Thursday, January 29, 2009

McCrea Sirocco 2004

McCrea is a Rhone-style specialist located in Washington state. I have been looking to try something from these guys for a while now and so it was hard to resist giving this a try. In the end, though, I felt this was ultimately not as exciting as many of the other Syrah based projects going on in WA.

A rudy dark purple in the glass. The nose was quite promising, with big brambly, plummy, cherry and earth aromas. Indeed it was very southern Rhone-like. However, the palate brought in such a wallop of sweet fruit that the wine lost its edge. Despite the excellent fruit quality of plum and cherry, this tasted like it was dipped in an oversweetened chocolate sauce that, while imparting smoothness, also caused the wine to lose focus over time. A nice try, but just not worth it. Too bad.

Very Good
$30 at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Il Ponte Fra Due Terre 2004

I have written before that one of the great joys of wine is finding a smallish and lesser or unknown producer who happens to produce outstanding wine (and hoping that no one else discovers them). Well here in Berkeley there is a wine merchant who does all the work of sorting out the great stuff from the crap for you called Vintage Berkeley. Nothing at the store is over $25, nothing is from a major producer, and pretty much everything is outstanding value. I picked up this bottle from that store.

Usually new world sangiovese is pretty gross. The brilliance of this particular California Sangiovese blended from Sonoma and Napa grapes is that the winemaker used to head up Robert Mondavi's Italian wine experiment in California. While Mondavi ultimately decided not to pursue a mass production of Italian style wine, the wine maker for this beauty of a bottle in the meantime learned where the best sources of Sangiovese were for the state. Sure he could only produce 200 cases of wine from them, but being lucky enough to try a bottle I can attest to both the outstanding quality and, honestly, phenomenal quality to price ratio this wine brings to the table.

On the nose I got a classic Chianti style cherry and plum with distinct barnyard notes. The palate had real acidity and balance to it, with real integrity to the simple but pure fruit flavours of cherry and strawberry. The 2% Petite Sirah added to the blend very likely added both depth of colour and depth of flavour and, along with the abundent sunshine, gave the wine a distinctly Californian edge, while yet not overwhelming the Italianite qualities of the wine. Essentially this is not only the best New World Sangiovese I've had, but it tops many more expensive examples from Italy. Wow!

$21 at Vintage Berkeley

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains 'Home Ranch' Chardonnay 2005

So I have tasted and raved about the 2005 Santa Cruz Estate chard from Ridge. This one is a level up in price and comes from a single vineyard in the same area. Loving the basic estate chard so much I was very excited when I saw this at a downtown San Francisco shop - and I am super glad I picked it up. Of a different ilk from the Nickel and Nickel below, this is just as good if not maybe a little better with a nose of subtle spices, lemon, and maybe even a little loam. The palate was absolutely brilliant with hazlenut, almond, toffee, pineapple, lime, passionfruit and guava.

While extremely flavourful, this was not so fruit forward as to be disgusting - it managed to restrain its opulence while remaining beautifully textured and deep. Nonetheless, it is really the complexity and excitement of the flavour profile that makes this a great wine. You are lucky if you can pick this up.

Excellent to Excellent+
$45 in California

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nickel and Nickel Truchard Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay 2006

Nickel and Nickel are an offshoot of Far Niente in Napa that concentrates on single vineyard, singe varietal wines, supposedly to showcase California Terroir. I admit it sounds a little gimmicky coming from a fairly gimmicky winery. However, as with Far Niente there is serious quality backing up the concept. And, I would go so far to say that I think they are certainly getting distinct variety and site characteristics out of their wines (I've had a couple in the past).

This lovely chard had a nose of apple, pineapple, lemon curd, and vanilla. The palate was spritely with minerals, lime, citrus, papaya and banana. There is great brightness and texture here, with a richness that is smooth and creamy without being oaky or heavily malo-lactic'd. I'm not sure if this is a wild yeast fermentation, but is has some of those kinds of characteristics. The flavour profile is really quite exceptional for a California Chardonnay and I think this speaks very well for what they are doing in Carneros with this grape.

$45 in California

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

San Francisco Profile: Toronados

Beer bars are a special place for me. Places where friendly geeks gather in an unpretentious setting and slowly enjoy some amazing and relatively cheap works of craft. Toronado's is known as not only the Bay Area's best beer bar, but one of the best in the USA. After dropping by one sunny Saturday afternoon I would have to agree with this assessment on at least two fronts: selection, and price. Atmosphere, well it's kinda bar-like, and the Server is a little dicky. However, you can't beat the selection!

Beer#1: Port Brewing Older Viscosity Ale

Old Viscosity is a super intense dark stout. Older viscosity is Old Viscosity aged in Bourbon barrells. mmmmm. Wow, what a great beer: vanilla, caramella, brown sugar/molasses on the palate - but less creamy and vanilla-intense than the Goose Island I reviewed earlier. There is also a very interesting herbaciousness on the thick and syrupy palate. At 12% abv, you've got to drink this slowly. But why would you want to do anything other than peacefully enjoy a sip here and there of this magnificently intense brew.

$20/bottle at Toronados

Beer #2: Russian River Damnation

Russian River is a sonoma brewery making a very nice quality range of distinctive and yet flavourful beer. The Damnation is in the style of a Belgian Wit, and had a great not-too-sweet palate of spices like cloves and pepper. Drinking very smoothly, this is a good Belgian for those who don't love Belgian sweet malts, but enjoy the yeastyness.

Very Good+
$3/pint at Happyhour (normally $4)

Beer #3: Rodenbach Grand Cru

Having had the Rodenbach red ale a couple weeks ago at City Beer, I had to try this very rare Grand Cru from them - same beer but aged in oak. And, wow was it good. Like the red ale, but with more complexity, roundness and balance. Aged in oak for 8 months, the palate was very smooth and full with apple, pomegranate, dragon fruit, and blueberry. Awesome!

Excellent to Excellent+
$12 a bottle

Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel 2006

I like Ridge a lot - but generally less so for what they are famous for. I prefer their chards and cabs over their zins, but since I was in California with access to some of their more obscure bottlings, I thought I'd give zin another chance. I also heard good things about Paso Robles zins....

The nose was a dusty, brambly red fruit. The palate was pepper, high in acid, and with butterscotch berries. Smooth easy drinking with some nice depth that zin lovers will probably enjoy. However, this still doesn't do it for me as anything special - at least it is restrained and thoughtful.

Very Good
$30 at Andronico's

Saturday, January 17, 2009

San Francisco Profile: Fish and Farm

San Francisco is unfolding itself to me as a wonderful city for food. Restaurants are abundant not just in quantity, but also in quality and affordability. Fish and Farm is a great 'slow food' restaurant where the chef endeavors to bring as much 100-mile food into the restaurant as possible and when food is brought from afar, he ensures it is ethically sourced and as fresh as possible. As an added bonus, the corkage for a bottle of California wine is $5 ($10 for non-CA).

The food I had was tremendous, with innovative flavours and fresh ingredients abound. I won't get too much into the food since this is a wine blog. Luckily, however, the restaurant had great wines by the glass for very reasonable prices. Here's what I had:

Wine #1: Preston Sauvignon Blanc 2007

This wine is from Dry Creek in Sonoma Valley and is a tremendous bargain. The nose was classic new world Sauv Blanc with lively citrus and mineral. The palate was very complex for this price point with orange, quince and grapefruit dominating, but also with tinges of minerals or stones. The mid-palate was quite fruity, but this worked perfectly with the fennel and organic apple cider base of my dish. Highly recommended for shell-fish.

Very Good+
$9 a glass

Wine #2: Chateau Fagol Bordeaux Superieur 2006
An extremely tasty bordeaux with a nose of cassis, wood, cedar, forest and mushroom. The palate was slightly spicey with notes of blackberry, but also wonderful elemental forest floor and herbal aromas. This was perfect with thyme and red meat. Another great wine by the glass.

Very Good+
$10 a glass

If you are ever in San Francisco, check this place out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Migration Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2006

It's been a long week. Adjusting to a new school, a new legal and political culture, and life abroad has been tiring. I've been overwhelmed with trying to understand American Constitutional law, which is not only incredibly different from Canada, but relies on a completely different set of political and historical assumptions. For students born and raised in the US, much of this is second nature - but from an outsider's perspective it is both enlightening and frustrating. But, at least I now surely have a glimpse of the untold political assumptions that inform legal systems.

That said, time for some wine. This pinot is made by an off-shoot operation of Duckhorn, one of Napa's best producers. This is the baby brother of the Goldeneye pinot, which, as I have recently discovered, will be poured at Obama's inauguration dinner. This had a big classic california pinot nose of dark roasted strawberry preserves, candy apple, and spice. On the palate I found sweet ripe fruit that was quite up front, and a little chocolate, rich red delicious apple, and a touch of candy-floss on the finish - but don't get it in your mind that this is syrupy or goopy - it's not. I think in the end that this is a nicely made California style Pinot Noir, but my preference is still for Burgundy. Nonetheless, if you like the American style, this is a good example, although perhaps overpriced.
Very Good
$32 at Adronico's

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port 1995

Another of the joys of California is that you can get smaller producers and older wines off the shelf for reasonable prices. I picked this bottle up at a great store called The Spanish Table, which, self-evidently, specializes in Spanish products.

I have not had a vintage port quite like this before. The nose was figgy with further notes of raisin, date, and prune - but not over the top; rather very refined. The palate was super spicey with the same characters as above, with a maple-like edge. This was simply brilliant with real character, depth and elegance. And, it proved to me that, dear god, aged port is good!

Excellent to Excellent+
$24 at The Spanish Table

San Francisco Profile: CAV Wine Bar

This is the sort of place I wish we would see in Canada, but that licensing and distribution laws make impossible: a wine bar that specializes in smaller producers and rare wines - and one that pours these wines by the glass! Cav pairs all its wines with small plates, which bring incredible quality food to an ecclectic and very well conceived wine list, that even included a 1920 Rioja Grand Reserva. Wow, I wish I could have afforded that bottle ($250)!

I started with an apparatif of olives and an Amontillado do Alvear sherry from Jerez de la Fontera. Here we had a palate of nutty goodness that sat very much on the dry side of off-dry. This was absolutely fantastic with olives and sheeps milk cheese.

Very Good+
$8 a glass at CAV

I then proceeded into a wonderful flight of Austrian white wines in 2 oz pours, as follows:

Wine #1: Wenzel Furmint 2007

The nose here was very savory and minerally with lime zest coming in nicely on the palate. A simple but tasty food-friendly glass of wine.

Very Good
$10.50 a glass

Wine #2: Johann Donabaum Gruner Veltliner 2007

A prominent nose of lemon zest and a slightly effervescent palate of grapefruit, pomello, and minerals. This paired absolutely fantastically with the house smoked Sturgeon, with yellow beet mash, creme freche and sturgeon roe.

Very Good
$9 a glass

Wine #3: Weinrider Kleinhadersdof Riesling Kyler

This had a bigger nose of grapefruit than I experienced with the other wines. Very cut and savory this was acidic, but not over the top in that component. Herbal and mineral elements in perfect balance made this the best wine of the flight.

Very Good+
$15 a glass

Wine #4: Hogel Bruck Riesling Feclerspiel 2007

This was the tartest of the bunch, with an extremely sharp and clean palate. A very fresh food wine this went perfectly with crispy pork rounds. Made for high fat food. Classic.

Very Good
$12 a glass

That's it for my initial excursion into San Francisco. It was quite a night, ending in an very nice concert peformed by the San Francisco Symphony. I am looking forward to future excursions and will be sure to post them here. Cheers!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

San Francisco Profile: Ferry Plaza Wine Bar

So back when I first visited San Francisco in 2007 I stumbled upon a wine bar in the Ferry Building that looked pretty interesting. However, it wasn't until 2009 that I actually went there to try a few wines. It's a decent wine store and bar, with the added benefit that you can bring any food item from the Ferry Building to the bar to have with your wine. If you have ever been to the Ferry Building before, then you know that this is a tremendous boon, since food is king there! They pour wines in 2oz, 5oz, 1/2 bottles and full bottle sizes. I opted for 3 2oz pours.

Wine #1: Mount Eden Chardonnay 2007

From Arroyo Valley in Monterey, CA, this good value Chardonnay had a nose of citrus, apple, and lemon curd. The palate expanded dramatically to include saffron, pineapple and more lucious lemon. Fun, tasty, a good with food, but a bit impersonal (I prefer cheap Burgundy Chards to this). However, if I could get this for this price in Canada, I would buy it by the spades.

Very Good
$20 a bottle at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant (FPWM for future reference)

Wine #2: Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block 2007

A nose of balsamic, chocolate, game and spice, this promise more than it delivered with a basic palate of standard new world chocolate, blackberry and spice. In the end, this is boring and way overpriced, despite the rave review from the wine merchant.

$38 at FPWM

Wine #3: K Vinters 'The Boy' Grenache 2006

K vinters has a great reputation and I've been dying to try something from them. They are just too expensive in Vancouver to justify the purchase. I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed, even though this was decent. The palate had pepper, chocolate and spice and tasted very much like a southern Rhone Grenache. But, in the end, this is super overpriced. It should be less than 1/2 of what they charge.

Very Good
$40 at FPWM

Pride Mountain Merlot 2006

My first bottle of wine in California had to, appropriately, be from this lovely state. I chose Pride Mountain because I have been hankering to try these guys for a long time and they are way too expensive in Canada. This particular wine is a blend of Sonoma and Napa fruit. But, before I begin, here is a view from where I am staying, which I think evokes the mood of the Pride Merlot:

The nose on this succulent dark red nectar was heavy in blackcurrent, butterscotch and vanilla. With that you might expect this to be over the top, but it managed deftly to restrain itself with a beautifully smooth and full bodied palate of cassis, vanilla, graphite, stone and blackberry. With an almost briary element to the fruit, this just slides down the mouth and is a perfect pairing for something creamy and smooth, like a good cream-based pasta. This is what merlot should taste like from California. Damn good.

$56 at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

San Francisco Profile: City Beer

Just-Grapes (being me) has successfully relocated to our new temporary home in Berkeley, California. For the next 18 weeks I will be posting all my notes and updates from this great wine state, starting with a type of place one would never see in Canada: a retail beer store and beer bar merged into one. City Beer is a great beer-geek space where all the bottles sold for retail are also available to drink at the store for $1 more. The atmosphere is friendly and fun, and the $1 corkage is no impediment. I was impressed with the number of serious beer geeks in the store, both male and female, and the owners were very friendly, knowledgable, but not over the top in the beer geekdom. I had two beers there on a sunny Saturday afternoon. There's nothing like a 16 degree (celsius) and sunny January day.

Beer #1: Rodenbach Belgian Flemmish Red Ale

Classic balanced tartness with rich fermented raisins and apricots coming trough. This has a great mouthfeel With a very nice balance, this is the sort of beer that a wine geek will love: 25% aged in oak casks, 75% fresh beer.


$5 a bottle at City Beer

Beer #2: Goose Island Beer Company Bourbon County Brand Stout 2008

This is a seriously serious stout, smashing in with 13% abv that demands slow sipping. However, this is one killer Bourbon-intense dark as night brew, with a super-intense nose of rich vanilla and oak. The palate expands to include tobacco and tar notes that make this a perfect after-dinner beer that will probably go well with cigars. Amazingly, this is drinking well now and is very smooth and silky in the mouth. A wonderful beer. Stout lovers will be blown away.

$6 a bottle at City Beer
So that conclude my first experience at perhaps the best beer store I've been to. There are more updates to come from California!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dieu du Ciel: 3 Beers From Above

It is unfortunate but true that American micro-brews have far surpassed Canada in variety and quality. It seems our antiquated shipping laws have played a part, and perhaps the lack of variety helps to supress the demand for, well, more demanding beer (palate-wise). Dieu du Ciel, however, break from the pattern of boring Canadian micro-brews and bring us some serious sass from Montreal. They only very recently started bottling. I tried three of their many beers.

Beer #1: Péché Mortel
For those who don't speak French - this beer can be translated as "mortal sin", and is a very rich and intense coffee stout with heavily roasted malts. Very robust on the palate, with chocolate and dark roasted coffee, this was very smooth and lingered pleasantly in the mouth. Not too bitter or too sweet, this surpasses many Imperial style stouts by its better balance. A great winter warmer.

$5 at Brewery Creek

Beer #2: Rosée d'Hisbicus
A pink semi-sour beer brewed with Hibiscus. Sour, floral and nutty I found the malts to be a bit weird. Up front it is a pretty decent beer and drinks easily. Furthermore, it has a nice acidity and drinks somewhat like a white wine (I recommend sour beers for Sauvignon Blanc lovers) However, the finish was all disjointed and, honestly, boring. Nice try, but not so much.

$5 at Brewery Creek

Beer #3: Route des épices
Spice route - an awesome spiced beer. Pepper for sure, but also cloves, nutmeg and other exotic spices in a medium-dark ale. Medium bodied, but packs a brilliant spicey and layered punch in the mid-palate. A fantastic spiced beer - perhaps the best in the style I have tasted.

$5 at Brewery Creek

Two out of three ain't bad. If you are in Canada, and especially Montreal, seek these guys out - it is well worth the effort. And, it's nice to proudly support Canadian beer for once!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Atalayas de Golban 2004

Another big chunky Ribera del Duero wine from Spain - this area seems pretty reliable for good value fruity and tannic wine with distinct terroir. Here we have a relatively good value wine with a nose of rich red berry fruits, chocolate and earth. The palate, while not stunningly complex, was filled with flavour and had strawberry, cherry, blackberry and toast. A little hot on the back end, this is still a good pairing for big meat dishes.

Very Good
$34 ($24 on sale) at BCLDB

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dellile Cellars D2 2005

Washington state may be getting expensive, but I have to say that their best producers are also extremely adept at bridging the gap between old world and new. The D2 is from one of Washington's most well respected producers, Dellile. I've previously had their Doyenne Syrah, which was awesome with briased lamb.

The nose was very cherry cola to start, but added earthy and acidic components later. The palate had chocolate, boysenberry, earth, and dill. A wonderful Bordeaux style blend, this was restrained but packed with flavour and also managing some elegance. Again, this went very well with braised lamb (I seem to eat that a lot). Worth tasting to get a sense of the Dellile style.

$50 at Taphouse Liquor Store

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Donnhoff Riesling Trocken 2006

I've sampled several Donnhoff's now - enough to convince me that with the right producer German Riesling can soar. This example, however, was a bit disappointing, while still being very well made. The nose on this was standard grapefruit and minerals, with the palate offering more grapefruit, lime, and river stones. Nice and soft in the mouth, this Riesling was simple and good, but not at the level of the Estate riesling or the Kabinett reviewed previously. I think Grosset does a better job with dry Riesling at this price point.

Very Good+
$33 at BCLDB

Chile vs. France

So my friend who has lived in Chile for a couple years and recently returned to Vancouver and myself decided to set up a Chile vs. France wine-off where we would compare red blends from the two countries. Luckily for me, my friend brought back a couple wines that are pretty hard, if not impossible, to find in Canada. I brought two aged Bordeauxs to the table. It was very interesting to compare two regions distinctly embedded in their terroir, and yet reaching internationally in their appeal. We started with the Bordeaux's...

Wine #1 Clos L'Eglise 1999
This Bordeaux from the Cotes de Castillon had a nice garnet colour and a nose of cherry and tobacco, which later with air exploded into a super-coffee/mocha monster. The palate brought tobacco, cherry, leaves, and moderate tannins, and again with air this expanded into a mocha-fest. I think this could do with a little more time in the bottle, but a good decant will bring out a lot of the flavour. A blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoyed this, and in better years I'm sure this can be fantastic.

Very Good+
$60 at BCLDB

Wine #2: Chateau Grand Pontet 1998
Here we have a wine from St. Emillon with a nose of subdued blackberry and maple. The colour was light-ish with a medium red fading to a light browny-red on the edges. This was a bit of a sleeper: dissapointing at first, but with 2-3 hours air opening to be the best wine of the night. The palate was soft, but slightly tannic, with licorice, mineral, cigar box, and chalky limestone. These were such smooth and subtle flavours that they really highlighted this wine's elegance. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon.

Excellent (but needs decanting)
$70 at BCLDB

Wine #3: Almaviva Epu 2001
This wine is Almaviva's second wine (Epu means "second"), and seems to be unavailable in North America. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, this had a nose of leather, mint and typical funky Chilean fruit. The palate was all chocolate, mint, toast, and blackberry. Very tasty, and while lacking the complexity of the Bordeaux's this was excellent value and tastes a lot more expensive than it is.

Very Good+
$30 in Chile

Wine #4: Torres Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon Viejas Vinas 2005
A wine from Curico, a southerly region in Chile, this cab had a nose of flowers, game, cedar and pepper. The palte again brought funky chilean fruit, chocolate, balckbery, and had really nice concentration. A bit awkward upon opening, the second day saw the wine somewhat smoothed out and much more mocha-like. However, this probably needs some time in the bottle to show its full potential. Good, but not drinking as well as the Epu.

Very Good+
~$45 in Chile

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi 2001

With this bottle Alvaro Palacios is prooving his consistency. I have previously enjoyed the entry level Les Terrasses bottling from Priorat, and had occasion this holiday to open the higher end Finca Dofi. I heard that Dofi actually ages unlike many bottles from Priorat, so I thought this 7 year old bottle would be an interesting experiment.

The nose had a brunch-like element: pancakes and maple syrup, spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, and blackberry. The palate was a nice combination of finesse and power with spicey chocolate blackberry crepes dusted with sugar, and a rounded woodyness. Structure and finish were both there in a very high class way, but what made this special was its character as a very unique and refined terroir driven expression of Grenache.

$100 ($68 on sale) at BCLDB

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mas de Boislauzon Chateauneuf du Pape 2005

Back to the Rhone for this nice holiday celebration wine paired with simple mustard roasted lamb chops. Chateauneuf du Pape is getting more and more expensive, and with exclamations by Parker and others of three great vintages in a row (2005-2007) these prices are sure to rise. Thus, finding and exploring some of CdP's lesser known, but still highly respected names is going to become more of a necessity for those wanting to purchase sub $60 Chateauneuf. This is one such bottle.

With a nose of pepper, spice, cherry and roasted nuts and a smooth garnet colour, the Boislauzon CdP was both classic and pure. The palate was very rich, with licorice, cherry, earth, herbs, spices and black pepper, with an intensity I would describe as 'cut' rather than 'flabby'. Traditionally styled, robust, and packed with flavour this is classic Chateauneuf for an excellent price.

$40 at Marquis

Vina Cobos Cocodrilo Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Here is a wine made by Paul Hobbs' Argentina project in Mendoza: Vina Cobos. Despite the bottle designs being very critter-like, if this wine is any indication, Cobos is putting out some good value mid-range wines.

I smelled chocolate, cherry and blueberry on the very sumptuous nose with the palate expanding to include caramel, licorice, twigs, earth, and a toast-like character. I'd say this is very Napa-like in style, but still retains regional distinctiveness. A great everyday drinking wine that will pair great with many of your favourite red meats. 14.7% ABV.

Very Good+

$35 at Taphouse Liquor Store.