussing those I think were worthy of discussion - which was plenty, and I will divide them as Marquis did by region or by importer (if not provided by Marquis). My notes were pretty concise given the constraints of the event.


Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sevre et maine Sur Lie 2006

A good quality muscadet for the price, I'm afraid I'm not sure this grape is for me: grapefruit and licorice but hot on the palate.

$19 at Marquis

Reuilly Pinot Gris 2007

Tart, very dry citrus. I found this quite simple and not as flavourful as the last wine.

$24 at Marquis

Domaine Huards Cour-Cheverney Romarantin 2005

I'd certainly not tried this grape before and found it quite unique: petrol, apple, pear on the nose with a floral palate and a thick texture.

Very Good
$23 at Marquis

Domaine Huet Demi-Sec Vouvray 2006

Huet is one of the top producers in Vouvray so I was excited to taste this. Strangely I got blue-cheese on the nose with grapefruit and other rounded citrus (the sweetness cut the tartness well). But what really made the wine stand out was its silky and subtle texture that filled the mouth beautifully. Thick and ripe, but balanced.

Very Good+
$44 at Marquis

Domaine Guion Bourgueil Cabernet Franc 2005

Smells like a wet forest floor. A very woody classic cab franc with nice aromatics and full flavour. Fantastic for the price.

Very Good
$18 at Marquis

Natter Sancerre Rouge 2006

I've never had a Sancerre Rouge before so this was pretty exciting. Made from Pinot Noir and very much like a Burgundy Village wine with its strawberry funk nose. However, the palate was very savory and perhaps a little too dry and not delicate enough for me. Unique though, and worth a try.

$32 at Marquis

Henry Pelle Mentou-Salon Rouge 2005

Another Loire red with dusty red fruit and savory pepper filling the nose and palate. A simple but incredibly food friendly wine that went fantastically with the 1 bite of food I had that evening. Get this to pair with a salty and rich dish.

Very Good
$28 at Marquis


Barmes-Buecher Pinot d'Alsace 2004

This is a wine to get those who drink only sweetened alcohol into something a little more serious. So, while sweet, this is full and flavourful with orchard fruit, particularly pear. Nice mouthfeel too.

Very Good
$27 at Marquis

Albert Mann Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois 2007

Citrus and apple dominate. I found this standard and a little boring.

$26 at Marquis

Albert Mann Rosenberg Riesling 2006

Classic petrolly nose with lime on the palate. This was unbalanced and I would prefer a German Riesling over this for the price.

Very Good
$48 at Marquis

Weinbach Riesling Cuvee St. Catherine 2004

This was serious stuff and had a beautifully intense and aromatic nose of petrol and clay. While off-dry, the sweetness was very subtle and the palate sparkled with minerals and tight acidic structure. Balanced. A very nice riesling in a different style than I am used to (being a German and Austrian fan).

Very Good+
$59 at Marquis


Arnaud Ente Aligote 2005

Big toasty almond nose with superb depth and concentration but also bright and balanced acidity. I've never had Aligote like this - a find of the show and worth every penny.

$40 at Marquis

Potel-Aviron Fleurie Vielles Vignes Beaujolais 2005

A Beaujolais Cru, and a good one at that. Licorice and strawberry, very bright but not over the top acidity. This is very food friendly and could age for some time. Also, a good value.

Very Good
$33 at Marquis

Tollot-Beaut Bourgogne Rouge 2005

A basic red Burgundy with funky roasted fruit on the nose. Delicate and aromatic, I enjoy this sort of thing a lot more than the new world style of Pinot. Again, food friendly.

Very Good
$39 at Marquis


D'Agassac Haut-Medoc 2005

Very approachable now with classic cedar and cassis on the nose. Very expressive, smooth and balanced. A good place to see the potential of the vintage young.

Very Good+
$43 at Marquis

Gree-Laroque, Bordeaux Superier 2005

Spicey dark fruits. Tannic now, but good structure and body.

Very Good
$45 at Marquis

Clos Puy Arnaud Cotes du Castillon 2005

A minty cool nose, the palate on this was quite different from all other Bordeaux's I've had so far - clay-like even. I have a hard time placing this. Long finish.

Very Good
$55 at Marquis

Chateau Beau Soleil Pomerol 2005

Very very nice. Chocolatey, funky and flinty that had superb length and structure. Finesse and elegance abound.

$65 at Marquis

Duhart-Milon Pauillac 2005

Woody, dark berries, cassis. A potent palate with less finesse than the Pomerol, but with the structure to last quite some time. This needs the most age out of all of the Bordeauxs.

Very Good+
$110 at Marquis


Chateau de Cazeneuve Pic St. Loup 2004

100% Roussane. Honeyed and floral nose that was rich and round. I really enjoyed this and would pick it up again.

Very Good
$30 at Marquis

Tardieu-Laurent Les Grands Augustins 2006

Peppery sweet fruit. I was expecting a bit more balance, but this was certainly flavourful and again it isn't over the top so it can pair well with food.

$20 at Marquis

Domaine Tempier Bandol Classique 2004

Mmmmmourvedre. Ok, that was bad. Funky sweet dark berries with real intensity. I love he colour on this - very dark and rich. I would love to try their higher end bottlings because this was quite good, balanced, and not at all clumsy, which I've experienced with other Mourvedres before (this is blended, though).

Very Good
$39 at Marquis

Clos des Fees Rousillon Rouge Vieilles Vignes 2004

Apparently this is getting very good press in France. Very unique nose, with foresty, maybe pine-like characteristics. I also got pepper, earth, and some sort of barn animal. Still tannic, this needs time, but I am intrigued.

Very Good to very Good+
$53 at Marquis


L'Oratoir St. Martin Blanc, Cairanne 2005

I've had this before, but it tasted better tonight. Rousanne/Marsanne blend: honeyed and floral with good rich flavour.

Very Good
$34 at Marquis

Grand Nicolet, Cotes du Rhone 2006

All the 2006's I've tasted from the Southern Rhone are really shaping up fantastically and this is another stellar example. Cool minty aromatics with nice dark sweet fruits like plums and blackberries. I enjoyed the balance and concentration of the wine and found it very expressive and approachable. A fantastic value.

$22 at Marquis

Mas de Boislauzon Cotes du Rhone 2006

Thie is classic CDR: peppery, gamey, brambly fruit. Very enjoyable, but a little less balance and finesse than the Nicolet. I certainly want to try Boislauzon's Chateaneuf, however.

Very Good
$22 at Marquis

Domaine Monardiere Vacqueyras 2006

A farmy wine with good flavour but somewhat clumsy structure. Unfortunately, I don't have the greatest notes for this.

Very Good
$30 at Marquis

Domaine la Barroche Reserve Chateaneuf-du-pape 2005

Very nice purity of fruit - fantastic concentration in the very authentic red and dark berry flavours: raspberry and blackberry dominate. The potency is coupled with pretty serious tannins right now, but I think in 5 years this will be stellar. Certainly a good value.

$50 at Marquis

Free House Wine and Spirits (Importer)

Cousino-Macul Sauvignon Gris 2007

A unique pre-phyloxera Bordeaux variety that stood out as a peachy, orange and grapefruit concoction without the cheap tang of crappy whites. A modest use of oak gives complexity while not dominating the fruit. A balanced wine with acidity.

Very Good

Chateau Montfaucon Baron Luis Cote du Rhone 2005

Much better than the last time I tried this, but still too expensive for what you get. Licorice and earth with subdued fruit. I was hoping for a little more fruit purity, but this does have structure and finesse that gives it ageability.

Very Good

Chateau Pesquie Quintessence Cotes du Ventoux 2004

Big blockbuster wine. Less structure, but more power than the Montfaucon. Minty dark fruits with a real punch. A question of style preference.

Very Good

Charton Hobbs (Importer)

Domaine La Lieu Organic Chardonnay vintage?

Classic orchard peachy and a little creamy chardonnay. Nothing that blows you away, but very few chards at this price come close.

Very Good

Paul Mas "Clos des Mures" Coteaux du languedoc vintage?

Big black fruits. Drinks well now with solid integration. A good value, but made more in the new world style.

Very Good

So, those are the wines I enjoyed most at the tasting. I appreciated the quality brought by small french producers at outstanding value and if anything this tasting demonstrated the importance of supporting lesser known and unrated wine makers.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Penny's Hill Footprint PHV Rows 9-14 Shiraz 2004

Here we are back in McLaren Vale so soon. Penny's Hill is a little producer that has pushed a niche for itself in the Vancouver market - a well deserved one - with their rich good value red dot shiraz. This is their high end bottling made from a small number of rows from their top vineyard site.

Before I get into the wine, I have been wondering recently how many professionals have a desire to give up their usual careers and pursue wine not just as a hobby, but as a full fledged 'job'. I've considered this. However, I am yet to be convinced, despite certain urges, for the following reasons:

1. I ultimately want to have a positive social impact with my work, and while wine does produce an abundance of happiness, I don't feel that I could make any special impact in this respect in the wine business.

2. I am afraid that if wine were to become a career it would lose its pizzaz and poetry. And, in the end, that's the entire reason I'm into it.

3. I prefer to be able to afford to buy the good stuff for my personal enjoyment rather than having sips at tasting events - which no doubt once you become successful is no longer a concern.

I'm curious to hear any readers' opinion on this issue.

Now, back to my personal non-professional enjoyment of the Footprint shiraz. This has a rich concentrated almost southern rhone-like nose with some earth, cherry, wood and a little mushroom. The palate, however, is purely Australian and very McLaren - big creamy rich plum, cassis, cherry, and vanilla. I get a mushroomy note on the long and full-bodied finish, but maybe I'm on crack. This is certainly a fruit bomb, but a dang good one with great length, fine ripe tannins, and intense but not abrasive concentration. Needs 5 more years.

Very Good+ to Excellent [I think this will be great with age]
$65 at Steamworks Liquor Store

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vina Chocalan Gran Reserva 2005

I have enjoyed Chocalan's Cabernet Franc in the past and had wanted to give this a try, so when I saw it at the local BCLDB I grabbed a bottle. A nose of big dark black fruits, plum, and dark roasted coffee. The palate offered cassis, chocolate, coffee, toffee and plum. This had decent structure and potency for the price and was very flavourful. However, this was slightly hot and unbalanced. A good drinking wine for the price.

Very Good
$25 at BCLDB

Prunotto 'Castamiole' Barbera d'Asti 2000

I decided recently to skip over a bunch of my older tasting notes and start writing about wines I was actually drinking around the time of posting. I find it much more enjoyable to write up a wine in proximity to its consumption. However, today marks an opportunity to get through at least a couple older tasting notes (I have notes for around 40 wines sitting around!).

For this wine, however, I don't really need a note - I remember it clearly. Prunotto has been a favourite of mine since I had a large sampling of their range at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. I had heard good things about their Barbera, but didn't chance upon it until the new massive Everything Wine warehouse opened up in North vancouver. I am glad I got my hands on this.

A nose of roasted meat, smoky bbq, and very rich raspberry. The palate was smoky still, but in a more subtle way, with tar, cigar, and a core of luscious raspberry again. But this is a style of raspberry fruit that you could only get from Italy - raw and forward and built to pair with food. With an elegant mouthfeel, a proper structure and excellent balance, this, to my mind, is as close to perfect as Barbera gets. Prunotto does it again.

$60 at Everything Wine

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape 1998

I've been running through a host of older bottles lately. This seems to happen at the end of every first semester for some reason. I think the cold weather, first grey skies for months and the exam period brings on the urge to treat myself to something more than ordinary. Sometimes I am treated with something extraordinary. This is just such a bottle.

Beaucastel has a vaunted reputation. I have tasted some of their more recent wine and it was so intensely closed I couldn't fully appreciate it. The 2005 got on the Wine Spectator top 100 list and seems to have sold out of the province within a few days (before I had the chance to get any). I was, however, lucky enough to obtain a 2005 hommage de jacques perrin - perhaps the most storried wine in chateauneuf du papes. Perhaps in 20 years I will be reviewing that wine as a hologram (thanks CNN). However, I had this special old bottle waiting and felt I should open it to commiserate and celebrate :).

What can I say, I have never really tasted anything like this before. This is a very special wine. A wine to savour, a wine where each sip takes 2 full minutes to appreciate. This experience reminded me what aging can accomplish.

The colour was light brownish red - almost pale. This faintness belies the complexity and power of the liquid itself with a nose of cherry, earth, licorice and pepper. Now, I know I've written descriptors such as those before, and I am remiss to use them to describe this experience, but it is not so much the fact that the identifiability of the flavours changed. Rather, it is their character - I feel as though I have been exposed to the essence of cherry, to the subtle dusting of earth that blows across the vines at night - as if licorice were the blood of the vines and pepper the spice of their leaves. Each component has such an outstanding quality that they come together to make the whole transcend the details.

When I first sipped this I immediately thought WOW!. This was not a wow for intensity, juicyness, tannins, or palate overload. This was a wow of elevation - more like Aristotelian wonder. Unabashedly elegant spicyness soared into very friendly fruit, with a full, round, elemental palate. Some very fascinating metalic/mineral elements like zinc came into the picture in the mid-palate and the finish remained as complex and intense as the wine for 30 seconds, while taking another 2 minutes to drift off into a profound moment of silence. This is wine for the philosopher, the poet, the man who watches the rain streak down the window pane and says nothing. A rare experience - and one that every wine lover seeks to find at least once in their life. I am glad to have done so at such a young age.

$120 at BCLDB

Altesino Alte D'Altesi 2003

I very much enjoy Altesino wines, at least the Brunellos and Rossos I have had before. This, however, is Altesino's forray into the land of SuperTuscan blends and comprises of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. While certainly international in style, in a crowded market, I just didn't find that this stood out enough.

The nose was very herbal and meaty, but overall it seemed unbalanced. On the palate I found wood, herbs, meat, earth, spice, dark berries, and wild blueberries. This had a firm structure, but was not elegant and despite its potency and the sweetness of its fruit, I found it too clumsy to warrant the price. This is a $20 bottle.

Very Good
$65 at BCLDB ($34 US)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Beringer Bancroft Ranch Howell Mountain Merlot 1997

I first had this about one year ago. In fact it was one of my first reviews and was my first reviewed wine at my highest rating. So, it was very interesting to return to it again and see how it developed (I have 1 left for a rainy day).

This is a serious merlot. Soft dark and red fruits on the nose with caramel and scorched earth. This wine is just incredibly supple and has remarkably clean fruit anda telling full mouthfeel. While this has really subdued compared to last year, it was still very luscious, but has now taken on a very pretty component that is vaguely floral. Butter, nuts and fruit cake compliment the clean berry flavours.

The finish is a perfect microcosm of the wine itself - like drifting off to sleep on a pristine winter day, just before christmas, as sugar plums dance in your head. Perhaps Beringer should rename this "Ode to Saint Nick". This has got to be one of my favourite all-time wines, and I'm not even that 'into' plenty of merlots.

$90 at BCLDB

Monday, November 17, 2008

Torres Mas La Plana Gran Corona 1994

For once I am writing a note contemporaneously to drinking, and I think that's because I am having a hard time with this wine. I am not quite sure if it does it for me or not. Here we have a pretty aged Cabernet Sauvignon from Spain - one with a splendid reputation. The nose was typical cab to me with cassis, cedar and earth. But when moving into the palate this has lost most if not all of its fruit, while also picking up plenty of secondary flavours. The question for me, though, is do I like wine with severely diminished fruit?

There is no doubt that plenty is happening on the palate with cedar, tobacco, leaf, earth, cigar box, tar, and graphite. Still firm tannins hold the wine together and there is a lot going on despite the fact I detect a subtle hint of cork taint (should I return this?). The lingering finish is long and robust. But, there is no fruit to carry the wine forward. I feel there is only so much tar I can take without a counter-balance. I have experienced before with other famous aged cabs (a 1983 Chateau Haut-Brion for instance). I'm not quite sure if it is my preferences, or if I need something more like the 1993 Shafer Hillside Select I tried in Napa a couple years ago (still wearing plenty of fruit while also carrying fantastic secondary and tertiary flavours similar to this wine). A tough call, but I feel many would love this wine.

P.S. with air the fruit has come through into the palate and the nose has added a distinctly gamey component. It is getting a lot better, and ups my rating one notch. In fact, the fact the fruit now pushes through makes a huge difference and I think this is better than the 1997 Gruaud Larose I had a while back. Interesting.

$70 at BCLDB

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Super-Premium Aussie Wine Tasting

I decided to take my last tasting group on a bit of a bonanza through some expensive and iconic wines from Australia (unfortunately no Grange). We tasted through 6 bottles of leading Aussie wine, with fairly differing results from the Crowd. All were well made and tasty, but there was a clear 'winner' for me that greatly surpassed the others. Let's take a look at the wines.

Wine #1: Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay
Vintage: 2003
Region: Margaret River, Western Australia

This wine has been hailed by many as Australia's best Chardonnay. Penfolds' Yattarna is usually included in that group, and I have previously tasted that as well. We were definitely drinking this too young as it probably needs another 5-10 years in the bottle to fully expand. The nose was very tropical with a touch of vanillan oak. Liquid crystal in the glass, this was quite pure and pristine to look at. The palate, though, was quite subtle with hazlenut, pineapple and other tropical fruits, striking minerality and subtle toast. With a silky and very supple texture, this Chard had a lot to offer, but was not neraly complex or bracing enough for me at this price point. I definitely preferred the Yattarna for its bracing acidity and ripping minerality. With age, though, that could be another story.

Very Good+
$115 at Kits Wine Cellar

Wine #2: Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier
Vintage: 2004
Region: New South Wales, South East Australia

These guys pretty much represent the top of the line for Shiraz/Viognier cote-rotie style blends in Australia. Made in limited quantities and with a reputation that sees them sell-out quite quickly I was happy to see this at the local wine store. The nose was incredibly aromatic with earth, honey, intense violets, eucalyptus and spice. So incredibly profound. The palate, however, brough this to another level for me with perhaps one of the most unique and alluring mix of flavours I have yet tasted: floral and violets, pepper, suppple red fruits, and an endless finish. This wine exhudes elegance and profundity in its structure and balance. The best Australian wine I have ever had, and one of the best I've had period.

$90 at Kits Wine Cellar

Wine #3: Ben Glaetzer Amon-Ra Shiraz
Vintage: 2006
Region: Barossa, South Australia

Glaetzer is a bit of a hot shot wine maker who has steadily increased his profile over the years. This is his pet-project wine and the flagship of the Glaetzer range. Made from 110 year old vines and unfiltered the nose on this wine had confection, chocolate/mocha, and expansive cherry aromas. Very balanced, creamy, and far more elegant than I expected, this had a fantastic structure with a very thoughtful amount of acidity. Its richness was complimented fantastically by aged Gouda. 99 Points from Parker.

$85 at BCLDB

Wine #4: Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz
Vintage: 2006
Region: McLaren Vale, South Australia

A controversial wine made in a hyper-manipulated and extracted style. This has become a critic's darling and was named as #7 wine of 2008 by Wine Spectator. I have previously had the Mollydooker 'Boxer' Shiraz which I didn't like that much, although I recognized that others would. This, however, as a big improvement on that with an extremely confection heavy and rich nose that expanded into a palate of cassis, coffee and candy floss. It was a pretty simple flavour, but it did it to the best of its ability. A sweet style shiraz, but this was way better balanced than the Boxer. I liked it, but did not love it.

Very Good+
$100 at BCLDB

Wine #5: Clarendon Hills Hickinbotham Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage: 2004
Region: McLaren Vale, South Australia

Known for creating controversial, super intense and massive wines, the winemaker Roman Bratasiuk has established himself as one of the most lauded and hated winemakers in Australia. That said, I found this to be a quite elegant and well structured cab. While definitely new world, it did not feel hyper-extracted and had a napa-like bouquet of leather, earth, cedar and mint, which extended into the palate. Very nicely made and not what I was expecting.

$100 at BCLDB

Wine #6: St. Hallet Old Block Shiraz
Vintage: 2004
Region: Barossa, South Australia

St. Hallet is a Grant Burge project, and Grant Burge is considered one of the best wine makers in Australia. The Old Block is one of Australia's most famous shiraz's. This was pure barossa goodness, with great purity of fruit and an unashamedly Australia style. The nose was spicey with rich black and red fruits, with the palate peppery and cherry filled. A great drinking wine, but lacking the complexity of the majority of the other wines we tasted.

Very Good+
$65 at BCLDB

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dr. Loosen Riesling Auslese "Wehlener Sonnenuhr" 2005

I had this on the same night as the Roslack to compare something at 1/4 of the price. I wanted to get a sense of whether the Roslack was that far superior to an already respect but much more reasonably priced riesling, this time from the Mosel region.

The Loosen Auslese had a nose of classic petrol, minreal and citrus. This was not nearly as complex as the Roslack. Neither was the palate, with whipped cream, trifle, peach and pineapple flushing the palate with dessert-like intensity. I found the sweetness handled less well in this compared to the Roslack, with it being more toffee-like and sticky. The Roslack, on the other hand, had the delicate touch of a properly sweetened dessert from a high-end restaurant. So, despite not being as balanced, well structured, or delicately perfumed as the Roslack, this was still pretty tasty. However, it is not something I would drink that often.

Very Good+
$55 at BCLDB

Schloss Johannisberger Roslack Riesling Auslese 2006

An extremely expensive bottle of Rheingau Riesling here - at $100 retail for a 375ml bottle. Here was a chance to taste greatness in a Riesling at last. The nose was replete with layered mineral aromas, multiple types of citrus (including some tropical citrus), and a very slight scent of petrol.

The palate was quite expansive with peach, apple, key lemon pie, spice, grapefruit, apricot, and an amazingly delicate texture. Like gossamer in the mouth, but with more weight and structure than expected from such delicacy and low alcohol, the Rosalat certainly was a very beautiful riesling. However, at this price I was expecting more. This was great paired with migneron cheese and caribou and fig terrine.

$100 ($65 on sale) at BCLDB

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An Evening with Catena Zapata

Yesterday I had the good fortune of winning a contest to dine with the wine educator Jeff Mausbach from Catena Zapata and taste a full range of their high end wines. I was joined by 4 other winners, all of whom were very nice and very much unpretentiously passionate about wine, and the rep from the wine importing company that brings Catena into Canada (Calibrium) who was also quite insightful about the wine business. It was a great night and a great chance to taste some brilliant Argentine wines. I drank everything with lamb chops - a very nice combination.

A little bit on Catena Zapata: a winery that takes their wine making very very seriously, sparing no expense, these guys have been experimenting for decades to find the perfect vineyard sites and blends to make wines that can compete with the best in the world. Nicolas Catena apparently holds a PhD in statistical economics and taught for two years at Berkeley in the 80's, all the while visiting wineries in Napa and honing his techniques. Often taking years to experiment before releasing any wine, Catena has a very serious attitude towards quality. Jeff at the dinner put it well when he said a mantra of the winery is a famous quote from a french winemaker that "tradition is an experiment that worked". An interesting premise that exposes the relationship between risk, innovation and cultural acclimation. Catena certainly has an interesting philosophy of wine and wine-making, and I think this shows very well in their wines.

Before the dinner, I attended an in-store tasting with Catena of several of their 'lower end' wines, all of which were quite impressive for their price point, and I will start with my impressions of those.

Alamos Chardonnay 2007

On the nose I got toasty vanilla and pineapple, with the palate continuing the pineapple trend into citrus territory. There was a relatively strong sense of oak on the back end, but this was buoyed by a solid acidic structure that made this really stand out for its price.

Very Good
$15 at Everything Wine

Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Light in colour for Cabernet, this wasn't what I expected. A light berry nose of raspberry and blackberry was doubled in the palate and coupled by a very subtle touch of oak, and, again, firm acidity. The tannins were quite subdued with this very food friendly but also very light Cabernet. A good value.

Very Good
$18 at Everything Wine

Alamos Syrah 2006

Adding weight as I moved along the reds, this syrah was quite fantastic in its minerality and roundness of flavour. Cherries and currants with secondary flavours of earth, chocolate and coffee, this had impressive structure for its price.

Very Good+
$18 at Everything Wine

Catena Malbec 2006

Entering much richer territory, the Catena Malbec had a big meaty nose coupled with cassis and a touch of old world funk. The palate offered pepper, coffee, vanilla, and a very long finish for this price point. Perhaps slightly hot in the back end, this was very slight and would probably diminish with one hour of decanting. This, to me, is an everyday wine par excellence.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$23 at Everything Wine

After the in-store tasting, we headed off to Arm's Reach Bistro in Deep Cove for a fantastic flight of high end Catena goodness, starting with a white...

Catena Alta Chardonnay 2005

A very well made buttery style chard that yet had sufficient restraint to prevent it from becoming an 'oak monster'. A big nose of very rich nectarine and plush citrus fruits, the palate coupled the fruityness with creamy and caramelly oak. Yet, as with all the wines from Catena I had tasted up to this point, the core of acidity was well placed and held the wine up very well. While I tend to like slightly less oaky and creamy chardonnays, this is a superb example of that style.

Very Good+
$40 at Everything Wine

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Now we're talking. A fantastic plummy, blackberry, chocolate and Eucalyptus nose that expanded into cedar, bitter chocolate and plum on the palate. A big fruit-driven wine that was still very very balanced. I found this cab to be quite napa-like, but I would expect to pay twice this in napa for the same quality. The cab also had a very solid integrative structure, and fine tannins that lifted the fruit into a very full-bodied palate.

$54 at Everything Wine

Catena Alta Malbec 2005

One important item to note was that the serving temperature of all these wines was perfect, probably sitting at around 14-15 degrees. The temperature really helped bring out the fruit and purity of the wine and I think was essential to their quality. The Malbec had a plummy and earthy nose, but was fruitier and perhaps even richer than the cab. The palate was earthy and gamey, and reminded me a little of a good southern rhone wine, without any rough edges. The astonishing thing to me with all the wines was the perfect balance they achieved between alcohol, acidity, oak, fruit, tannin and secondary flavours. It was a remarkable achievement. Personally I think this Malbec maybe needed a little more bottle age to show its full complexity, but was quite a fantastic wine nontheless.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$65 at Everything Wine or BCLDB

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2004

What a stunner. A blend of 78% Cab and 22% Malbec, this wine could easily be compared to top-fight wines from around the world. Wines, that is, that sell for substantially more dollars. A rich super-intense nose of briar fruit, eucalyptus, and cream puff - not explosive, but incredibly expressive. While the palate had great purity in its blackberry and cassis fruit, this wine was all about finesse, impressive structure, and balance very very rarely seen in wine. With the lamb chops this stood out as the ideal pairing. Truly world-class - this is a must buy for me.


So, in the end, a fantastic event that I was very pleased to be a part of. This experience has convinced me of the world-class quality of wines available from Argentina and I will never forget the stunning revelation of the last wine. Thanks to all who made this possible, and thanks, mostly, to the winemaker. A Bodega worth noticing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacionale 2001

I've become quite fascinated with Portuguese dry reds in the past couple year after tasting a Quinta do Crasto old vine Douro blend from 2004. Over time I managed to pick up a fair sampling of Crasto's more expensive bottlings on sale at the signature store in downtown Vancouver. The aging potential is still not the same as top french wines, but I like the fact that these wines can be consumed younger - I already have enough stuff waiting in the cellar as it is.

The nose on this Varietal wine (Touriga Nacionale) was rich in bacon fat and luscious dark fruit. The palate was incredibly silky with blueberry, chocolate, and dark berry compote. Round and port-like, this was also delicate with very fine tannin. Perhaps fading slightly now, this could have used a bit more grip, but the elegance and rich luscious fruity goodness was unmistakable. So, while this wine didn't have a crazy bevy of complex layers nor a particularly long finish, it did have incredible purity of fruit. And, that is pretty enjoyable in itself.

$80 ($54 on sale)

El Maestro Sierra Fino

The march of the sherry bottles continues. This fino was another NYC purchase and added a great deal of complexity to the mix compared to the Manzanilla I just reviewed. With a nose of banana chip, musty oak, a slight Gewerztaminer element and baked brown sugar I was quite entranced. Pairing superbly with cured meats, the palate was quite expansive with smoky, spicey, fennel-esque and herbal notes all coming together in a well structured very food friendly sip. Highly recommended.

$15 for 375ml in NYC

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Doudet Naudin 'Les Vignots' Pommard 2005

A Savigny-Les-Beaune from 2005 that came recommended as a fantastic early drinking example. Pommards can be iffy, but I trusted the recommendation and was glad I did.

The nose was very typical, but had excellent concentration and intensity: cherries, burnt hay, barnyard. Pommards are known for power and this certainly fell along those lines with a palate that brough all the nosed flavours together with a spiced backbone, medium tannin, sharp acidity, superb balance and a nice long finish. This is very high quality juice with a firm and potent structure. If you are looking for an 05 burgundy to open now - this is a good candidate.

$50 at Everything Wine

La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sherry

I am not sure why, but the marvelous style of wine from Andalucia in Spain seems mostly lost to North Americans. Perhaps it was the dominance of nasty British cream sherries that did it. Nonetheless, the rediscovery of sherry is beginning and I have finally jumped on for the ride. I recommend any self-respecting wine-geek to do the same as there are some stunning experiences to be had. I am planning on heading to Jerez next year and am very very excited given my experiences so far.

This is the first sherry I tried in a traditional style. Manzanilla's are very very dry and should be consumed young. The nose on this had the distinctively oxydized smell that typifies sherry, but also brought forward raisins, nectarine and honey. The sherry itself was a little thin in flavour, but was certainly nutty and salty - a bit like the sea. Very dry and acidic, this is meant to pair with food, particularly cured meats and tapas, which I did. Pairing sherry is perhaps the most fantastic experience I've had with pairing yet. So, while in the end I found this particular sherry a tad too alcoholic (insofar as I could taste too much alcohol), at the price it was a good buy. And, it began my journey towards even more exciting sherries, many of which will pop up in future posts.

Very Good
$15 for 375ml in NYC

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Alto Moncayo 2003

This Spanish wine comes from the little known Campo de Borja region and is 100% Grenache. 2003 being a hot year, I expected alcohol, and this beast brought home over 15% alcohol by volume, although it carried this quite well. The nose had classic sweet cherry notes and an interesting aroma of rich nuttyness, reminiscent of hazlenut. The palate expanded the sweet cherry into meatyness and a pronounced scorched earth flavour and texture (probably from the heat, although I find this characteristic of old-world Grenache).

The structure of the wine was well-rounded and had good balance for such high alcohol. A nice touch of oak led into a slight scent of bitterness on the back end, which I was unsure if I liked or not. Tasty, but overpriced.

Very Good+
$65 ($42 on sale) at BCLDB

Markus Molitor Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling 2005

The other day brought the consumption of yet another German Riesling due to my propensity to eat asian food. Coming from a small but respected producer in Mosel, the wine's nose was very burnt and petrolly, with a touch of limey minerality. In a word, a standard nose with a bit more concentration than usual.

The palate was lime and rich apple (perhaps something like Royal Gala), but brought little else to the table. Well made, concentrated, but nothing super exciting, despite the vineyard and the vintage.

Very Good+
$42 at Private Liquor Stores

Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2001

One of the few 'shiraz' based wines in Australia to go by the name syrah, I suppose in an attempt to suggest this wine's similarity to a French Rhone-style syrah rather than an Australian fruity concoction. I definitely thought this mostly succeeded in that respect.

The nose was creme de Cassis and distinctly floral violets with hints of vanilla. The palate continued the trend but added a brilliant core of acidic minerality and a smoky bacon component, much like a Northern Rhone syrah. However, the character of the cassis was unmistakably Australian, which made for a pretty unique combination. All it was missing was a bit more weight and depth, which could come with either age or a different vintage.

Very Good+
$70 at BCLDB