Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nicolas Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2004

Coupled with the Almaviva, this was the second wine I had to celebrate the end of the term. I have a lot of respect for Catena and am a huge fan of their entire range of wines, but this was my opportunity to sample their high end single vineyard Malbec.

A very dark purple in the glass, almost like beets - this may, in fact, be the darkest wine I have ever seen. The colour suggested the power of the wine, and I discovered stunning notes of flowers, game, raspberry, and red currents on the powerfully explosive nose. The palate got even more intense with blackberry, chocolate, blueberry, graphite, licorice and spice. A tremendous wine with unbelievable concentration and texture, this has the backbone to expand for many years and become a stunner of a wine.

$106 at Dundarave Wine Cellars

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

De Bartoli Noble One 2003

Here we have perhaps Australia's most famous dessert wine, made in the Sauternes style, but at a fraction of the price of the venerable Bordeaux sticky. I paired this with St. Agur blue cheese, which worked very nicely.

Rich and golden in colour, the palate was distinctly honeyed and floral (perhaps lavender). Expanding with a big vanilla palate coupled with brown sugar, pineapple, caramel and banana cake, Noble One is certainly a robust wine with intense, even explosive, flavour. However, I have to admit that I felt this lacked balance and was a bit over the top with its sweetness. If a wine could be so hedonstic as to deter from enjoyment, this would be a good example. Not an everyday dessert wine, this nevertheless performs at, rather than above, its price point.

Very Good
$30 for 1/2 a bottle at BCLDB

Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Kabinett 2006

Another celebratory wine, opened a couple days after the Almaviva. Hot on the heels of the Estate Riesling (and, frankly, surpassing it), this beauty had a voluptuous nose of mandarin orange and grapefruit. The palate had incredible complexity and was lightly effervescent with clay, mandarin, quince, honey suckle, clementine, persimmon, apple, slate, madagascar vanilla, and flowers. Any long time reader will notice the dramatic multitude of descriptors here, and this is not a transition to a new style. Rather, this is an indication of the shere virtuosity of this wine: emanating an exuberance of flavour that I rarely experience.

Once again I found this to have amazing articulation and balance. A special wine that pulls the palate into its entrancing spell and will not heed to any remonstrations against its seduction. An unctuous and compelling wine at a great price.

Excellent to Excellent+
$38 at BCLDB

Almaviva 2005

Back from vacation, I found a moment to post on the wine I had to celebrate the end of the semester a few weeks ago. I have had little chance previously to taste high end Chilean wine, so I figured the conclusion to my last semester of exams at UBC warranted a nice bottle (see you next year in California!). While I initially intended to have a bottle of Nicolas Catena Zapata, that was corked - so I opted for this: a Chilean adventure from Baron Rothschild and Concha y Toro (of Don Melchor fame). Ostensibly, this is made in the Bordeaux style as a Cab dominant blend.

Almaviva is a wine with a superb nose of rose petals, tobacco, Indian spice, mint, cedar and cassis. The palate was killer - both full and crisp with a formed and expressive balance. There was a distinct meatyness to the palate - perhaps gamey - that I find distinctive to Chilean Cabernets from Maipo. A very very long finish (3 minutes) rounded out this nicely sculpted wine that I thought was both a beautiful blend with a distinctive personality and a delightful cross of old and new world styles. On day 2 this added tremendous complexity, and I figure that if this is cellared for 10 years it will be a very special wine.

$133 at BCLDB

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Top 10 Wines of 2008

Exams are over, Christmas is near, and my last semester of law school will be spent at UC Berkeley basking in the proximity to many very tasty wine growing regions and one of North America's best cities. What better time than now to reveal my top 10 wines of 2008. This isn't really an attempt at an authoritative wine-spectator like list, but rather a list of wines that I thought were exceptional and special in one way or another. Whether it is sheer quality brilliance or outstanding QPR, all of these wines were inspiring, unique, and had real personality. And, without further ado, here they are!

Honourable Mention: Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Amontillado Viejo 30 year old Sherry

Not only was I introduced to the wonders of sherry this year, but I also had the chance to taste this: a beautiful, unique and extremely complex creation that merged subtle sweetness and lightness with robust caramelly vanilla oxydative flavours. Not only is sherry amazingly tasty on its own, but it is also the absolutely most perfect accompaniment to tapas made with Spanish spices like paprika and saffron. Wow, this was a food and wine pairing revelation! And, it was only $33 for a half bottle sitting at 20% abv.

#10: Domaine Saint Antonin Faugeres 2004

Bought on a whim, this wine turned out to be one of the finest QPR wines of the year. A mere $30 for the bottle, this had a stunningly expressive nose of scorched earth, blueberry, cherry, spiced meats, earthy tones, and very distinct pencil/graphite notes. This may, in fact, be the first time I have truly tasted pencil shavings in a wine as more than a subtle tertiary flavour. And, it all worked so wonderfully. A true winter warmer with briary comfort.

#9: Domaine Saint-Damien 'La Louisiane' Gigondas 2004

I have a weak spot for the Southern Rhone. Even so, this little wine from a tiny producer absolutely blew me away with its sheer intensity and concentration. And yet, as with all the great Southern Rhone wines I've had, this never even came close to being over the top. Add to that a mere $38 price tag (for a wine I think is worth $60) then you have a real winner. What is so special about the Saint-Damien is its sense of place. This tastes like pure Gigondas - made extremely well, reaking of soil and dried fruit, and structured in a rough and ready drinking style made for your braised meats. Fine fine suff.

#8: Donnhoff Estate Riesling 2006

I wrote about this recently and raved about this wine's articulation, balance, fruit quality and mineral cut. This soars past rieslings at twice the price, and while completely allocated, the estate riesling isn't too hard to find. A stunner and probably the best riesling I've ever had - and this is without getting into the single vineyard territory. At $33 you can't go wrong.

#7: Mystic Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Another lucky find, and proof that when small vineyards in unknown regions go right, so do wine lovers. Clearly the outstanding wine in the portfolio (the others are nothing special), this cabernet had a density and smoky aged complexity that tasted like something three times the price. Very intense, very unique, and filled with bacon fat, smoke, tobacco, and piercing cassis and cedar this was one hell of a wine, especially at $36.

#6: Daniel Dampt 'Cote de Lechet' Chablis Premier Cru 2006

I love chablis, but this wine is something special. Lifting beyond the average, even for the often outstanding premier cru's, Dampt's Cote de Lechet should strike the heart of any chardonnay lover, and even convert many of the 'red-wine only' crowd. A very food friendly wine, but also perfect for sipping in spring or summer weather. Find this, buy this, and open it on the first day of spring. Another good value at $38.

#5: PradoRey Elite Tinta Fina 1999

Speaking heavily for the wonders of spain, and particularly Ribera del Duero, the PradoRey is not a highly extracted wine - but, it is also not a rustic old-style wine like you would find in Rioja. No, this is an old world but modern wine made in a terroir style that should yet appeal to an international palate with its fantastic fruit character. Old world fans will not be disappointed, however, for this wine is replete with earth and savory herb components. Pair this with lamb and you won't need to look any further. $55.

#4: Ridge Santa Cruz Mountain Estate Chardonnay 2005

This wine is hardly a secret, since, I believe, it hit #2 on the Wine Spectator's top 100 a year or two ago. However, one taste of this awesomely lush hazlenutty potion of hedonism confirmed that high stature. Perhaps the best new world style chardonnay I have ever tasted, this also comes in at about half the price of leading Napa chards - $50 - and is sure to blow pretty much everyone away with its beauty, intensity, clarity, and sheer tastyness. If you can find any, you are a lucky individual.

#3: Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier 2004

Apparently Wine Spectator only gave this 75 points. Huh? This is one of the nicest and prettiest wines I have ever tasted and is true to its origins as an Aussie style Cote-Rotie. One of the most floral wines I have tried, this was also delicate, fruity, and a sheer joy to sip - never tiring on the palate and in fact introducing more with each sip. A huge favourite with many from my wine tasting group, this wine shows Australia's true potential as a leading wine-producing nation. Forget your $150 Barossa and McLaren Shiraz's and get this. $90 here, but $60 in the US.

#2: Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes 2005

Sure 2005 was a marquis year for Bordeaux. Many, myself included, have raved about the wonders of 2005 for Bordeaux and not so many have noted that those venerable reds will require 30-40 years in the cellar before they hit their prime. Furthermore, the 2005 Bordeaux release saw perhaps the most shocking inflation in the wine world yet, with price increases over 2004 being from 100-300%. However, with all that hype it seems that almost everyone has forgotten about Sauternes, which produced some of the greatest dessert wines ever in 2005, and inflation was generally non-existent or limited to a reasonable 5-10%. The 2005 Suduiraut is probably the greatest dessert wine I have tasted next to the 2000 Graham's vintage port. The nose was entrancing and the palate explosively fruity, and yet with amazing earthy components. A sweet wine for the ages. This wine packs a hell of a punch now, but will improve for years. $65 for a half bottle.

#1: Nicolas Catena Zapata 2004

I had this at the Catena dinner I attended and, even given the quality of all the other Catena wines, this stood out as one of the finest Cab blends I have had the opportunity to taste. Sadly, I purchased a bottle of this to celebrate the conclusion to my exams and it was corked! Of all the mailto:&@%5E$&@! Nonetheless, I will exchange that bottle and get to revel in the glory of what I think is Argentina's finest red wine. Made for red meat, especially lamb, the coolness, expressiveness and purity of this wine is astounding. This compares to the top wines from any region in the world and yet commands a price that is a fraction of those. Let's see $130 for this or $500 for the Clarendon Hills Astralis, or other similarly priced cult wine. No contest, and sitting confidently at the top of 2008.

Above the List: Chateau Beaucastel 1998

I put this above the list for several reasons. First, it is an aged wine. Second, it is an aged wine from a storied French wine producer. Third, drinking this was an experience more than a bottle of wine. Fourth, a bottle like this comes around, at least for the normal human being (and even the normal wine afficionado), only a few times in a lifetime. Superb, expressive, pretty, concentrated, authentic, long, full, attention grabbing - every sip provides an experience and a memory. One of the greatest wines I have ever tasted and I hope that all of you will get or have had this experience before.

Question for 2009: Have you had an experiential moment with wine? Something that has transcended the materiality of the bottle? If so, what was it? If not, what are some of your wine hopes for the future - what do you realistically hope to taste or experience as a special moment in your wine drinking history? Any top wines of 2008 to share?

This will likely be my last post until the new year as I have family obligations and such until then. So, if I don't get the chance to post for another two weeks, happy holidays to all and may sugar plums and bottles of Bordeaux dance in your head! Cheers!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Catena Alta Malbec 2004

I picked this up on sale, making it a more normal price. I've had this before at the Catena dinner I attended and was impressed but not blown away with it there. This is my second try, and my opinion has changed little.

Here we have a nose of chcolate, game and blackberry. Rich and fruit dark berries on the palate with a little pepper and spice. This has what I like to call a 'brambly' character to it. Great body and structure with nice length. However, while I wouldn't go so far as to call this unbalanced, I would call it slightly rough, and that brings the rating down a notch for me. I prefer the Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon more than this.

Very Good+
$65 ($44 on sale) at BCLDB

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gallante Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

I get excited about small producers, especially those from lesser regions. I find that the QPR on these wines can be great, and they also often surprise a jaded palate with new textures and flavours. There is, however, always a risk with seeking out the small vineyards. When you have less money, less experience and lesser land, sometimes the wine just, well, sucks.

Here we have a Carmel Valley California Cabernet - not a very common combination of region and variety. The nose seemed a little baked to me with red berries and alcohol. This was not a typical Cab nose. On the palate I found this a rather light-bodied Cabernet with some astringency on the finish and greenness in the palate. Awkwardly built and unbalanced this very woody wine just didn't work. Too bad - I had high hopes.

$40 at Steamworks Liquor Store

Graham's Malvedos Vintage Port 2001

My first introduction to port many years ago was, perhaps fortuitously, with a half bottle of the Graham's 2000 Vintage Port, selected almost randomly. This was an absolutely stellar bottle and made me wonder why I hadn't had port before. I later found out that 2000 was a brilliant vintage for port and that the Graham's 2000 Vintage received 98 points from Wine Spectator. This port is still available today, but at $80 for a half bottle - $50 more than I paid.

Thus it was that I couldn't resist picking up a bottle of this 'lesser' port from Graham's in a year where a vintage was not declared. The Malvedos, however, is a single quinta port, meaning that it is made from a single vineyard, the grapes from which are normally used as the backbone of the regular vintage bottling. The single quinta ports come out when the weather wasn't good enough to declare an official 'vintage' year. The price reflects this, but if this bottle is any indication, great values are to be had here.

The nose was grapey, chocolatey, and filled with sugared plums and dates. Very rich and a little boozy - but not 'hot'. The palate was well tannined and full and introduced pepper and spice with figs and dates. With a texture that was rich, smooth and very beautiful in the mouth, a perfect sugar level, and a brilliant sumptuousness, Graham's upheld their reputation in my mind for top level sweet wine: simply put, not many sweet wines taste this good. And, of course, this voluptuous liquid paired perfectly with chocolate (it went particularly well with a maple infused chocolate bar that was dappled with alder smoked salt from a lovely local chocolate maker).

$32 for 375ml

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Donnhoff Estate Riesling 2006

After listening to Barry and Joe rave about the virtues of Donnhoff, and hearing that BC Liquor got a limited shipment of a few of their rieslings I had to give them a try. This estate riesling is the most widely available Donnhoff, and it still astonished me. I have some of the single vineyard stuff waiting for the right moment, and if this wine is any sign, it will be special.

The nose on this riesling was absolutely fabulous with grapefruit, passionfruit and orange vibrantly rushing forth from the glass. The palate continued these elements while adding apple and minerality. There were two main reasons this wine stood above most rieslings I've had, however. First, it had an incredible articulation and balance of acidity and sugar beyond almost any white I have tasted. Second was the texture. It was long and light in the mouth but also incredibly full flavoured - with slicing minerality that didn't detract from the fruit but actually enlivened it. Amazingly, the acidity was quite restrained, but sufficient to always keep you longing for another sip. Brilliant stuff - get this whenever you can.

$33 at BCLDB

Turley Contra Costa County Duarte Zinfandel 2005

Despite being a cult winery (or perhaps because of this) Turley seems to get a bad rap from some. I have heard them decried as overly alcoholic unsubtle wines. With this being my second experience with Turley, I can't say that I'm sure where these criticisms are coming from. In my limited experience, Turley zins have an amazing clarity of fruit that is actually incredibly uncommon in the world of zinfandel - indeed showing the potential of this grape.

The nose held raspberry, cherry, strawberry and spice, which opened into a palate of juicy rich blackberry and cherry fruit that was ripe and wonderful. The wine was pretty much replete with tons of authentic berry juice complimented by caramel, spice, licorice and vanilla brought by the well used oak. Simply put, this is not just very tasty wine, but has a purity and clarity of fruit that is rarely seen. Even if you think you don't like zin, you owe yourself a taste of Turley. In my opinion, these guys make nearly perfect Zin.

$60 at Marquis

Petaluma Coonawara 2004

Cool climate Australian wine is the underdog of the Aussie wine world, at least in North America. So many consumers go for Barossa or McLaren heavy duty fruit beasts without realizing the climatic variation in Australia and the massive impact that it has on grape quality. Perhaps the North American critics have brought all the profile to the two main regions without spending enough time on the cooler versions. That, at least, leaves them to discover for the rest of us, and thankfully keeps prices relatively sober.

This Petaluma red blend is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot mixture with Cab being the dominant grape. At once on the nose one notices cassis, licorice, with black and blueberry compote. But, as with most cool climate Australian wines I've tasted, there is a distinct calmness to the nose that bespeaks the perhaps greater balance present in the best of these wines. The palate was suave, with cassis, cedar and mint predominating like a classic cab. However, the merlot seems to have really smoothed out the palate and the tannins are very fine. There is great purity of flavour and the wine is long and full in the mouth with a nice touch of tang on the finish. Cool climate brilliance.

$50 at Marquis

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wine From a Rubber Teat

Ok, I saw this over at Dr. Vino's wine blog and had to post something here. The full story is here. For those who don't want to click the links, basically there is a fondue restaurant in France that serves wine in baby bottles. This model is being brought over to New York City for a new restaurant concept there at "La Cave des Fondus". I mostly had to comment on this because I have actually been to the French version of this - way back in 2001 when I was living in England.

To get into the establishment one merely had to walk down a few steps and seat oneself at a picnic bench style table. When I went there with my friend I had just finished a full day of walking the city and needed sustenance badly. For anyone who has been to Paris, getting real sustenance at a reasonable price can be quite difficult. This place was cheap, so it fit the bill. Three things went wrong:

1. I didn't realize how disgusting it is to get all your calories for a day of walking from melted cheese and stale bread cubes.

2. About 5 minutes after my friend and I sat down, a group of about 20 insanely raucus Italian tourists walked in. I am not stuck up about people having fun nor do I like silent restaurants. But these people were screaming at the top of their lungs, so much so that the restaurant owner had to ask them to be quite at least 5 times.

3. The wine came served in baby bottles.

I don't know about you, but drinking wine from a rubber teat was not my idea of a healthy way to consume liquids. Although Freud may have been proud to see a literalization of regression, I couldn't help thinking about how many other mouths had sucked on that particular teat.

Now, seven years later, I found out that someone thought this was such a good idea that they should bring it to New York City. I know that NYC has a reputation for new and strange experiments, but unless the proprietors also offer diapers and bonnets at the door, I'm not quite sure how this makes any sense. I also just found out there was a reason for this strange French practice: namely that the French only tax wine served in glasses, so serving it in baby bottles avoids the tax and adds a nice touch of French irony. In America the only irony in "La Cave des Fondus" is that its 'hommage' to a Paris institution is an un-ironic restaurant where Americans can act like babies. And, that, my friends is how irony becomes parody.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Uvaguilera Aguilera Palomero 1999

This wine came highly recommended to me as a special bit of juice from Ribera del Duero in Spain. Despite the price difference with the US (it is $40 there), I decided to give this a try because of the recommendation. Apparently Uvaguilera also makes a barrel selection version of this wine from the top 40 barrels, at twice the price.

This wine certainly aged well - it had a nose of blackberry, earth and vanilla that was rich and intense while also being perfumed and exceedingly pleasant. The palate had a limestone edge with distinct herbs, licorice and lush black berry fruit filling out the mouth. This was very very layered and had a complexity and depth way beyond the norm. The very long finish 45-60 seconds made this a great wine - and, if you could get it at the US price, the steal of the century.

Excellent to Excellent+
$95 at Everything Wine

Alvaro Palacios 'Les Terrasses' 2005

Having just finished my second last exam yesterday, it is time for some more catch up posting! This particular wine is made by one of the all-stars of Spain's now famous Priorat region. Alvaro Palacios was one of the pioneers for Priorat and has seen the wines from this region go from backwater jug-wine to world-class cult wine, with Palacio's top wine L'ermita going for $888 here at BC Liquor.

This wine is Palacio's entry-level wine, and while still not cheap, offers tremendous value. This is not an over the top mega wine that Priorat has become known for. This is, rather, one of the most complex expressions of Grenache that you can get at this price point. With a nose of cherry, licorice, and leather this was still a bit tight at the time of drinking - although also still expressive. Clearly there will be more to this nose in the future. The palate was leathery, earth and replete with blackberry. Dense and concentrated without being opulent, this wine is not at all flabby and has tight acidity and a strong tannic back-bone. Really here we have a wine with superb aging potential, incredible concentration, and real personality. A brilliant wine and vintage. Very highly recommended.

Excellent to Excellent+
$55 at BCLDB

Vincent Arroyo Winery Petite Sirah 1999

One of the few remnants from my Napa and Sonoma trip a couple years ago, I picked up this petite sirah at a little winery in Northern Napa right before a special celebration. They had opened their wine library for sale the next day so I got picking of some old small production Napa wines. How could I resist? They consider their Petite Sirah to be their flagship wine.

I don't know too many people who have had the chance to taste a nearly 10 year old Petite Sirah, so I was very excited upon opening this bottle. The nose was nutty and very jammy with plums and blue fruits abound - very opulent. Understandable for Petite Sirah. However, the palate is where things got interesting: sure it had big black fruits, chocolate, cassis and oak - but it also had a distinct woodsyness and a refinement and elegant I have not yet tasted in Petite Sirah. Furthermore, the finish was incredibly long - far longer then any other PS I have tasted - with great acidity. My biggest complaint was that over time it became unbalanced and maybe was a little unstructured to begin with. A big wallop of fruit up front collapses into the woodsy mid-palate. However, despite a little awkwardness I still thoguht this was pretty elegant - strange maybe, but true. An interesting experiment in aging Petite Sirah, clearly aging this variety is possible and it works. This paired great with the Morrocan lamb stew I had for dinner. I recommend checking Arroyo out in Napa if you are down there - they make some tasty stuff that is different from the norm (great blends too).

Very Good+
$50 USD at the Winery

Domaine Jean Marc & Hugues Pavelot Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru "Aux Guettes" 2005

I may have forced this open a little early, but I was looking for a mid-weight Burgundy to go with a particular cheese. Anyhow, this premier cru comes from an area of the Beaune that is known for lighter bodied, but good value pinots. I believe there are no Grand Cru vineyards in Savigny-les-Beaune, and that they lack the muscle of other premier crus. However, they come in at a far better price. Pavelot is a quality producer that I think has a fabulous sense of 'terroir'.

The nose on this was all strawberry and rhubarb pie with a hint of candied cherry or cherry jam. It was very pretty, which I like and hope for from good Pinot. The palate was savory with earth, thyme, strong flavours of Rhubarb stalk, and strawberry. The finish took the Rhubarb stalk further and added a nice earthy and slightly metalic component. This may be a bit stemmy and astringent right now, but it tastes nice and I think has good potential for the mid-term. Not a long haul wine, but the textural smoothness and fullness in the mouth promises more in the future. Right now, again, probably too young.

Very Good to Very Good+
$63 at Marquis

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Herman Story Lerner Vineyard Syrah 2005

I got this Santa Ynez Syrah on a great bargain from the BCLDB downtown. I am increasingly impressed by Santa Barbara county wines from California, and I enjoy very much their much lower price points compared to the Napa powerhouses. It's amazing how a fantastic vineyard that has been producing fantastic wine for 40+ years in Santa Barbara County is outpriced by a startup in Napa.

Here we have a beautiful nose of scorched earth, herbs and game. This VERY southern-Rhone like nose (i.e. almost grenache like) expanded into a very syrah-like palate: creamy raspberry and blackberry, rich and full and toasty. Even though this has high alcohol (15.9%) the wine carried it very well and was structured, balanced and packed a great flavour punch. I liked this a lot better than most of the high octane Aussie wines at the same price point.
$46 ($32 on sale) at BCLDB

Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2007

More catch up - and another Aussie, but this is of a very different ilk than the Glaetzer. I drank this when it was a lot less cold outside. Clare Valley riesling is, unfortunately, a sort of lost treasure in Australian wine. Critics and wine geeks love it, but it is hard convincing the average wine drinker to have a riesling. I know too many people who drink 'only red' or 'hate sweet wines'. 'But it is bone dry!' I protest. If you pair this with asian food, though, you might win a few over.

The nose was classic petrol and lime and pleasantly aromatic. The palate was round and full with lime and sour grapefruit and a very long finish. Extremely full bodied for a riesling, I also detected fascinating notes of brine and river stone. Very very nice stuff and an alternative/comparative to Grosset.

$40 at Everything Wine

Ben Glaetzer Godolphin Shiraz/Cabernet 2005

Catch up time. I drank this quite some time ago - in fact, before I did the Premium Aussie tasting. Sometimes getting all the notes down can get a little overwhelming! Ah the trials and travesties of a wine blogger.

A nose of plum, chocolate, licorice and spice opened into a sweet and fruity palate with noticeable vanillan oak notes. A very extracted wine, but not artificial tasting like Mollydooker. Fruity, solid acidity, and tons of flavour. Good stuff, but highly overrated by the likes of Parker. I thought the Amon-Ra was vastly superior at $15 more.

Very Good+
$70 at BCLDB

Domaine La Monardiere Vacqueyras 'Les Calades' 2006

Vacqueyras wines are not terribly profuse in this market, and accordingly I have only had a handful. I normally love the Southern Rhone, however, so it was easy to give this a try at a relatively low price point.

The nose was simple and forward with red berries, pepper and licorice. The palate was peppery, gamey and a little vegetal. Overall I enjoyed the decent flavour profile and this wine's capacity to pair well with food, but I found it otherwise a bit thin and lacking in fruit concentration. It's nonetheless good for the price and I think may be a bit of a style-wine, meaning that likes and dislikes could be divided quite strongly based on a style preference.

Good+, but Very Good (with food)
$30 at Marquis

Thursday, December 4, 2008

An Ojai Trio

Ojai Vineyards is one of California's more controversial wine producers. The winemaker, Adam Tolmach made his name with high octane alcoholic super intense wines. Later, he wrote an article decrying the overuse of alcohol in California wine. So, where does he sit now? It seems that he is planning on restraining his winemaking. The vintages and wines I will be tasting are pre-declaration, however, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out. As a note, NONE of these wines had alcohol percentages listed (despite the BC law otherwise), hmmmm.

Wine #1: Ojai Vineyards Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay ‘Clos Pepe’ Vineyard 2005

Here we have a nose of toasted nuts, mainly almonds, and rich round apple and pear. The palate was replete with pineapple, toast, banana, and citrus – predominantly lime. With a nice balance of acidity and lushness, this wine reminded me of a perfect meringue. Full and long in the mouth, with great punch and clarity.

~$50 at Marquis

Wine #2: Ojai Vineyards Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ‘Clos Pepe’ Vineyard 2004

The nose was all spice and strawberry – in fact I detected a very distinct blend of mulling spices, making this a great Christmas wine. The palate was actually less fruity than expected, and had great notes of cinnamon, clove, orange rind (dried and slightly bitter), and musty earth. I really enjoyed the palate – it was a cut above most New World pinots I have had. There was a touch of heat on the back end, but this was not at all offensive or extreme. And, it was freakin’ amazing with Foie Gras

~$50 at Marquis

Wine #3: Ojai Vineyards Santa Barbara County Syrah ‘White Hawk’ Vineyard 2004

Here is where I began to understand Ojai’s reputation. This was a mother of a syrah: a huge nose of roasted red fruits such as cherry, chocolate, game and scorched earth. Very big and juicy, almost creamy with rich chocolatey and dried fruit flavours on the palate. Very tasty, but too alcoholic and big for me – even unbalanced. The extraction is a little crazy and overwhelmed the palate somewhat. Maybe with a super rich red meat dish this would work better.

Very Good to Very Good+
~$50 at Marquis

So, in the end I was quite impressed with this Ojai trio, and didn't think they should be that controversial, except for the Syrah. I definitely recommend seeking these guys out and giving them a try, no matter what your predilections. You may, in the end, not like the wines, but you will learn something in the process.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Foster's Wine Estates Premium Tasting

Tasting events come in many shapes and sizes: winemaker's lunches, wine store tasting bars, festivals, and of course the buyer's tasting. I had the good fortune to be invited to the lattermost event hosted by Foster's Wine Estates just in time for the Christmas stocking season. As an event, the tasting room was quite 'tastefully' set-up at the District 319 theatre at, of all places, Main and Hastings. A long row of premium Californian and Australian wines sat on the large concrete bar at the centre of the room, prompting me invitingly when I arrived. While I tasted the wines from lighter to fuller bodied, I will order my tasting notes by producer. Overall it was a successful and well-designed event. Nearly all the wines listed below are 'spec' items, which means you will have to go to a private liquor store to obtain them.

Beringer Sbragia Limited Release Chardonnay 2005

Toasted nose and a nice rich palate with orchard fruit. Round, but not flabby, this is great for the style, but in my personal opinion the Private Reserve chardonnay is a better buy. A lot less boring than the Wolf Blass Chard I also tasted (note below).

Very Good+

Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2006

Rich light red fruit on the nose, with a little chocolate and pepper added on the palate. This had a bit more delicacy, and a lot more ripeness, than the cool climate pinots I also tasted, but ultimately I thought this was a pretty standard and not so interesting pinot.


Beringer Napa Valley Merlot 2005

A spicy, woody cab-franc like nose with blackberry fruit. On the palate was a nice richness, a little leather, and quite firm tannins (probably brought in by the small percentage of blended cab-franc and cab sauv ). I thought this was very tasty and I highly recommend it for the price. Beringer seems to know how to make a good merlot.

Very Good+

Beringer Steinhauser Ranch NV Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Sweet black fruit, oak and vanilla on the nose. The palate had cassis, a kiss of vanilla, blueberry and bitter cocoa. Good, but frankly not terrifically fascinating. Another big Napa cab.

Very Good

Chateau St. Jean La Petite Etoile Fumé Blanc 2005

This had a big smoky nose with a touch of oak. The oak gave the wine roundness, thickness and depth on the palate, much more than you would expect from a traditional unoaked Fume Blanc. The palate also brought out citrusy tropical fruit flavours and was generally crisp and alive. This Russian River Valley wine also had excellent structure on the mid-palate and the finish. Another stand-out of the tasting for me. Recommended. Outstanding value.

Very Good+ to Excellent

Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre Chardonnay 2005

The first sniff exposed a caramelized nose with real density. Apple, mango and papaya filled the mid-palate and a decent, but not intense, core of acidity drew the wine through to the finish without palate fatigue. Well done – the best chard of the tasting.


Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Pinot Noir 2006

Pure simple strawberry fruit. Very chewy and concentrated with a bit of pepper on the palate. Good for the price, but simple and a little clumsy right now. I think this needs bottle age.

Very Good

Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County Merlot 2005

A nose of cedar, raspberry and spice – inviting. Typically soft and round easy drinking merlot made for those who like fruity velvet with refined tannins. Decent for me, but nothing special.

Very Good

Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Very nice classic nose of mint and cedar. Built for steak, the palate was juicy and woody with cassis and blackberry. A dry tannic finish. This was blended using grapes from the Alexander Valley, Knights Valley and the Sonoma Valley.

Very Good+

Etude Pinot Noir Rose 2006

Pear and apple on the nose and palate. Smooth and sweet, this is made for those who like sweet easy to drink bubbly. Still, for standard sweet bubbles, this was not over the top.


Etude CN Pinot Gris 2006

From grapes grown in Carneros, this very nice white had an orchard fresh palate replete with round orchard fruits, especially pear. A bit thick fruity palate filled the mouth nicely and was firm enough to suggest a second sip. While this lacks a bit of complexity, it is good for the price.

Very Good

Etude CN Pinot Noir 2005

Here we had a cool climate pinot with an interesting nose of dill and red currant. The palate was peppery and floral, although fairly tannic. This feels a bit tight right now, but it had superb concentration and will probably show well in 2-3 years.

Very Good

Etude Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

This was a favourite of many at the tasting, and it certainly had real potency and a complex layering of flavour. The nose was chocolaty and had rich dark fruit. The palate was incredibly smooth, concentrated and long with chocolate and fig predominating. I detected some heat on the back end however, and thought this was perhaps a little expensive for what you got. Some will love this, though. I prefer more subtlety.

Very Good+

Stag’s Leap Winery Chardonnay 2006

I only know these guys for their fantastic petite sirah; however, I was quite surprised at the style and pizzazz of this chardonnay which was a bridge between new and old world styles. The nose offered buttered apple and pineapple, but the palate had a very nice crispness that was perfect for food. Perhaps too acidic on the mid-palate as a foodless sipper, this will be a fantastic pairing option.

Very Good

St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Classic Napa cab at a ‘good’ price. A big nose of cedar and cassis that was a little clumsier than the St. Jean, but had immediate approachability. The palate remained similar to the nose with cedar wood, blackberry and black current. Drinking well now.

Very Good

St. Clement Oroppas 2004

Oroppas is Sapporo spelled backwards, namely because Beringer purchased this estate from Sapporo. Personally I found that a pretty lame attempt at naming a wine, but at least it tasted good! I found this wine to be very warm with rich chocolate and blackberry aromas. The palate even offered a tinge of black olive, with amazing concentration throughout the palate development. Big and prune-like with a lot of richness, this was still slightly hot on the back end (which I noticed with a number of the wines poured at this event). So, even with its full mouthfeel it is just so dang big that it lacked elegance for me.

Very Good to Very Good+

Taz Cuyama Pinot Noir 2005

Ah, pretty aromatics – I like that. A slightly floral nose with a very smooth and long strawberry palate. Rich and concentrated, this was pleasant but not brilliant. For pinot aficionados, worth a try at the price.

Very Good

Taz Goat Rock Syrah

Gamey and replete with overripe red fruit. The palate was peppery, but too sweet and had unbalanced tannins. Missing something.


Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2006

Coldsteam is an interesting little producer (albeit owned by Foster’s) in the Yarra valley in Australia. I enjoy Australian pinot since it seems to offer something a little different and usually at a pretty good value (pinot tends to be over priced since Sideways). This had a strawberry nose with a distinctly raw character. The palate was very interesting with notes of cigar and tobacco. Has style, but lacks complexity. I also thought it was served a bit too warm.

Good+ to Very Good

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Ah Coonawara, a great cooler climate region that gets less attention out here than it deserves. I find Wynns to produce pretty good value wines, but this, their top offering, is something special. Eucalyptus and violets on the nose made this very pretty and intensely aromatic. Red and dark berries with cedar filled out the palate. I thought this had great finesse and subtlety with a firm structure and rich flavours. Nonetheless, there is the right level of acidity to carry an entire bottle without food, a rare feat amongst this crowd. Food would, however, certainly enhance this bottle. While tight right now, this will be beautiful in 5+ years. I really liked this wine.

Excellent to Excellent+ (with age)

Rosemount Show Reserve Shiraz 2004

Big and minty with eucalyptus, chocolate and plum. Worth the money if you like the Australian style, but boring to me.

Very Good

Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2002

I’ve had this before, but it was showing differently this time round. The acidity I remember had really softened and much bigger fruit flavours were coming through. This was sort of like the show reserve with more concentration and length. I don’t think it’s worth the price.

Very Good

Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling 2005

Clare Valley is at it again, and with a fantastic price to boot. Petrol, clay and rich lime on the nose, the palate expanded this to include some rounder citrus flavours such as grapefruit. There is serious bite on this wine and it will not disappoint a pairing with sushi or Chinese food. I wish more people drank Riesling out here because it really is a perfect wine for the Vancouver food canvass.

Very Good+

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2004

A toasted oak nose with cream rich buttery flavours. With low acidity and a somewhat flabby texture, I was not that impressed. Boring. Some will enjoy.


Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz / Viognier 2005

Certainly not top tier stuff. I think I have been spoiled by Clonakilla here. Nonetheless I enjoyed the floral and pepper notes and thought this was smooth and integrated. Pretty red berries peak out here and there. I like it.

Very Good

Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz 2004

Another big spicy black fruits and plum monster. There is oak here too that provides a smooth and easy drinking palate. Not my thing as I really don’t think this’ll pair well with food.


Wolf Blass Grey Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Here we are. Lovely Eucalyptus cedar nose with great intensity. Cassis and blackberry on the palate. Purity and value – this is a buy.

Very Good+

Wolf Blass Platinum Label Shiraz 2000

I swear I got rubber on the nose here. I have heard that Jancis Robinson also detects rubber components on Stelvin closures. I have never noticed anything like that until now, but it was distinct and certainly there. This sort of ruined the wine for me, which otherwise seemed to have great structure and density with very rich plumy notes and a long finish.

Very Good (but something was up)

Wolf Blass Gold Label Semillon Botrytis 2006

Blech. Sickly sweet. Rich grapefruit and apple. Super sugary and no balance.


Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2004

Rich black fruit, pepper and mint. The palate on this shiraz is not typical Aussie, which is a good thing. This has good balance and acidity and will pair well with a wider range of food than is typical for Australian Shiraz (which normally only goes well with BBQ). I think this wasn’t showing as well as it could have been. But I recognized the quality.

Very Good+

Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2005

The Barossa big boys have arrived. Real blue fruits on this with distinct fig characteristics. Almost raisinated, this is clearly made from super-ripe fruit. Rich, dense and flavourful, this is classic Barossa done well. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up in flavour.

Very Good+ to Excellent

There we are, another big tasting and a host of wines. I am wondering if there is a more reader friendly format for these types of reviews, but I haven’t come up with one yet. Again, all of these wines should be available at private stores in Vancouver (some will come out in Spring, such as the Riddoch cab). Thanks to Foster’s for hosting the tasting.