Weingolb wraps up

It's in the can. 2005 is through -- and along with it, Doktor Weingolb's goal to publish on wine everyday. Every damn day is more how I see it after this December. I didn't know at the outset how much revision would be involved in getting out thirty posts of original material on a tight deadline. The last few nights I've been publishing in the waning minutes of the day, including a time or two like today's where I cheat a bit and assume Alaskan time to squeeze in a daily note. (What do you expect on New Year's Eve? Even wine bloggers have a bit of life!)

But don't let my work ethic fool you. I've been stimulated positively and I am proud of what I've gathered here. I stand behind my writing, though everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes I have to correct errors in entries after they've been published, but for the most part this blog has not been back-edited. I like that since it reads like a real tasting record -- a bit of a time capsule of what I drank and my reactions to it over a 48-hour period. I know I find the record valuable. It'll be an added bonus if other wine enthusiasts can go back and find use in reading When the chicken you're eating is actually a red herring, Signorina Affinità, How dumb was that? or Born in the Year of the Sun. Basically, wherever Weingolb displays a bottle, below it lies a full tasting report and suggestions on ideal food pairings. I am also proud of this utilitarian aspect. Keepin' the log in blog, folks.

I hope other reviews have put an emphasis on good value and wine events to take advantage of locally. These are write-ups like Rézin; How far does your wine budget go?; The best things in life are free, i.e. The art of living; and Vineland Estates vidal icewine and select late harvest.

While reviewing wine was the primary mode for this blog, I found the days without wine in between could be devoted to my inclination towards more humorous writing. I seized on Pain au vin nouveau as ideal fodder: a subversive assessment of Beaujolais Nouveau hidden within some food criticism of a bakery chain. In general, I have high hopes when writing about the pedestrian because it elevates the experiences that we all share. For example, those ubiquitous office parties. Toeing the office-party wine turned into a bit of soap opera when I needlessly chided my employer and had to publicly respond with the apologetic How to recant a whine. (Yes of course I like puns.) Other cheap attempts at a guffaw: The Great Underwater Wine and Cheese Party, "You're Soaking In It" and other things best avoided, and It's wise to depant before serving wine to certain people I know.

My personal reflections often require writing about the poeple around me. Luckily my friends don't mind the occasional skewering. Sometimes, I take further advantage by using lovely images from their digital camera. Such was the case with Bois de Boulogne, lunchtime, May 2004, a post on my last big vacation, which was to France, originator of so many of my favourite wines.

And there you have it. Now I'm on vacation from wines. I can barely believe it but it is true. I won't update here for a little while so the Doktor is out. Check his predecessor golb for new posts in the interim, particularly if you are looking for contemporary musical selections to go with your best New Year wine. I will be back here before too long. Happy new year!

Backwash: Wine of the year
Two days ago I christened a wine that costs less than $10 wine of the year. No problem there. The cost of the Peller Estates Cuvée Niagara Brut may not be prohibitive but as it turns out getting your hands on it is not exactly a cinch. The LCBO does not stock it like I said it did. Used to but no longer, which is unfortunate. Vineyards Estate Wines remains the best bet for getting ahold of it. I was also hoping to find a mention of it in Konrad Ejbich's A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards, & Vines, which I got in my stocking this year, but no such luck. I see he did talk about it almost ten years ago in this favourable profile. All the more reason to hype it some more here today.

Backwash: Wine of the month
When I see the opportunity for a end-of-term doubleheader I seize it. So here I will expand upon yesterday's review. In the time since I took my review notes for Château Bonnet Entre-Deux-Mers 2004 I've had the chance to resample this wine (we drank another bottle of it just hours ago on the train home from the Niagara Peninsula). On top of that, Bonnet made a shocking red-carpet appearance at our Christmas office party a few weeks ago. Point is, this wine always manages to make itself welcome. Without a doubt I would deem this selection the wine of the month for December. On that tasty note, I eagerly await January.


Château Bonnet, Entre-Deux-Repas

Château Bonnet, Entre-Deux-Mers 2004
What a difference a meal makes. In his 2006 wine guide, Michel Phaneuf gave this Bordeaux white from André Lurton a Grappe D'or. So I pick up the Château Bonnet, Entre-Deux-Mers 2004 and wait for the fireworks to go off. I could hardly sense any of them with tuna steak, grilled zucchini and beets as an accompaniment. I thought cooking this arrangement of food would make the white meet its full potential. It didn't. As it turns out, with seafood pizza, it really sings. Practically a miracle transformation. I say that as if I'm lost in the clouds but I'll insist on trying to get this fantastic turnaround in taste down to science...

The thing is that sometimes you think the food you're eating is ruining your wine but you're not 100% sure if it isn't the wine that is off. So I analyse the situation. I had thought beets would be nice with the Bonnet. Why? Well, I make my borscht with a little white wine and it turns out great. And tuna -- how can you go wrong with fish and sauvignon blanc? The zucchini, done Nigella Lawson-style with lots of seasalt and lemon did indeed render itself an excellent complement to the wine. But I wouldn't do either of the other two again. I'll admit for the tuna that I overcooked it and it turned into a dry burger that ended up with virtually nothing fishy about it. My fault. But the beets, what did I do that you let me down? I give you chives, I give you butter -- you make me spit out the Bordeaux from the mouth as I drink it! Subject for further research. Pizza Donini to the rescue. Order their Di Frutti do Maro gourmet pizza for $11.49 sometime. It makes your unoaked white wine sing. Gauranteed. Or rather, guaranteed to indicate that your off wine has got to be sent back.

Grézillac, Gironde, France. 12%.


Peller Estates makes my favourite wine of the year

Peller Estates Cuvée Niagara Brut favourite favorite wine of the year 2005
Put the little-known Peller Estates Cuvée Niagara Brut at the top of your year-end best-of list. And then put it at the top of your shopping list for tomorrow. You can get a case of it for not much over $100 (and that is Canadian dollars). You could try to hang on to your purchase and open a bottle each month of 2006 but I warn that you might sooner pop open the entire case before the clock strikes twelve this final weekend of 2005. It's that good. With a bargain price, I have no qualms naming it my top choice of the year.

This sparkling wine made predominantly of Chardonnay grapes is on shelves at the LCBO or at the one hundred or so kiosks of Vineyards Estate Wines which are found throughout Southern Ontario. If you are in Niagara-on-the-Lake, you can also pick it up at Wine Country Vintners (scroll down) on Queen Street; go online to Wine Country at Home if you are a bit further afield and want it delivered (sorry, you must have an Ontario address for shipping). In an odd twist, you can find the bottle virtually everywhere in the Niagara region except the Peller Estates Winery. It is a confusing move of Peller's not to stock it. Instead, their image-generating sparkling wine called Cristalle, $30, with its dosage of icewine is what the winery chooses to showcase in their boutique and during their tours. I don't know why -- their modest Brut is simply better.

When I conducted a quick poll tonight at dinner no one could guess that this calibre of wine is sold for as little as it is. Tasters' comments were all positive, both when I served it alone and then with Paris toasts with cheese and chives. My parents agreed that it was fruity, crisp and nice and refreshing going down. My sister remarked on its bouquet -- alluring, herbal and enriched with a gamut of pleasing flavours, none of which bordered on bitter. Her boyfriend had the final say. It was the length of its lingering finish that made the cuvée so delicious. And what makes it number 1 in my books is $9.95 (that's about $8.55 to folks from south of the border).


Go too deep and you may fumble: Deakin Estate 2002

Deakin Estate Shiraz 2002
Here's a drink-now screw-the-decanter wine to be celebrated. The Deakin Estate Shiraz 2002 is likeable from the very first sip. It has big ripened flavours, tantalizing spice and some complexity. It was practically effervescent when I uncorked it with bread and cheese. Oak is present, but not so much that it would put off those who have a problem with oaked wines. In the end, it's perhaps best described as a party wine. I would open this during the Super Bowl and enjoy it with southwest fried chicken, all-beef hot dogs, baked beans or a napa cabbage salad with anchovy dressing. You could have it with virtually anything. Anchored by a tannic punch, the jamminess is reined in. The result: a well-balanced wine at an affordable price.

But like the hardest party-goer, Deakin loses its verve if you park it on the sofa for too long. Of all the wines that I have sampled in the last few months, I suspect this one gains the least from exposure to air -- not that you are going to see it turn to vinegar. Strong plum and cassis fruits seem to amplify with prolonged air contact. They just get rounder and rounder. Meanwhile the tannins are left to pick up the slack of faint acidity in order to create any sort of backbone and the wine begins its clear descent. What was lively and potent one night is flabby and flat the day after, even if you reseal the leftovers in a snug half-bottle. This is not a wine to hold onto for too long. Right now, 2002 could be considered to be a vintage on the edge for Down Under Shiraz varietals. A lot of 2005's are already on the market and this is a grape that does not have a lot of aging potential. On top of that, Australian wines in this price range are not known to be full of finesse and you can be reminded of this if you try to fancy up this staunch Shiraz too much. So no aeration, no decanting, or filtering, or letting it out to breathe. Open it at a barbecue and let it flow till the bottle's dry. Or, with any luck, about 20 minutes.

Kulkyne Way Via Red Cliffs, Victoria, Australia. 14.5%.


The skinny on skin colour (cont'd)

A final word for pink to complete the triangle...

In case you were wondering, rosés are produced through a winemaking process in which contact with the grape skins is restricted. This is as it is with white wine production methods, however the key here is that red grapes are used instead of white ones. Typically this means the must of red grape varieties is removed from the skins earlier in the winemaking process and thus the resulting wine has a lighter hue. The idea that rosés (also called pink or blush wines) are simply a blend of red and white wines is generally incorrect though some white grapes are occasionally vinified along with the red as part of the process. New fangled bottles I've seen for White Merlot may not help to keep this idea straight with the consumer but whatever the White Zinfandel or Cabernet Blanc that you may happen upon, you should know that there is no white grape blended into that rosé wine.

The following useful resource indicates that while rosé wines are not blends of white and red wines, white grapes are increasingly brought into the red wine mix. Read more on the topic of rosé winemaking.


The skinny on skin colour

This is the flipside of my previous entry on the role of the grape skin, in which we learned that leaving the skins in contact with the must will allow them to impart characteristics like flavour (in addition to colour). Part of the reason that I got so motivated to start this topic was that I felt the need to expand the simple refrain I repeatedly hear -- that "red wine is only red because of its skin" -- and delve into what gives white wine its different shades. Last time I mentioned that sparkling wines are mostly produced from free run juice, meaning that skins have very little influence on the finished product. Whites, as well as reds, can be free run too but for the most part skin plays a larger role in white wine than in sparkling wines. But exactly what?

Routinely, white wine production processes do not enlist the skins as much as red wine's would. Why? Skins on all grapes have tannins which is a useful ingredient in some cases and one you opt to leave out in others. Tannins are beneficial components of red wine because they promote ageability while adding structure; they are detrimental to white wine where their astringency can frequently mask gentle aromatic nuances naturally occurring in white grapes. Temper that basic idea with the knowledge that white wines can achieve some extra zing when skins are exposed to the must. This exposure can be quite desirable as long as it happens before fermentation. Should you ferment the skins, you won't get any of the winning benefits that the skin-in red wine enjoys. So the skin isn't particularly the thing when it comes to white wine.

That said, I still am left to wonder. If we can say that red wine is red in colour because skin pigments seep through the must during winemaking, how do we tell whether a white wine exhibits a hue that is due to its grape skin? Maybe there is no way to say for sure. Maybe one has to ask. Does a white wine's light colour result from its skins' light pigment? Or rather does it simply mean the light colour you see is the absence of colour -- that the skin has had less time to mingle with the must and therefore has not offered much in the way of pigment? And what shade-shaping container was the wine stored in prior to bottling? And also, how has age affected the colour? I guess it's hard to make a general statement just by looking at the colour of the finished product. In many cases, it could be a little of everything -- that is, some colour extracted from the skins, some colour leached from oak barrels, and even some colour produced just from the light colour of the grape's flesh. In an extreme example, Pinot Gris (or Tokay) often creates a white wine varietal that possesses a light blush tone due to prolonged exposure to its pinkish skins during vinification. Then to this distinctive shade additional pigment from its greyish-pink flesh and potential colouring from barrel storage as well as the passage of time. In the end it can look nearly like a a rosé, but it is not since no red grapes are added (but I'll have to save rosé wines for an upcoming post).

This is a Backwash backwash. I implied a connotation of noble rot that was misleading when I wrote about Sauternes. I may have suggested that the fungus-spawning vine disease called noble rot was noble because of its Bordeaux provenance. While noble rot is indeed essential in Bordeaux's production of Sauternes -- the world's finest sweet wines -- the use of the term "noble" really serves more of a reference to the Botrytis Bunch Rot than Bordeaux in general. Botrytis Bunch Rot is a non-benevolent form of the same disease that sets noble rot into motion. Noble rot was coined more to distinguish it from the bunch rot to lay praise on the Bordelais areas that champion their Sauternes.


The holy trinity

doktor weingolb's decanters

Photo of the (Xmas) day.

Decanters captured spectacularly by Gordon. And a great holiday to all.


The great bridger of people: Domaine de Petit Roubié 2003

I can see why Syrah might be a candidate for world's most popular wine grape variety: The bridger of people and binder of dinner parties rarely comes up short on body, a key attribute of what makes us remark on a wine. It also can possess a nice roasted flavour occupying a middleground between savoury and fruity. That's not going to give it many enemies, though the Syrah of Australia (known as Shiraz) often produces highly jammy and alcoholic bottles that critics label "over the top".

The Syrah of Domaine de Petit Roubié Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 2003 exhibits all the great attributes mentioned above, plus it lives down any bad "Shiraz" reputation with its great finesse. That it has a deft touch is particularly astounding for any 2003 cuvée from the Midi, which was more than sundrenched that year and overcooked many vines. In bakingly hot conditions, the sugar in ripening grapes can reach a point of rampant fermentation and raise levels of alcohol. This bottle is a odd specimen since it is several percentage points below the norm (only 12.5%). For what ever reason, this vin de pays is not gunning for your meatiest backyard barbecue. You can very much sip it on its own. I was a bit surprised by this. I had prepared a hearty meal with big flavours to match it: Pork tenderloin in a luscious sweet and sour "charcuterie" sauce of pickled gerkins and sundried tomatoes. I added sautéed Brussels spouts with herbes de Provence and roasted parsnips and garlic -- there was no way even the biggest Syrah was going to overpower my dinner. On the second night, I toned down the flavours a bit. A mild saucisson on a Tourte Parmentière from Première Moisson topped by spinach wilted in lemon oil created a delicious match. I may have noticed the tannins a bit more, but the structure still came through and gave the wine a smooth and fairly long finish.

Les Domaines de Petit Roubié, Pinet, France. 12.5%. Certified organic wine.


Vineland Estates' Vidal icewine and select late harvest

Vidal Select Late Harvest icewine ontario vineland estates winery
Vineland Estates Winery is nestled along one of the most gently rolling slopes of the Niagara Escarpment. With a view of Lake Ontario below its low hills to the north and rich undulating vineyards sprawling around in every direction, it's not surprising how much tourist business it attracts. During my first visit, the 2000 Red Meritage -- a benchmarked Bordeaux assemblage with a $125 price tag -- drew most of my attention. Today I was able to concentrate on their icewines. Currently composed solely of Vidal grapes, Vineland Estates' speciality wines include a new Late Harvest as well as two icewines, one from 2002 and another one recently released as their 2004 vintage.

I started with the 2004 Vidal Select Late Harvest (just released and not pictured above). It's a bracing concoction with notable acid and strong citrus flavours. Its silky texture reminded me of the lemon-lime syrup at the soda fountain: crimp the hose that dispenses the carbonated soda and you double up on the concentrated sweet stuff. But that's not to say that the 2004 is too sweet. It's grounded by that palpable acid and real nice note of butter. Great.

For the 2002 Vidal Icewine (pictured third from left), hints of syrup flow like divine nectar. It has more honey than the Late Harvest -- a delicious sweetness that suggests pear or that juice you get in fruit salad. It has great balance in its rounded attack. I was able to linger over a few small portions of this wonderful treat since I had just finished a full plate of lunch. A full stomach is not factor because of the alcohol content, which is low (around 9% for each of these three bottles), but rather for the richness and intensity of this golden exilir.

On to the 2004 Vidal Icewine (pictured first): I immediately sensed a bigger "throat feel". It's what I would describe as a puckering tannin effect that you get as the icewine goes down. For me, the 2004 icewine offers more than I am apt to take. It was at this point that I wished I had some of Riesling icewine that had kicked off my 2005 almost a year ago now.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that the Vidal has been good to Vineland Estates, garnering many accolades including the Grand Vinitaly Award. Aside from that, Vidal icewine is more commonly produced by Ontario vintners than Riesling icewine and is generally more affordable too. And for that reason I would heartily recommend any of these wines. I think that in particular the 2004 Select Late Harvest and the 2002 Vidal Icewine, which is priced in Quebec a few dollars cheaper than it is in Ontario (yes, it does happen!) are both wise selections.

Finally, John arranged these wines for me. Thanks to him for the suggestion. This flight is the first one that Doktor Weingolb has taken, so it only seems perfectly suitable that eiswein be the feature.


Skin colour prejudice

This is about as political as this site gets.

I'm uneasy with conceptions of colour within the wine world. There exists too much of divide between red wine and white wine. It's all a bit too visual, I suppose: Some people I know only drink red; some only drink white. What a black-and-white view! What about the shades of grey? What about the in-between wines that some people I know cast off as unworthy? What about the Gamays, the White Zinfandels? And oh that rosé wine, what a bizarre animal it is. The way I see it, a simple precursory aspect of wine -- namely its colour -- is preventing folks from indulging in the full experience that wine has to offer.

Here's what we know. What seems to be universally acknowledged is the fact that red wine is red because of the pigment found in the skins of the grapes that are vinified. Red grapes have a different pigment than white grapes, hence red wine looks red while white is a much lighter, neutral shade. To make a long story short, red wine comes from a group of grapes classified as "red" while white wine comes from a group of grapes classified as "white". Labels. It's not rocket science. Except the grape's skin has a greater role in vinification than just occupying a certain corner on the colourwheel. It's more complex than just colouring. The wine you drink hinges on other things like how much skins are integrated into the winemaking process as well as what flavour components the skin uniquely possesses. So why generalize? What's worse: Why base your drinking decisions on such a vast generalization? I do not understand why the outside surface of a grape has become so influential when the basis of a wine's structure (as well as many other of its individual characteristics) are also derived from its skin. Colour is just the most obvious and easy-to-identify attribute.

I was guilty of skin colour prejudice myself until I understood the full story of what makes a red wine, well, red. At first I found it hard to believe that the flesh of the grape is merely water and sugar. Those things are important since they are the building blocks of fermentation and vinification. But in the end, they are the most generic part of the grape. They are not nearly as dynamic to our tastebuds as the skin is. So don't relegate the role of grape skins to that of hue. For the skin is thing! If there were no skin, there would be no wine. Only sparkling wines minimize the role of skin by separating the grape juice from the skin at the earliest possible moment.


Born in the Year of the Sun: Georges Duboeuf 2003

Georges Duboeuf beaujolais Régnié 2003
The distinctive bottle shape of Beaujolais wine is striking. Moulded into a kind of long and pointy bowling pin or one of those clubs that jugglers at the circus toss around, you might only see these wines on the shelves in your store that come with extra headroom. Once you have located that shelf, you might want to investigate these unique bottles even further. A label shaped like a ribbon drapes around the neck of some vintages, reading: "Le millésime du soleil," or 2003: The Year of the Sun. Duboeuf in particular has touted this pedigree on its wares. I quite like this. It's intriguing. It makes idyllic reference to the massive (and really quite horrific) heatwave that Europe suffered during the summer two years ago. To me, the tagline adds mystique and some allure. But I suppose that if all vintages could tag themselves with a mystical or grandiloquent claim to fame then things might escalate into an Aussie shouting match with a few punching kangaroos. And poor use of the idea might not fly: Take "2002 - Le millésime du déluge" (The Year of the Flood), for example. But if a winemaker was to promote a certain crop by conjuring up some appropriate historical or socio-cultural aspects, I'm sure I'd be the sucker who buys it.

And so I bought this. The Georges Duboeuf Régnié 2003 definitely makes a case for vintage taglines. Who doesn't feel like taking a trip back to the year of the sun right about now? After all, it's the winter solstice and darkest time of the year. I went for it and don't feel suckered one little bit. This is lusty and fruit-filled Beaujolais at its best. So get this vintage while you still can. The Gamay it's made from turns in a strong performance. It's not as light as you would think. I paired the wine with fairly bold dishes. Grilled pork chops with garlic, oregano and red onions, and then on the second night, a vegetable lasagne chock-full of roasted flavours. Great Beaujolais. But I contend the biggest revelation in drinking this wine was a general idea on decanting. This bottle makes for just one of the steady stream of 2003's from Europe I've been opening lately and as a result my inkling is turning into something more solid. I'm beginning to think that the rule for these 2003 vintages -- and by this I mean virtually any European red in 2003 -- is to thoroughly aerate your wine for maximum enjoyment. This is a year that definitely had lots cookin'. Don't be afraid to let it out of the bottle at length to best enjoy its full character.


A Day Without Wine: It's beer

Tsing Tao chinese lagerTsing TaoTsing TaoTsing TaoTsing TaoTsing Tao
Most often I open a bottle of wine and then reach for something to eat, but sometimes I'm already nibbling away once I decide I want a drink. In this case, wine is not necessarily a shoe-in. Sometimes that drink I'll open is not a bottle of wine but a bottle of beer. Beer can be heavy and filling which minimizes its role at the table of the gourmand. But I think that there are plenty of occasions to welcome the right brew.

Asian food is of course an obvious example and it was while we ate at Lao Beijing, which serves authentic mainland Chinese cuisine, that we ordered a round of Tsing Tao. It washed down the spicy pork and hoisin eggplant dish really well. Since it was a light and refreshing beer, it also went beautifully with the heaping plate of dumplings. We started with seaweed salad and by the time we were done there was still extra chicken and rice on the table. We had ordered too much. A bloating beer would've turned the dinner into a disaster. But Tsing Tao not only cut the fattiness of our fare it made room for more. We chose our drinks well and were able to walk away with only a few doggy bags.

Besides exotic cuisines that generate lots of their own heat, beer also lends itself well to mid-afternoon weekend snacking. I find that getting into wine at the point of the day can grind things to halt. Beer with its lower level of alcohol is a cinch in these situations. It also goes so well with those crunchy saline treats that sports on the telly somehow always manage to readily encourage.

I don't really know much more than that about the world of beer, but even Wine Blog Watch posts sites that update on the subject so the experts aren't far from here. One that is providing a great service at first glance is Knut Albert's Beer Blog.


It's wise to depant after opening wines for certain people I know

"WHAT is with this blog business!?" screeched Jane, a friend who perhaps just came to realize that the time I used to devote to socializing is now being absorbed by my wineblog. She was exasperated. Not only did she recently end her blogging career two minutes after it started (she instantly forgot her URL), but she also has absolutely no interest in wine talk -- unless it's a discussion about getting the waiter to pull out a corkscrew. As a result a blog about wine is her sworn enemy and I was harbouring it daily.

And with that, she reached out for another swat at my shoulder, jaw clenched and making a show of looking fierce. I didn't get too pummelled because the group at the table behind us was up to no good. We all stopped and watched, brows raised, as one, two, three elegant pieces of stemware emerged glistening from a sleekly padded wine caddy. We knew our restaurant was bring-your-own-wine, but this was the first we had witnessed bring your own glasses. Jane was about to speak. But wait, now our neighbours were inserting drip-free wine pourers into their uncorked bottles in a way so that the paper bags wrapping the bottles stayed firmly in place and offered no hint of the bottle or the wine producer. Now I was sharing Jane's look. We were aghast.

I thought that if the wine glasses have to be that fine, it's obvious that someone's going to be indulging in some pretty exclusive wines. Good times! But now seeing these masked bottles turned my curiosity into obsession. What were they drinking? I was practically put off my food. Luckily I soon learned that this was not a elitist snub to the rest of the dining room but a tasting challenge for the diners at this table: Remark on each wine free of label bias and then reveal and compare notes. Now that seems like fun. I'll have to organize something like that sometime.

But maybe not when Jane is there. According to Jane, to decant a wine that benefits from a little breathing is cause for ridicule. She'd roll her eyes, as if the most pretentious act ever committed was unfolding right in her lap. I must admit that she's becoming a better sport with time. (I tell her that this is called mellowing out with age and then whisper that she is like a feisty Madiran.) Last time the topic came up, we were chatting about the general rule that it's almost always a nice idea to decant before dinner. She playfully jumped in: "I don't know about how I would decant, but I find that on most nights I like to depant just before I get into bed."

Maybe it's funnier after the third bottle.


Signorina Affinità: Fazi Battaglia Rutilus 2003

Fazi Battaglia Rutilus 2003
This Sangiovese -- Fazi Battaglia Rutilus 2003 -- comes from the Italian region of Marche (pronounced Mar-Kay). It's not the Chianti that so many of my friends frequently gravitate to, but to me it is still a quite pleasant everyday wine. If you want to spend only $12 on a bottle that is worthy of sharing, this is for you. If you want to open a bottle you know you might not finish until a few days later, this is also for you. And above all, if you want an easy-drinking wine served with or without food, this definitely a good candidate. It's got what I consider to be typical Italian dryness and perky tannins. It is bright red in colour with light to medium body. On the third day after uncorking, the wine still seems resistant to any sign of flatness, though storing it in a well-sealed mini-bottle may be more responsible for this characteristic than the wine itself.

I lean towards dishes with lots of colourful fresh vegetables when I've got a Chianti or other Sangiovese-based wine like this on the table. I don't really think that this is a crucial move; perhaps it has become more of a habit of mine than anything else. I just find that when you bring spaghetti marinara into the mix, it helps to create a nice Mediterranean atmosphere. A yellow bell pepper and snap pea medley topped with oil-packed white tuna and an anchovy-and-sundried-tomato sauce might add some authenticity to your dining. But then again it might not since I've never been to Italy. In the end, I don't feel Rutilus needs any special preparation or forethought to be all that it can be. I wouldn't serve it after wines that are not produced in the same style, but other than that, the wine is a simple pleasure which will always reward you. It's not going to elevate your food or raise the tone. It won't spoil what's in the offing either. Being the lowest common denominator can sometimes make for the highest praise of all.

Castelplanio, Italia. 12%.


Toeing the office-party wine

I'm planning to trample all over today's office party wine, and you know that I'm not referring to a grape stomp. In most offices you can't expect much in the wine department and I think mine is fairly standard in offering substandard gruel. I must accept this though there may have been a point when my proactive engagement with the organizing forces might have worked. It's clear I missed that chance:

  • Me: "I hear you are arranging all the wine at our party."

  • Big boss: "Yup."

  • Me: "Why don't you take a look at this website I just started -- it's a wineblog so you might be able to get some good ideas."

  • Big boss: "Oh no, I had to go through the usual channels -- you know, Ancillary Service is handling it all."

For a moment I pictured Ancillary Service to be a charming but outsized British woman, half-Nigella Lawson, half-Jancis Robinson, who doles out helpful entertainment tips while paying careful attention to the selection of wine for large groups of finicky people. No such luck. Ancillary Services is not a person but an operating unit. The name means "provider of things of secondary importance" and as a result has been ruining holiday office parties for decades.

So now I am prepared to scowl through the festivities with a Dixie cup of this year's swill. Just joking. Where's the spirit of the season in that? The reality of the situation is that I brought a flask of my own wine. I think I might need to dip into it, but maybe not. It just never hurts to be prepared. In any case, I expect the boxes of party wine to be wheeled in this afternoon. Full tasting report and impressions to follow! [Update: Weingolb shocked to report here that in fact very nice bottles arrived -- not cellarcasks or jug wine!]

For those who are finding it not too late to successfully organize a quality wine for this year's departmental get-togethers, Mas de Forton is name you might want to remember. I took it to a small office party several Christmases ago. It is full of fruit and jammy while still maintaining a nice balance. What's more is that it comes off so festive. It reminds me a bit of Christmas with its ripened red berries and rich deep colour reminiscent of cranberry sauce. The label pictures such a quaint little compound it could practically be Whoville; you can almost hear the carols. And it's inexpensive, which doesn't remind me of Christmas, but I'll make an exception for that.


The mission of Doktor Weingolb

Since Doktor Weingolb is a bit of a goofy made-up name, I want to underline that these pages are in fact committed to science. Wine is a craft, not an art, and there are clearly scientific ways of approaching it. You look, you sniff, you taste, and then after all of that, you record and categorize the results, which can either take the form of a fleeting remark during dinner or a detailed description as found throughout the wineblogosphere. If you are a wine blogger, instantly publishing your assessment allows others to benefit from what you have noted. But in all cases, wine tasting needs to adhere to some sort of scientific method or else nothing lends currency to the findings. Creating a niche can also help build a credible approach to wine reviews, like Water into Wino has with its focused Cab Franc quest.

Like WIW, Doktor Weingolb is for amateur wine enthusiasts. Personally, I can't specialize in top-flight wines or industry gossip. So I play to my strengths. I live alone, and often drink alone. Don't feel sorry for me -- I am prepared to exploit this. To me, one of the most striking elements in wine appreciation is the effect of air. Since I have half a bottle remaining at the end of most nights, I get to delve into the difference a day's worth of oxygen makes. I also value the second round of consideration this allots the bottles I open. Subjective reactions based on food accompaniment, changing moods and bottle/label expectations can be minimized as a result. (The downside to my approach is that these pages cannot be prolific -- at least in terms of the number of wine reviews -- so I also plan to post other writing on the subject of wine.)

Because I never drink wine without something to nibble on, readers can also expect Doktor Weingolb to be committed to exploring wine as a pairing for different foods. Jeez, it really sounds rough having to take all this food and good wine and constantly calibrate it. A tough row to hoe no doubt -- hope you won't feel guilty as I press onward duty-bound each and every day!

My apologies for the publication yesterday of "How dumb was that?", a entry of unrevised work that required several rounds of edits after publication. My fault. Like the dumb wine in the subject line, this piece had to be opened up for some serious airing out if it was to be of any service to anyone. Making matters muddier, the initially dense and unyielding prose was my lengthiest and most thoughtful to date. In any case, I have fingers crossed readers might give it another chance. Anyone who has ever had the is-this-wine-drinkable dilemma will likely find it a worthwhile read.


How dumb was that? Devois des Agneaux d'Aumelas 1999

Devois des Agneaux d'Aumelas 1999
I taste little obvious fruit in Jeanjean's Devois des Agneaux d'Aumelas 1999 at first. What is there is very faint and unripened in flavour: raspberry, maybe cassis. At times the tartness verges into a vegetal bitterness. It reminds me of a wine from Anjou with its austere style. That idea would be intriguing to me except I'm opening a Syrah. So what's wrong here? My palate is off? Or is it the wine? Such would be the case with a "closed" wine or what is known as being "dumb". Dumb as in playing dumb since the bottle is fine -- it's not corked but rather is just not acting like it should. Closed as in temporarily -- or in a transitive state -- so you try to wait until the flavours that have shut down open up again. And wait, and wait...

Since 1870 the Famille Jeanjean has been bottling wines of great expression. Like many Languedoc wines, their bottles represent great value for the money. Château Valoussière, Coteaux du Languedoc is one of their great everyday wines, which I always recommend. Bring it along when you are invited to dinner and you will always get a positive reaction. Have it with merguez and saucisson, like I did with my friends Gordon and Eric, and you'll be as close as you can get to heaven for under $15. So it is no wonder that the Languedoc scene is burgeoning in recent years and growing in popularity. Witness a weekend last month, when Eric and I knew we were to sup in style. After browsing around on our own, we independently selected $19 Coteaux du Languedocs. He got a Château Saint-Martin Garrigue and I got the Domaine Clavel "Les Garrigues". Garrigue minds think alike!

But back to work: Devois des Agneaux d'Aumelas, Coteaux du Languedoc, Elisabeth and Brigette Jeanjean is a bit fancier than those above, but there it sits on my kitchen counter, all dressed up and nowhere to go. This cuvée was definitely not picking up where the Clavel had left off, that's for sure. I blamed myself at first. I had bought it at a reduced price because of a slightly damaged label. My thoughts turned to how I had stored it and how long I had kept it. The cork looked normal and no signs of leakage around the capsule presented themselves. There was no denying this 1999 its structure and complexity but it was still hitting all the wrong notes. Ones that clearly resonated in a bad way, like apple-cranberry sourness, a characteristic I hoped I would not begin to associate with the semi-aged wine of the region (I discovered a type of brownish cranberry-cola under the cork of a bottle of Domaine des Jougla Saint-Chinian 1999). So with time, I deem it dumb. But I felt dumb too for preparing the rare treat of filet mignon on this night. I try to salvage the situation in different ways. Giving it extra time to open up didn't change things much. Trying not to create Clavel-like expectations did more to help. I began agreeing with those tasters who proclaimed sage (not sure I appreciate that much in a wine), and I made the most of an odd changeable aroma. I moved it from Loire in style to Bourgogne. But dinner was over and it seemed as though I missed out big time. On the second night, I opted for the namesake on the bottle and poured the remaining wine with lamb. It was somewhat more satisfying but I still wondered whether I would've been right to return it to the store I bought it from.

Thanks to Gordon for taking the image I posted in yesterday's space. He recalls not only taking the photo but also making the delicious pork loin sandwiches we ate with our wine. He had threatened to call both of his lawyers regarding these two omissions. To his intellectual property lawyer: I argue a fair dealing defense. To his French food litigator: Mets-en!


Bois de Boulogne, lunchtime, May 2004

faugeres bois de bologne picnic paris baguette

Photo of the day time.

I love this image. Lunchtime meets springtime. And it's Paris. Ahhh.

The bottle of Faugères seems to be looking lovingly at the baguette. You can see it reflected in the glass. And the baguette, with its wide-open wrapper, is ready to embrace the wine. The woodland grove that surrounds these two must be happy to host them.

And so was my stomach. This was the day we decided to the track down the odd three-angled Parisian intersection that was the setting of Kylie Minogue's Michel Gondry-directed "Come Into My World" and I had gotten very hungry. It took a while but we did correctly deduce the exact site of the video shoot using maps, key landmarks from the video, and eyewitness reports from helpful local metermaids. Michel had long since abandoned the corner, where he filmed a multiplying Kylie walking in circles around the Point-du-Jour neighbourhood, which is not too far from the giant Bois de Boulogne parkland west of the city. The loaf of bread in the photograph is from the boulangerie featured in the music video; we picked up the wine further down the road. (The intersection today has almost none of the shops shown in the amazing video, just the bakery and a lot of boarded-up storefronts -- though I now realize we practically walked by this French Wine Museum on the way.) We came, we saw, we came into his world, and then we drank and ate sandwiches. And it was good.

A whole year later, I would actually stumble upon the real live Michel Gondry, in the flesh. We were in New York, not Paris. The funny thing is that the Soho restaurant we were in would be called Bread and the drinks spread across my table and his, which was cozily adjacent to mine, would be wine.

But I digress. Outside right now it's 33 degrees below with the wind blowing so never mind the whole story and just breathe in this picture.


Making a list and checking it twice

  • Château de Fesles Anjou 2002

  • Baron Philippe de Rothschild Pauillac 2000

  • Corcovo Crianza Valdepenas 1997

  • Luis Felipe Edwards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2003

  • Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

les infidèles montreal byow restaurant
This festive time of year is turning out to be great for tasting wine. In my school days, the ubiquitous wine and cheese party was more of an excuse to imbibe than to socialize and I had to learn that people who behave well tend not to put the drink before the chit-chat. Now wine presents to me the allures of the gourmand, and while I am admittedly eager to try new bottles at recent social gatherings, I still feel a bit of pressure not to misplace its importance. An enthusiast can be enthusiastic but there is a limit. When I get together with friends, I don't take notes on wine, mental or otherwise. The primary emphasis is on a good time. If a nice wine acts as a catalyst to that, then so much the better! And on the other hand, if someone uncorks something you would never open yourself -- something that's served at the wrong temperature or in the wrong order, or whatever -- you can graciously accept it and continue to enjoy the company and the sharing of food. In this way, focusing the right things at social events is kind of key to everyone's good time. Bottom line is that the priority is to interact with the people, not with the wine. Got that?

While I don't think these moments are given to wine research, they can still provide much fodder for future research. And that happened a lot this past weekend. Above are five red wines that started the weekend off with a bang at a bring-your-own-wine restaurant. I can't be sure of all the vintage years or if I even tasted them all, but I savoured everything I drank. It was a great evening of food and friends.

The remainder of the weekend was spent hosting/grazing with other friends. Below are the seven dead soldiers to prove it. I didn't jot down a list on the spot like a wine-fiend. I just tried to make a mental note of the name and year for the next time I'm at the wine store. When you are in the mood to explore, it's fun to open a bottle of something you haven't taken home before. And since we were quite spoiled at this get-together, take home any of these prestigious names whenever you get the chance. Unlike the first list, which always rose to complement our gourmet dinner in a way that didn't make any of the bottles stand out, the second list of full of fantastic products that will steal attention away from any food, especially if the wine is on the help-yourself table at a buffet.

  • Monmousseau Touraine 2000

  • Antique Senimaros Cairanne 2000

  • Château Roquebrun Coteaux du Languedoc 2004

  • Etchart Torrontes Cafayate 2005

  • Domaine la Moussière Sancerre 2004

  • Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2002

  • Vila Regia Douro 2003


A white and a snowy day: Trimbach 2002

Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2002
I made a quiche. It took a bloody long time. It's perverse to think that the preparation of three eggs could take the better part of an hour. That's how long they took just to get cooked. But then I thought of something even more perverse: I was going to have to open a bottle of white wine when it was verging on the dead of winter (I'm too cheap to start heating the house yet).

White wine and quiche are legendary matches. Quiche Lorraine comes from practically the same hallowed ground as the famous Rieslings of Alsace. So as the oven timer ticked and tocked, I deliberated whether something other than the red wine that I really wanted could do the job on a blustery night. The oven was on. That felt good. Baking dinner was a nice idea. But in the end every reliable wine source says a vegetable quiche has to be served with sauvignon blanc or an Alsacian wine. On this particular evening, either one of those seemed like an unwelcome guest at a private party.

So I go to reach for a red. When I've made eggs as a main dish in the past, with potatoes, cumin and sherry, in a kind of tortilla attempt, spicy reds were perfect. Spanish and light, usually. For mushrooms, shallots and loads of cream and cheese though? I hesitate. Opening a red with that kind of list of ingredients was a chance I was loathe to take. And so in the end I couldn't bring myself to open even the lightest of light reds that I had on hand in the house.

I uncorked a chilled Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2002. It didn't disappoint, despite the need for warmth. Strangely, it's got something warm about it. Never a shrill wine, I would serve it to my friends who always avoid white. From Ribeauvillé, it's a citrusy and apple-y exilir, pleasantly refreshing, but most notably very smooth. Perfect from the very first pour. And perfect for what seems to be any occasion.


Living in a Bordeaux state of mind

Up until very recently, I've been publishing all these posts directly from Bordeaux. Yet there was not one mention of cabernet sauvignon or merlot the entire time. So what gives?

Last week, as soon as I launched this wine blog, a minor December miracle happened. Montreal became Bordeaux, most fabled land of wine! Hard to believe but true. Just check out this visitor log, which records the location of Internet surfers.

Upon further analysis, not all visitors located in Montreal were recorded as stationed in Bordeaux. Only certain special IP addresses went from a Montrealais designation to a Bordelais one, i.e. IPs like mine. Lucky me. I wonder if this means that IP locations will become the new status symbol that personalized license plates and customized ring tones once were. Will only the hippest bloggers to manage to garner that sought-after IP location and add extra credibility to their posts?

My credibility is definitely running out -- a look at the latest tracking reports make it apparent that the location of my IP is once again in Montreal, and without so much as me setting foot on the sloping plains of Pomerol. And there's more deflating news. I lied yesterday when I said Salice Salentino was made from Primitivo grapes. The reserva blend from Taurino is actually a mix of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera. Had I not been such a lazy linker, I could have avoided the mistake. Next time I promise to provide more links to topical information.


Primitive pleasures of the Primitivo grape: Terrale 2003

Terrale Primitivo Puglia 2003
Jancis Robinson writes in The Oxford Companion to Wine that the Primitivo grape is just outside the top 5 red grape varieties harvested in Italy. With increasing publicity about it sharing the DNA fingerprint of the trendy Zinfandel grape, I bet Primitivo has covered much ground in Puglia (literally), and all around the southeastern Italian coast for that matter. But I await an overdue 3rd edition from Robinson to know for sure. My guess might be the result of wishing thinking because I can't get enough Primitivo.

To me, the grape with the "primitive" moniker lives up to its name. Primitivo is ripe for enjoyment in simple, inexpensive expressions like the Terrale Primitivo Puglia 2003. Either that or this bottle is an especially good buy. Quite some time ago, I picked it up on sale for only $8.80. As it sat around the house any expectations I had for it lowered, and they weren't too big to begin with. One Primitivo-based wine [correction] I remembered opening was a bottle that was twice the price. That was the Taurino Reserva Salice Salentino and it attacked with a unique eucalyptus intensity. Nice for a change, but would I go for it any day of the week? That medicinal tinge can give some cause for hesitation. In the end, Terrale doesn't have those medicinal notes; it just presents straight-forward fruit and a full earthiness offset by the perfect amount of tannin. It is so drinkable and yummy despite a finish best described as average. Easy to pair, it can complement the sharp flavours of oregano fusili topped with packed tuna, capers and parmesan or harmonize nicely with roasted pork loin, mushrooms and root vegetables in a maple and rosemary reduction. Though it won't likely harmonize well with light or delicately flavoured meals, one could even imagine it served with fresh fish that's grilled and ambitiously spiced, like the bottle label suggests. Voluptuous, impetuous and with dark berry notes, as the label goes on to explain, this wine is barreled for four months followed by equal time in the bottle.

Casa Vinicola Calatrasi, San Cipirello, Italia. 13.5%.


"You're soaking in it," and other things best avoided

wine bath spa resort

Some blogs have a statement of purpose. I haven't written an entry like that yet. It's obvious that I only post about wine, but so do umpteen-hundred others. When I read the article published in the New York Times Travel Section this week, I felt more motivated than ever to say "this is the exact opposite of what I want to accomplish". This so-called free feature found in the Spa Guide reads like an ad dreamed up by someone who knows too much about marketing copy and much too little about the joys of wine. I cannot recall a flabbier, anemic story with an NYT byline. It's about the soft sell -- if you tart it up enough, you can sell anything to the most disinterested party. That fridge can be sold to this here Inuit family and these here readers who don't ever think to dine with wine might just be curious about a resort that oozes with so much wine you practically bathe in the stuff! Whoa cool!

It's reminiscent of a beef I had with the Beaujolais nouveau people. I can now say I prefer the stilted -- if somewhat informative -- blog and funky French acid jazz of their over-18 site to the pathetic Times advert for the Kenwood Inn. But I don't think Doktor Weingolb will see either one.

Snobby, aren't I? I'll admit there are audiences for dispassionate, commercial writing about wine. And there are audiences for November Beaujolais parties. (Here's hoping that they are one and the same and all the leftover vin nouveau can be put to use as bathwater.) The point is that there are plenty of people who couldn't care less about wine or what it really has to offer when it's not masquerading as shower gel. That's fine. I'm not going to win over many of those people in this space. Because that's just not the audience I want to cater to. And I am determined that that actually has nothing to do with snobism and everything to do with goal of achieving good writing. I'm not saying I'm a great writer (I can put up some really half-baked prose that visitors will turn up their nose at, and probably already have done). But to me, the best writing on the web is the stuff that targets its readers well. Then when you reach your audience, you've succeeded, no matter how much of a fool you feel like when describing a malbec as "robust, with hints of leather belts that are about ready to snap under the tangible weight and volume". Or however one's moved to express the gustatory experience...


Three-grape blend, Portuguese-style: Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2000

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2000
I have not yet tasted the current 2002 vintage, but the Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2000 is delicious. The blend of traditional red grapes from the Douro region of Portugal combines into a luxurious wine with lots of character. More than 20 minutes in the decanter pays off well as the sharpness of the fruit mellows considerably and notes of leather become well developed. This is a very silky and robust wine, yet it does not overpower. It's not too rich or heavy, and its charming style which verges on rustic, is one that I appreciate. Often I find these kinds of wines to be the most food-friendly. Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2000 is the perfect accompaniment to food, and especially the kind of affordable but comforting food I most often prepare at this time of year: pork roasts, pan-grilled chicken and pasta in creamy sauces.

Bottle: "This wine is produced in our winery of Quinta do Seixo in the Douro region from the selected grapes varieties Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa and Tinta Barroca and aged in oak casks of 270 litres. Only the finest quality vintages are used in making Vinha Grande. With a ruby colour and an intense aroma of ripe fruit, this red wine is well balanced, very smooth and has an elegant, persistent finish."

Another 2000 vintage and one that may be easier to locate is the inimitable Tercius, which is a blend of the same three regional grape varieties (hence the name). Suffice to say that though I uncorked a bottle of it last spring before an increase in price sent it above the $20 mark, I would gladly pay this amount for such a remarkable wine.

Vila Nove de Gaia, Portugal. 13.5%.


The Great Underwater Wine and Cheese Party

russian wine anarchists protective vessel underwater cellarThis is an image taken from an article about an experimental Siberian wine cellar. The plastic container isn't the cellar, it's just the protective vessel that will used for cellaring. That part is important because the storage site is the bottom of a frozen body of water. I did mention experimental, right? I'll have to find out the results of this experiment, conducted by Russian wine anarchists. In the meantime, read about their idea.

Should a bottle ever break free of its vessel during a future cellaring attempt by Russian wine anarchists, I sincerely hope it ends up in a swift-flowing current that leads it directly to Quebec's lost cheese.

Speaking of wines under ice, what about ice wine? And what is Sauternes? To acknowledge some readers' questions from the last post, today's dessert wine tasting was indeed sweet. Which is what Sauternes is. Usually when we think of sweet wines, or more specifically dessert wines, we think of ice wine. This is primarily because we are Canadian. Sauternes, however, is perhaps the definitive sweet wine because of its rich heritage and noble Bordeaux provenance. In fact it is so noble that the rotting of the grapes used to make Sauternes is referred to as "noble rot". Another slightly oxymoronic thing about Sauternes is the idea that, like many dessert wines, it can be served after the meal with a sugary course or before the meal as an aperitif. Today's tasting did a good job of suggesting when to open your sweet wine and with what. Don't miss next week's session, which is the last one until mid-January.


The best things in life are free, i.e., The art of living

Tomorrow, Tuesday December 6, the downtown Art de Vivre succursale of the SAQ presents a Midi conseil on the subject of dessert wines. This "Art of Living" outlet has been offering these free lunchtime sessions on different themes (the wines of Venice, mentioned in this space yesterday, was another one of them).

Beginning at noon, SAQ wine counsellors will shed some light on the head-scratcher that is the dessert/wine pairing. The SAQ calendar notes that some of the suggested combinations will be audacious. I don't know about that, but what you can rely on during these informative half-hour talks is an educational tasting of each of the 4 products opened. A moderator engages with the wine and the crowd while a sommelier provides the authentic tasting glass, a generous sample and ample background on each of the bottles he uncorks. Since at that time of day you've likely only put breakfast in your stomach, a spittoon will be passed around in case you need it. The presentation is in French but, as they say, wine appreciation is universal, or something like that. The crowd bears this out. At any given session, you are likely to see college students with backpacks in tow, business people flying the coop from nearby offices, and my boss, trying to find out when I might be coaxed back to my cubicle. The answer to this last one is certainly no head-scratcher: as fast as Management can whip out the Sauternes.


When the chicken you're eating is actually a red herring: Allegrini Valpolicella Classico 2004

Allegrini Valpolicella Classico 2004
Yesterday I picked up Michel Phaneuf's Le Guide du Vin 2006. Scanning through it quickly for a good deal, I came across the Allegrini Valpolicella Classico 2004, which the author qualified as one of the great 4-star bargains of the year, as well as one of the very very few Italian wines categorized as such. I needed to be convinced. I tasted some Valpolicellas recently at a Venetian-themed tasting and none came off very well. I also recalled having this Allegrini on earlier occasions and not feeling like it was as good as it should be. I had wondered why since it's routinely feted by so many, and now, with the 2004 vintage, particularly well-received. So I take home the bottle from the liquor store with this history in mind.

Opening it with pizza à la poulet fumé, I found it thirst-quenching, Rhône-ish in its generous cherry flavours -- but grapey too -- and perhaps bit green. Since it was a young wine, I knew that rebottling it (in a half-bottle so it's less likely to become over-oxidized with time) and then having it the next night would likely do it some good. It did. The ripened strawberry hints now came through and the typical Valpolicella finish, which is slightly bitter, was rounder, longer, and more delicious. Rarely will rebottled wine lose quality within 24 hours. But also equally as rare is the mellowness and added complexity that this one gained. I wondered if decanting it for an hour before serving would do the trick next time. Another lesson might be avoiding it with the pizza I had, which in retrospect was not a suitable pairing for it. In his book, Phaneuf writes that grilled chicken and tomatoes make ideal matches, which is indeed what I ate. But the chicken he mentions are breasts -- specifically ones stuffed with prosciutto. I suspect this is the key to the pairing. Meanwhile my pizza had heaps of cheese, basil, mushrooms, and barbecue flavour but no salty cured meats whatsoever, just bits of chicken. Same bird, different scene! On the second night, I had some scraps of the leftover pizza, but my main dish was a hearty sandwich: chunks of honeyed ham on oatmeal bread with anise mustard and rosemary potatoes on the side. Something about the tanginess of the ham sandwich harmonized with the wine much better than the pizza did.

The bottle label reads: "Well rounded wine with a fruity character accentuated by the cherry aroma. Recommended serving temperature: 16-18 C. Excellent accompaniment to wide variety of dishes: fish, pasta and meats. 13%"


How far does your wine budget go?

A lot of people have the impression that shopping at the SAQ, (Société des alcools du Québec, the province's liquor board) costs more than the LCBO (Ontario's Liquor Control Board). Well, those people are right. Differences in provincial tax rates do mean Quebeckers have to pay a little more for their Yellow Tails and their Little Penguins.

(Higher tax on mass-produced Australian wine such as Yellow Tail is not a bad idea. Unfortunately, that tax is not levied on the basis of an ill-advised choice -- it's just that in some cases, when a Yellow Tail Shiraz purchase becomes prohibitive, there's a silver lining to it.)

Tax is the ultimate whipping boy for the grumbles of wine lovers in Quebec so let's look at other factors that raise the prices of bottles in Quebec. One is that SAQ excels in selection, especially in its wines, which amounts to a cost to consumers. But when you consider what greater variety gives the consumer, higher prices are not necessarily such a raw deal. All of this is a generalization though. There are many competively priced wines at the SAQ, often mid-range or higher-end items. Plenty of them are bargains when you start comparing the list prices to those of other outlets. Once you start shopping for bottles in the twenty-dollar range, you will find many reasons to cancel your Ontario border run for the Hawkesbury haul.

And on top of all of that, some prices actually go down. I should start supplying examples at this point or else you are not going to believe me. Here then are two highly recommended white wines that are reliable products year in and year out. And this year, the SAQ has chopped about a dollar off the ticketed price. The LCBO does not stock them. They are the Maculan Pino & Toi ($16.70) and the Dourthe No. 1 blanc ($15.95). Each one possesses a smartly etched mineral flavour and a delicate aromatic range. The Maculan is a blend of Pinots and Tocai; the Bordeaux is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. They are both sophisticated and great values. And finally, something for red wine lovers...

Jorio Umani Ronchi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2002, a very rich and delicious red wine, remains sale-priced across the province for only one more day, so eliminate any time in consultation and get it fast. At $16.20, you will not be disappointed.


Pain au vin nouveau

Six days before the unveiling of the 2004 Rézin cuvées, there was another highly anticipated release: the 2005 vins nouveaux. Unlike the Cuvée Rézin Blanc - P St-Vincent 2004, which is sold out, and will remain unavailable for least a couple of months, the 2005 vins nouveaux continue to languish on store shelves. And these "wines of the latest vintage" were out the earliest!

I'm not a big fan of the whole vin nouveau thing. It was conceived in the 1950s as a marketing ploy. If knowing that is not enough to turn me off, then tasting the stuff seals the deal. Yet the phenomenon has its followers as well as its detractors.

Taking a clever stance somewhere in the middle is the Première Moisson bakery chain: Not really a "Nay" or an "Aye" but more like a "We'll boil the stuff and make it good." With that idea in mind, and perhaps a little marketing ploy of their own, Première Moisson has been baking a little vin nouveau into their delicious loaves, which I think is a tremendous idea. Darn tasty too, so if you find this distinctive red loaf, get it. It's not surprising that the French have recognized this Quebec bakery as world-class. They can take plonk and make it fit for a king. Unfortunately, I have not seen any more pain au vin nouveau in their shops. I suppose it was a limited-time offering that coincided with the wine's sudden annual appearance, which is always a Thursday late in the month of November. If some of these Beaujolais keep hanging around the SAQ through the holidays, then I would encourage the bakers at Première Moisson to nip out for some more and put their magic recipe back in action.

I let the Loire provenance of the Cuvée réZin rouge - E. Excoffier 2004 fool me. There's no Cabernet Franc in this table wine at all. The Loire grape that makes strong showing is actually Gamay. Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache from the Rhône get blended into the cuvée too. My apologies and another thumb's-up to Thierry Puzelat and the fine folk at réZin.

Yesterday I may have done readers another disservice by not listing the coordinates of Daylight Factory -- it's officially listed as Café Daylight Factory, just so you know. On top of that omission, I may have also done the café an injustice (Disservice + Injustice = Bad first day on the blog). I called it swanky when it's actually a grand-prize winner in the Commerce Design Montréal contest. This bar was remarkably transformed from loading dock. That explains the interesting two-tiered topography. I think I called it swanky because the levels reminded me of a Hollywood sound stage. Not that swanky is bad anyway. Check out the little panorama movie on the link above for a look.


Cuvée réZin rouge - E. Excoffier 2004

rezin vin logo
Each year local distributor and private importer réZin adds one special red wine and special one white to their Importation Sauvage collection. These wines are christened as "les cuvées réZin" and they represent the Quebec agency in their unique, usually all-natural, refreshing approach to wine. For the 2004 vintages, réZin initiated a relationship with Loire winemaker Thierry Puzelat to produce two extraordinary table wines. They are table wines because the grapes are cultivated from various vineyards -- breaking the rules set out by appellation standards, but not necessarily the standards set out by the vintner. As the guys at réZin would explain it: these blends are without pretension, possessing an incredible equilibrium and character due to a fabrication free of system constraints.

A large crowd launched the cuvées last week at the Daylight Factory lounge and bar, a swanky place that matched the seductive crimson labels created by local artist Éliane Excoffier. (This yearly wine event has become twice as fun in recent years because it promises the unveiling of homegrown artistic talent in addition to the release of the imported cuvées.) Cuvée réZin rouge - E. Excoffier 2004 is an interesting mix of both northern and southern vineyards. It makes for a blend that surpasses the typical lightness of a Loire Cab Franc varietal [correction]. Hints of leather were surprisingly more prominent than you'd expect, observed my fellow drinker, a St-Émilion enthusiast. And it's in this way that good table wine goes about proving its merits.

The white cuvée, which is adorned with the work of Patrick St-Vincent, was bracing with lots of citrus notes but I'm sorry to say I hear it completely sold out in only a few days. See the website (in French) for online orders and more information (the "bientôt" on the order form suggests that it might not be too late to enjoy the white cuvée réZin).