How to beat the Christmas shopping rush: Dupéré-Barrera Les Terres de Méditerranée 2004

"The more the experts proclaim their approval of great wines, the harder it becomes for the consumer to actually drink them."

dupere barrera five star wine  Post updated 061221 in comments


brandolini Vistorta 2003 sold out Phaneuf acclaimI've never seen so many wine shoppers as I have lately. All these new fellow shoppers... is it camaraderie or is it competition?

It's competition.

Despite the spirit of the season, I definitely see it as competition. HUGE competition at that. Bah humbug buddy, that bottle's mine!

The fact is that getting top-reviewed bottles is harder now than I can ever remember. Typically at this time of the year, winning the sought-after cuvée is tough. This particular year it practically takes a Christmas miracle to get your hands on it. Or so it seems to me.

I have seen what it takes to secure those prized bottles when new shipments trickle in and then immediately start selling like hotcakes. When party supplies need to be stocked up and year-end lists encourage further purchases, buying that bottle can certainly appear to be a lost cause.

In Montreal, the main reason they sell like hotcakes is Michel Phaneuf, famed Quebecois wine writer. In my critical review of his Guide du Vin 2007, I suggested readers met with frustration when then opened the wine-buying guide because the annual survey of wines sold in the province was presented this year in a less user-friendly way than usual. I mostly discussed problems with its layout and ordering but one thing that caused me to meet frustration again and again was something I did not even mention. (I didn't mention it because it's the wine lover's paradox -- no fault of Phaneuf or his publishers.)

I'm talking about the well-known fact that the more the experts proclaim their approval of great wines, the harder it becomes for the consumer to actually drink them. Especially in the midst of a Christmas rush.

Recently Phaneuf has given some extremely affordable wines five-star reviews, a fairly unprecedented thing. As a result, it is impossible to get your hands on. When his wine newsletter let the cat out of the wine bag earlier this year, what short supply there was of the five-star Vistorta Merlot 2003 by Conti Brandolini d'Adda (pictured above) fast depleted from SAQ outlets (click on it and see). When restaurateurs buy up the stuff by the case, what chance does the everyday consumer really have?

Slim to none, but with persistence and discipline you can do like I did and score yourself some. But also please learn from my mistakes. Here's what I did in the course of my five-star pursuit:


Since the SAQ, like many wine agencies and retailers, has an online database of their stock, I made a point of checking in daily for any sign of the five-star wine in the province. Occasionally, results show 1 or 2 bottles. Calling the outlet that reports the stock usually is a dead-end. The outlet will reply that the number is an error or is normally-occurring breakage.

9:30 AM

The other day, I got lucky. It was half-past nine, the time outlets open, and I had just returned a search result indicating 8 bottles. This was a good sign. I called immediately. The employee responding to my query went to check on the actual stock and said he could account for 6 bottles. Two must've just sold, he told me. Fine. I asked for two of what was left to be put aside, saying that I was on my way to pick them up.

9:43 AM

I didn't immediately consider asking for more than two bottles because I didn't have access to a car. But then I thought a trek across the city using public transit with my half-case would be worth the trouble. I called back five minutes later to ask for all six bottles. They said that there were now only five bottles, but that I could have those. I said sure.

9:47 AM

An incoming call on my phone. My call display said it was the SAQ. Not a good omen. I answered and they informed me that only the original two bottles I had requested would be available for me to pick up. The other three bottles had been snapped up before they could reserve them for me. Too bad about that -- unfortunately wine lovers, that's what half-measures and hesitation will get you this Christmas in Quebec -- but I couldn't really complain.


Most common holiday accidents

Yesterday, I received the following message in my email inbox and this was one of the images attached to it. Please don't let this happen to you this holiday season.

From: "Win"
Subject: X'mas feast 2006
To:"Anna Xu", "AM Ferrara", "Vera", "Huy Duong", "David Chang", "Jason Ang", "Elsa", "Saif Husain", "Zeina", "Marcus Gilliam"

Here are some pics from yesterday evening!

Hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season...

winnie lai david chang

Notice how the word safe seems to be emphasized in the context of this particular photo. Don't let yourself be a victim. This image could've been prevented. Avoid posing for photos behind foreshortened bottles of wine. It's Christmas folks, but that Château Grand Launay Côtes-de-Bourg 2001 is no toy. Please pose with it carefully!

That forshortened bottle of wine, by the way, was a standard 750-millilitre bottle, not the Methuselah that it looks like from the viewers' perspective. Orient yourself with the wine bottle size scale here.

biblical names of giant bottle sizes
Our Grand Launay must've seemed bigger than it was. Nearing dinner's end we were daunted by the prospects of opening it and didn't end up tasting it. Hopefully next year we will get a second chance at it. Maybe when no one mindlessly lets it wander between a photo-op and the camera lens.


But this dinner was not all tales of disaster and regret. The theme was our favourite wine discoveries of the year. We tasted wines (in standard-sized bottles) from Rodney Strong, Château Cabrières and Taltarni Vineyards, and I thought that they are were really good, near-perfect selections for the occasion.
The Chardonnay had palpable wood, and though my fellow diner thought it was slightly tainted by the cork, I quite enjoyed it.

The Cabrières and Taltarni wines created an amazing transition that I wouldn't have expected. They have similar depth, richness and are made in the same international style with fine tannins and well-integrated oak. You can tell the Cabernet and Merlot grapes were from a cool-climate region though, and next time I would reverse the order and serve the Cabrières second. It's a smoky, savoury Syrah with less perky acid and fruit and it eases you nicely into dessert.

But most importantly, the man pictured above has recovered and will attend holiday to come dinners featuring many more discovery wines.



Marchesi Alfieri La Tota 2004, aka "Big Babs"

la tota marchesi alfieri barbera d'asti
And... Weingolb revealed!

It'll be a strange week in December. There's a chill in the air yet the good ol' standby of this site, of my coterie of friends, of my very own kitchen -- red wine -- is on the backburner. After tomorrow, I will have not opened a bottle of red wine in a week. (Like I said in my post on my favourite new café, my appetite for red wine has all but totally disappeared.)

I'm enjoying white wines in red's place and that adds to my surprise. After all, Christmas is only ten days away. And while there's no rules against a white wine Yuletide season, it does strike me as an odd time to take the vacation I'm taking.

If redlessness describes my drinking these days, why post now about Barbera you ask? The answer is that my wine reviews come from notes lovingly aged in my cave for one full month. There. The truth's out. The wines you see reviewed on this site (not including the wines in WBW events) were uncorked the month prior. I had the wine in today's post on November 14. (Technically I had it on the 13th and 14th. My remarks on it didn't actually change much from the one day to the next. They often do.)


OK, so why, you ask? For the year I've been posting my tasting notes on this site, I've routinely found that the energy required to take accurate and thorough notes didn't bode well for the effort I wanted to put into further research, presentation and style. Yes I put hard work into my wine reviews. Can't you feel the 30 days of polish applied to my posts?

So call me Wait-a-while Weingolb (and while we're at it, Weingolb is "blog" spelled backwards and appended to the German word for wine, in case you were wondering).

Onward to the unveiling of Marchesi Alfieri La Tota Barbera D'Asti 2004, a wine that's known in these parts as Big Babs. Check out Alfieri's online profile of it, which in most years is their top cuvée.

Before I reveal the secrets that lie behind the cork, a penetrating look at the label. "La Tota" means signorina in the Piedmontese dialect, or so say the winemakers. And that in English means miss, as in Miss Congeniality. I know. That was the first (and last) Italian title to a Weingolb wine review.

In any case, this wine is a hit, far from a miss, though I was a bit perplexed in drinking such a serious treatment for Barbera, a grape that usually is rendered into simple, quaffable and frequently cheap expressions.


The colour is a very bright magenta and there is a tad of a green aroma to it when you swirl it around your glass. La Tota would easily age perfectly well if you laid it down for a few years.

My first reaction was that this wine was very acidic, very Barbera. I found no trace of oak (though the profile page strangely alludes to it). An oak presence, I would hazard, is quite a nice thing for a Barbera. It seems to me that Barbera -- a rustic, often abrasive, frequently light-bodied varietal -- stands to gain a lot from oak's softening tannins and smoothing vanilla.

If this wine is missing wood, it is certainly not short on extraction and integration, which are really quite fantastic here. I've never had a Barbera like this one. It has medium body and medium length. It's even got a medium level of fruit, but mostly raspberry that has shades of mocha and spice. Its pucker makes for a less-than-great pairing if you've got hearty grilled foods like I had the night I sampled it.


Instead, try it with cold cuts, white meats, even fish in a fennel-infused relish. I might even like to try it with spice-box dishes like gnocchi made with no shortage of nutmeg or my favourite flourless pasta, a spinach-and-sage malfatti.

Mmmm... Marchesi Alfieri's La Tota Malfatti Night -- sign me up. My appetite for red wine is coming back again as I type this.

San Martino, Alfieri, Italia. 14%.


WBW #28 Festive Sparklers: Monmousseau Cuvée J.M. Mousseux 2002 and Mumm Cuvée Brut Prestige NV

For this month's tasting theme, Brenda from Culinary Fool asked for entries on sparkling wine, i.e. NOT Champagne, since wines bearing the official Champagne appellation was tackled earlier this fall.

wine blogging wednesday 28 sparkling sparklers festiveShe's no fool. In fact, Culinary Fool is replete with great information pertaining to sparkling wine, and Brenda's WBW theme is backed up with a five-part debriefing that's instructive and well-organized. So by all means, spend some time with the many useful directions the links above will take you.

Brenda also asked for specific details on the sparklers that participants open, including a practical categorization she's set up for us called Party Sparkler, Special Sparkler or Dud. Since my participation stemmed from an actual, fairly festive get-together I had on the weekend, hitting the Special category was the aim. To make sure they were Special, my guests and I went with known quantities. We got bottles we knew were worthy of the occasion and they did not disappoint. (They also could fit into another WBW category called "Mmmmm... those yummy cuvées have lots of M's" but I digress...)

The sparkling wines we had were: Monmousseau Cuvée J.M. Touraine Mousseux 2002 and Mumm Cuvée Napa Brut Prestige NV (NV stands for non-vintage though "Napa Valley" would be applicable here). The repetitious M's (I count seven) were incidental, but these bottles sure were yummmmmmmy. Okay, enough word play.

First up was the 2002 J.M. Monmousseau. Not only it is a reliable brand, its affordable price makes it crossover categories from Special to Party. It was packed with fruit and refreshment. One guest gravitated to it because it was so cooling and refreshing. It was great with salmon and spinach mousse.

monmousseau sparkling chenin blanc

A Chenin Blanc sparkling wine from Touraine in the Loire Valley in France.
It was followed by the non-vintage Mumm, which is a Champagne House, but here operating out of California's Napa Valley, far far away from Champagne. It was quite different from the first bottle, thought they both were made using the traditional method. From the moment we poured out the Mumm, we noticed the light salmon colour. And it tasted creamier, yeastier, and generally less fruit-driven but thoroughly delicious.

mumm napa sparkling pinot noir pinot meunier chardonnay
A Pinots-Chardonnay blend sparkling wine from the Napa Valley in California. PHOTOS: CATHY CHAMPAGNE
Obviously grape composition set these sparklers apart and gave them quite different profiles. The Chenin Blanc was dry and citrusy, the Pinot Noir-Pinot Meunier-Chardonnay was rich and nutty. I've never done a blind tasting on sparkling wine before, but I am sure anyone could distinguish these two blind.

Montrichard, Loir & Cher, France. 12%. Rutherford, California, U.S.A. 12.5%.


Another Day Without Wine: C'est café !

caffe artjava montrealcaffe artjava montrealcaffe artjava montreal

I found out today that my favourite café doesn't have a liquor license -- doesn't even plan on getting one for a while. Although I'm obviously a wine blogger, I don't mean for this to sound dramatic. I didn't even bat an eye when I heard the news. This blog and its readers may temporarily disown me but I don't care. I'm drinking coffee that has no qualifier.

The espresso is so good at Caffè ArtJava that my mind doesn't much wander to red wine these days. If you have gone to ArtJava for a macchiato you might think the same thing.

While I admire their latte art and I enjoy a real fine brew, I can't claim to be a real connoisseur of coffee. For instance, I am only beginning to realize the depth of coffee science and the heights of barista expertise. We're talking World Barista Championships.

art java electronic signTo me, what's so alluring about a gourmet coffeeshop like ArtJava is a culture and an attitude that is, well I don't know, fun, for lack of a better word (I did say that this was coffee with no qualifier, right?). Sure it helps that you enjoy coffee but there's just a real great atmosphere inside, largely because the friendly baristas clearly love their job, which is an intriguing blend of craft and art (the entire staff shares this attitude and the lunch plates are very good too I might add). But craft and art -- that brings me back to the wine angle again...

Some people say there's art in making wine, but it's nothing like the art of presentation that baristas put into their coffees. "You drink it in with your eyes" I once heard someone say. That's a memorable way of putting it. And it's something the world of wine appreciation does not openly embrace, though there may be times when assessing the colour of wine, decanting a bottle, or admiring a wine label can be its own reward.

I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that ArtJava's customers are rewarded in returning. And so I do.

And when my favourite café finally gets licensed to serve wine, so much the better. Last summer, when I ordered a glass of Chianti at the original ArtJava location, I requested that they chill it in their fridge for ten minutes. They could've told me no, or to try it first as it is, or that their customers seem like to like it at the temperature it's already at. Instead, they happily obliged. Craft and art and great service.


At the end of last week's gushing restaurant appreciation of ArtJava -- gushing especially because the post gushed out of me without actually taking the time to review the elements unique to the new location -- I made a promise. I did at least take the time to say that I would delve deeper into the unique "surround-sound chill-out room" tucked away in the back of the downtown café. Well, the story behind it is better than I could've guessed.

The room is bank vault. The ambient little setting you sip your lattes in today is a result of necessity more than design. Because the bank vault was built with massively thick walls, it is a structural element of the building. The mezzanine above it which houses offices would basically collapse if the vault was torn out. Talk about a unique element.

The bank that installed it, the National Bank, or la Banque Nationale du Canada, is now directly across the street. In a weird twist, National Bank employees have been said to store the coffee supplies for their office kitchen in their new vault, which is space reclaimed from a long-defunct A. L. Van Houtte.


My experiment in storing opened wine: Etchart Privado Cafayate & Carte D'Or Buzet 2003

The other night I opened a couple of low-end Cabernets. The first one was a Buzet blend from 2003. It was a disappointingly hot cuvée from an otherwise reliable co-operative. I didn't drink too much of it before I turned to open the other Cabernet, also from 2003. This one was Etchart's Cafayate Cab Sauv. It was better -- though not exactly supple either -- but my dinner was practically finished by that point.

And so, as a solo drinker, I faced a major storage issue: the better part of each of the two bottles I had opened for myself remained there in front of me, waiting for another opportunity to be drunk.

I keep several mini bottles of varying sizes specifically for leftover wine purposes. If you've read this blog before you know that I routinely minimize the amount of air and then chill until next serving, usually in following 48 hours (at which point I usually comment on the wine's development/degradation). But I've never attempted to formally prove why this rebottling process is worth the effort. Why bother transferring a half-full bottle of wine at all? Well, here is what I did and what I found out...

I filled a mini bottle to the brim with the Buzet, tightly screwcapped the lid and refrigerated it. I then repeated these steps for the Cafayate. That left roughly 1/3 of the wine in the original bottles. I re-stoppered them both with their respective corks and left them to sit at room temperature -- 18 degrees Celsius. And I waited three days before returning to them.

A bit of background and rationale for you: The effects of oxidation of wine -- basically wine tasting flat -- occurs through a natural process that is stimulated once the bottle is uncorked. But there are many people who say that the pouring of wine from half-full bottles (and into mini bottles) dissolves just as much oxygen in the wine as leaving the wine in a bottle that features a vast expanse of air. (My own educated guess from experience was that the presence of air over time during storage would be a greater oxidizing force than the momentary act of pouring into a mini bottle.)

To this experiment, I added a second variable of storage temperature. I wanted to investigate this because I always chill wine remainders rather than keep them at cellar temperature or room temperature. Yet I rarely or never see restaurants serve red wine by the glass in such a manner, and I have heard that oxidation is slowed at lower temperatures.

Days later, the wines are reopened and tasted. The results were conclusive. The methods of storing wine made for a very detectable difference in a blind taste test. Not only that, but the wines that were stored using my typical method tasted better than the other stored wines. I found this in a blind experiment comparing the Buzet samples and a second participant also found this when comparing the Cafayates blind during a second round. (After my first round, I separated out the two Buzet samples by deduction: since I had isolated and revealed to myself the two Cayafate samples -- which had tasted so radically different that my initial hypothesis was that one was a Buzet and the other was a Cafayate -- I was able to perform a second round of blind tasting for the Buzet. See complete notes below.)


Unfortunately, with this experiment, I cannot say whether it was storage temperature or presence of air that had a greater effect on the stored wine. Likely these variables are intertwined. Regardless, my storage method is better than doing the standard recorking, which is pretty much doing nothing at all.

This experiment looked at oxidation in a somewhat limited sense. It was more or less assumed that the more oxidized a wine became, the less palatable it would be. This should not be taken as a constant rule. In choosing Cabernets and a period of three days, I suspected that some elements of the wine might be more palatable, and I definitely think that the Etchart Privado Cabernet Sauvignon Cafayate 2003 was more fully developed three days after opening than immediately out of the bottle. This adds some interesting "reverse psychology" when creating storage conditions for your leftover wine, and certainly goes against Émile Peynaud's theory that aeration of opened wine is indefensible, something I consider even easier disprove than perceived rates of oxidation. Nevertheless, the Cafayate could've been drinking beautifully after one day or two days -- I cannot speculate on that based on this experiment.

Here are my complete notes:

MINI BOTTLE, CAFAYATE SAMPLE: Lovely bouquet of minerals and spice (Ed: I totally pegged this for French Cabernet -- and a good one at that -- when tasting it blind. Again this raises questions about whether the a little oxidation/aeration isn't such a bad thing).

ORIGINAL BOTTLE, CAFAYATE SAMPLE: Heaps of spice. Obvious oak and vanilla. (Ed: This tasted too round and flabby -- as I often expect oaked New World wine to be after a couple of days. That said, it was surprising to me that it tasted as good as it did considering it was so full of air and at room temperature for so long. Credit to Etchart for an outstanding value Cabernet.)

MINI BOTTLE, BUZET SAMPLE: too hot, quite unpalatable

ORIGINAL BOTTLE, BUZET SAMPLE: totally rounded, thoroughly tasteless

(Ed: These two Buzets were harder to differentiate than the Cafayates, I think because of the fact that this wine, even in its optimum condition, was hot, and rather nasty. The original bottle Buzet sample simply stood out as the nastiest of the nasty, and having seen how the original bottle Cafayate sample played out in round one of my tasting, I was fairly sure how to label these two Buzet samples.)


Tasting: Sirius 2001

sirius serious bordeaux red wine
Eyes: Red brick colour, going from maroon to orange-edged.

Nose: Aroma is inviting, I get orange, marmalade and animal. Juicy and savory stuff. I got lured in too early...

Mouth: On the palate the fruit is fairly closed, yet there's a sense of fine structure. I recorked it and put in aside. The next night I got rounder sensations, deeper and less austere: dusty fruit turns into cassis. Mint notes were elegantly rendered. Medium-full body. The acis was in the right place and proportioned. Nice grip on the finish with tannins that usher in a hint of vanilla for a lovely long finish. A nice wine.
lamb chop grilled salad boiled potatoes red onion black olive lettuce vinaigrette
Food: After uncorking this wine, decant it for about an hour while you prepare a green salad and grill a fresh lamb chop. Then put on a pot of water and boil quartered grelot potatoes. Add them, red onions, black olives and a balsamic-and-herb vinaigrette to your lamb salad, and violà!

A rewarding meal for a bargain-priced Bordeaux that needs only minimal nurturing.

Maison Sichel, Bordeaux, France. 12%.


Les Christins and other fine Christmastime wines

Perrin & sons Les Christin Vacqueyras 2003 wine spectator annual addition to top 100'Tis the season to indulge in special wines and this weekend my friends and I enjoyed something beyond the everyday bottle which usually sustains us for most of the year.

December is definitely feeling festive, and as if on cue, freezy and snowy weather started at the beginning of the month, right on the dot. Now I've been opening my fridge door like I would open the little flaps on an advent calendar. A little goodie is waiting for me each time.

I've got a fair deal of special wines that need drinking (scroll down to the very bottom to see my list). It's occurred to me that using bottles of wine to count down the days of December sounds like a good way to get the stuff uncorked. It also warms you on winter nights and gains you drinking buddies, which is also good.


First up, just in time for Montreal's first snowfall, was something from my wine fridge -- Perrin et Fils Les Christins Vacqueyras 2003. I chose it not because it was nearing a past-peak date but because it was a recent Wine Spectator Top 100 pick.

That was a surprise to me. I bought Les Christins based on its reputable name and bargain price: Perrin of Château de Beaucastel and a 25% discount. It was merely a bonus that it came in at number 98 on the 2005 list. In fact I almost didn't buy it because of its year: 2003, a vintage which all but ruined my everyday favourites from the Rhône by robbing my dinners of an important acidity -- the kind that is a perfect counterbalance to food. My worries here were unnecessary, but more on that later.

In any case, when I discovered that the 2003 Les Christins made the list I soon found out the 2004 Les Christins did as well. Yes, it's true, which means that this cuvée is one of the few to make onto consecutive Top 100 lists (though the 2004 is outshining its preceding "heatwave" vintage of 2003 by reaching number 83 on this year's list). So obviously I wanted to taste it for myself.

Also spurring me on to uncork was Alice Feiring who wrote recently that she would consider drinking only a dozen of the WS 100. If you're not familiar with Alice, you should know that her statement is not exaggeration or sensationalism. She knows what wine she likes -- what type, what's added to it, and especially the method in which it is made. A couple Rhônes from the 2006 list made Alice's list but this one was not one of them.

roast chicken whole organic produce from local montreal marketMe, I'm much more impressionable. But then I'm situated differently than Alice. No vendages for me, or at least not yet. And I drink and appreciate wine from a fairly different stratum too. So this Perrin pleased me, infinitely more than the 2003 Perrin Nature or the 2003 Perrin Réserve. Its structure had much more integrity. And as for enjoying it with food, it turned out this majority Grenache blend held its own with local grain-fed organic chicken (shown roasted at right) which was served with a delicious sauce made of its own juices, red wine and berry preserves. (The lovely Perrin blog suggests a recipe quite similar to roasted chicken -- rabbit 'rouzigue').

Perhaps because it's not that much more expensive than the Réserve and Nature bottles, Wine Spectator has been singling out Perrin's Les Christins. But why spectulate on Wine Spectator? A while back the website for the magazine opened up its vast tasting note database, and me, knowing how many special wines I had on the hand that needed monitoring, made myself a little list.


So here, starting with the Les Christins, are helpful descriptive notes (plus the less useful scores -- but it's all courtesy of the kind folks at Wine Spectator so who can complain) for a bunch of wines I'm considering opening this holiday season. Hmmm... Twenty wines. Twenty Advent Calendars windows left to open. If I uncork one a day I'll wake up and find that it's Christmas. With a hangover too.

Perrin & Fils
Vacqueyras Les Christins 2003

A gorgeous nose of dark fruit confiture and spice cake flavors is followed by a powerful palate of dark fruit, smoke, tar and minerals. Richly layered and densely structured, but with an elegant side as well. Best from 2006 through 2009. 4,165 cases made. –James Molesworth

Score: 91 | Price: $19

Country: France
Region: Southern Rhône

Issue: Aug 5, 2005

Barone Ricasoli
Chianti Classico Brolio 2002

Tasty black fruit, mineral and vanilla character. Medium-bodied, with fine tannins and a tangy mineral finish. Good quality for a 2002 CC. The estate didn't make its top CC, Castello di Brolio, this year, so part of it went into this. Best after 2004. 42,000 cases made.

Score: 87 | Price: $22

Country: Italy
Region: Tuscany

Issue: Oct 31, 2004

Umbria Cervaro della Sala 2002

Meursault gets a suntan. This is a minerally, rich and fruity Chardonnay similar to the great appellation of Burgundy, but then there is a dried fruit, very flashy Italian style to it. Full-bodied, with good acidity and a long, exotic fruit aftertaste. Drink now. 15,830 cases made. –JS

Score: 91 | Price: $42

Country: Italy
Region: Umbria

Issue: Jun 15, 2004

Léon Beyer
Riesling Alsace Les Écaillers 2000

A dry style, showing some maturity with petrol, lanolin, apple and peach aromas and flavors. It has a good structure and full body, followed by a long finish. Should accompany roast pork or chicken nicely. Drink now through 2008. 1,500 cases made. –BS

Score: 90 | Price: $30

Country: France
Region: Alsace

Issue: Jul 31, 2004

Alsace Willm
Gewürztraminer Alsace 2004

Rich and appealing, this offers honey, vanilla and tropical fruit notes in a soft, open structure. Good finish. Drink now. 2,500 cases made. –BS

Score: 85 | Price: $12

Country: France
Region: Alsace

Issue: Oct 15, 2005

Mumm Cuvée Napa
Brut Napa Valley Prestige NV

A smooth, creamy, delicate style, with light cherry and Pinot Noir flavors that echo orange peel and smoky citrus notes. Drink now through 2005. 175,000 cases made. –JL

Score: 87 | Price: $16

Country: California
Region: Napa

Chardonnay Penedès Gran Viña Sol 2004

This oaky white has a rich texture and flavors of sweet vanilla, toast and melon. But it's a bit ponderous. Contains 15 percent Parellada. Drink now. 1,000 cases imported. –TM

Score: 83 | Price: $15

Country: Spain
Region: Spain

Issue: Nov 15, 2005

Christian Moreau Père & Fils
Chablis 2002

Mineral aromas mark this white, whose richness provides a supple coating for the firm underlying structure. It hints at apple and honey before coming back to the mineral theme. Nice length. Drink now. –BS

Score: 87 | Price: $17

Country: France
Region: Burgundy

Issue: Aug 31, 2004

Château St.-Martin de la Garrigue
Coteaux du Languedoc White 2004

Medium-bodied, with grapefruit, ripe apple and rose petal flavors, and ripe spicy notes as well. Forward and fresh-tasting, with mineral elements on the finish. Drink now through 2007. 195 cases imported. –KM

Score: 88 | Price: $14

Country: France
Region: Languedoc-Roussillon

Issue: Nov 15, 2005

Shiraz South Eastern Australia Diamond Label 2004

Ripe and sprightly, with pleasant blackberry and herb flavors. Drink now. 485,000 cases imported. –HS

Score: 85 | Price: $12

Country: Australia
Region: Australia

Issue: Sep 30, 2006

Familia Rutini
Malbec Tupungato Trumpeter 2004

Elegant, floral style with red berry fruit, vanilla and violet notes. Creamy, toasty finish. Drink now. 55,000 cases made. –JM

Score: 86 | Price: $9

Country: Argentina
Region: Mendoza

Issue: Nov 15, 2005

Merlot California Valley Oaks 2003

Straightforward, with berry, currant, toasty oak and pleasant spicy notes. Drink now. 461,000 cases made.

Score: 83 | Price: $9

Country: California
Region: Other California

Issue: Oct 15, 2005

Fattoria dei Barbi
Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1997

Superaromatic, with leather, blackberry and cedar aromas. Very Sangiovese. Full-bodied, yet silky and caressing, with a long and enjoyable finish. Lovely. Best after 2003. 3,330 cases made. –JS

Score: 92 | Price: $95

Country: Italy
Region: Tuscany

Issue: May 31, 2003

Coldstream Hills
Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2002

Light and crisp, with a leathery edge to the low-volume raspberry and floral flavors. Drink now. 18,000 cases made. –HS

Score: 83 | Price: $18

Country: Australia
Region: Australia

Issue: Web Only (2003)

De Martino
Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Legado Reserva 2003

There's solid black cherry and currant fruit here, but sweetish oak turns a bit cloying in the end. Drink now. 3,000 cases made. –JM

Score: 83 | Price: $15

Country: Chile
Region: Maipo

Issue: Web Only (2005)

Herdade Grande
Alentejo 2003

Fruity, with plum pudding flavors and a finish of hot cinnamon. Drink now. 16,000 cases made. –KM

Score: 83 | Price: $11

Country: Portugal
Region: Portugal

Issue: Web Only (2006)

Verona Capitel San Rocco Ripasso 2003

A flamboyant red, with ripe currant, earth and freshly tanned leather character. Medium- to full-bodied, with fine tannins and a persistent dried fruit and mineral finish. Best after 2006. 4,300 cases made. –JC

Score: 88 | Price: $22

Country: Italy
Region: Veneto

Issue: Aug 31, 2006

Chianti Classico 2003

Smoky and meaty blackberry character, with tight minerals and lightly toasted oak. Medium-bodied, with fine, well-integrated tannins and a balanced finish. Best after 2005. 16,670 cases made.

Score: 87 | Price: $25

Country: Italy
Region: Tuscany

Issue: Oct 31, 2005

Cantina del Taburno
Falanghina Taburno 2005

A bit dull, with apple and lemons. Medium-to-light body. Fresh finish. Drink now. 54,165 cases made. –JS

Score: 84 | Price: $16

Country: Italy
Region: Campania

Issue: Web Only (2006)

Château Lagrézette
Malbec Cahors 2002

Ripe and powerful, with a mature aroma of game and spice, with flavors of dried cherry, plum, nutmeg and boysenberry. Firm, peppery finish. Well-honed and balanced, with plenty of structure. Drink now through 2011. 10,928 cases made. –KM

Score: 89 | Price: $20

Country: France
Region: Southwest France

Issue: May 15, 2006


Caffè ArtJava goes downtown

Wake up and smell the coffee Montreal! Caffè ArtJava has expanded. Starting today, the greatest brew in the city is now available right on the green line, which runs straight through the caffeinated heart of Montreal. Previously ArtJava coffee was only served in the Plateau district, which is on the orange line.

macchiato cafe art java Montreal downtownOrange, green, blue, whatever. This location is gold for yours truly. The café is smack-dab on my corner. As if that were not enough, this morning I discovered that ArtJava is physically connected to my office. If you're not a Montrealer, you may not realize exactly what kind of a coup this is. It's only the first week of December and already there's a thick blanket of snow and ice on the ground. Me, I can now wear my slippers to fetch my favourite macchiato.


In fact, I can leave my jacket in the office and make like I'm going to the bathroom when really I'm going for a latte. And there's an ArtJava chill-out room, a new feature that can best be described as a surround-sound media centre with big upholstered chairs. More to come this, I promise.

Check out the link above for more details on ArtJava (the new location has decided not to serve breakfast plates like French toast but those fantastic pecan biscottis are just the same as on the Plateau). In the meantime, know that when you order a cappuccino or macchiato to-go like I did this morning, the foam art only appears illustrated on the paper cup, not emblazoned on top of the coffee. Which is probably why they were coaxing me to change my order to stay.

Had they known I was already a convert they might not have bothered... Had they known I was ordering a macchiato so I could take pictures, upload them, and then blog about it all, they probably would've just backed away and braced themselves for my impending return.

That's okay. I'm used to it.

macchiato caffe artjava Montreal downtown
Open Now

CAFFÈ ARTJAVA 645 Avenue du Président-Kennedy (corner University), (514) 350-5282; the branch at 837 Avenue du Mont-Royal (corner St-André) remains open.

Note on hours: They're open from around 7 am to unknown (when I asked, they promised to go with the flow -- obviously a mistake promising that level of service to someone with my unrelenting daily onslaught of over-caffeinated enthusiasm)


Château Bujan 2003 (and Blogger 2.0)

Château Bujan 2004 côtes-de-bourg
In December I will be switching to the new version of Blogger. The switch will necessitate some change in the way I categorize my posts. But change is good, right? Up to now, it's been DIY: I manage the "subhead" categories that are attached my posts (micro-managing is more like it). This means I've got to upload them to the sidebar of my template file manually, html code and all, every time. Currently I am a week behind in updating the template.

I hope I can automate this process with the new version of Blogger. Rethinking my categories is also in order since so many of them have accumulated since I first devised a rather loosely standardized system. In any case, under the Entries listing at left, you can expect a bit of new look and feel soon.


Getting on with it... There's a bit of a new look and feel for the Château Bujan 2003. It's called the Château Bujan 2004, and like Blogger 2.0, I could only speculate broadly on it. The 2003 is still kicking around (click on the bottle image for local stores that stock Bujan). Here's what I noted about that vintage.

Colour is a generous red, going right through to the edges. Nose is not showy -- a restrained whiff of dusty berries is what I get. On the palate this wine has depth and great smoothness. The finish is rather remarkable. It is very very long and lingering.

Bujan produces a dignified well-made wine yet little about this "Grand Vin de Bordeaux" impresses me at the table. The fruit is so austere and musty that for a 75% Merlot this wine seems unnecessarily muted. Minerals and mocha flavours compete for the lead that the fruit has given up on. With some quite profound tannins kicking in, the overall flavour profile of the wine ends up being a bit on the bitter side. And that makes it a chore to match with dinner, especially market cuisine which is what I often prepare.

I would not pair this wine with food, though it does have admirable levels of acidity. I simply find the beginning and middle of this wine very balanced but boring. Why I am looking for zip, I don't know. With its big finish, this wine is likely its own reward. Drink it on its own or with a heavy and hearty loaf of bread.

It could be that this being a past Grappe d'Or mention from Michel Phaneuf I was expecting something more. For about $20, it is a recommendable Bordeaux, no doubt. But at the very least I would say that this experience has opened up my eyes (when I was hoping my other senses would perk up after uncorking this bottle -- even on the second night when I tasted it again).

I think I now know why the gourmets that run La Brunoise would do something as brazen as omit any and all Bordeaux bottles from its lengthy (and self-professed "food-friendly") wine list. They know good red Bordeaux is far from a cheap and easy date. And maybe they've been Bujaned at the dinner table like I was.


What I think of "What to Drink With What You Eat"

I missed posting this on Buy Nothing Day. Now I fear I may be too late.

If anyone gets me the most pretentious book of the year for Christmas -- a encyclopedic dining guide called What to Drink With What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page -- what to stuff in what you hang by the chimney will surely be a BIG FAT PIECE OF COAL. Why?

Well, there's the wino's angle on it and then there's the foodie's angle on it.

But first I think I need to explain something since every review I've encountered online has been balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm for this book. That I need to explain this is surprising to me because I thought what I am about to say is obvious. Here goes...

The reason folks need guidelines on pairings is precisely as follows: you've got one shot at that bottle and one shot only. You don't want to screw it up by pairing a vintage Brut Champagne with dessert. And so you turn to someone who can tell you how to get your money's worth out of it.

If you need instruction when pairing a frappuccino or some other $2 beverage from Starbucks, then clearly you're missing this point. You could dump the thing over your head and still come close to getting your money's worth. Yet this new book, WTDWWYE for short, seems to get off on recommending pairings for every drink you can think of right down to tap water. That's either silly or pretentious, or both.

If you want to pair your ciders, your juices, your bottled waters, I say go ahead. But you're kind of on your own, aren't you? I mean, there are no established guidelines for you to follow -- and there's certainly no demand to decode something so pedestrian and commonplace -- so you have to rely on your palate to guide you. But that's perfectly okay because those who follow their palate find that trial and error is a viable option for coffee, tea, water and what-have-you. (Whereas "trial and error" and Krug have never appeared in the same sentence. Ever!)

karyn paige andy dorenberg food and wine pairing bookTrial and error pairing is folly when you finally make that soufflé that doesn't sink and you really want to celebrate it in style. Like a fine wine, you've created something rare, and by god, you hope someone's been so kind to advise you how to do it justice (that Cabernet you're fingering is not the best idea -- a fate worse than falling for any soufflé). In this regard, WTDWWYE does an admirable job. It provides matches for a large array of different soufflés. It doesn't have every food under the sun -- no merguez or lamb sausage for instance -- but at least it scrapes by with entries like "Moroccan cuisine".

But that's pretty much where the instructiveness of food matching ends. Telling someone to have Evian with their veal meatballs isn't instructive as much as it's annoying. Telling someone to open a bottle for their fast-food taco is just bizarre.

In this way, WTDWWYE's approach of "we must achieve more than the sum of the parts" to every pairing gets ridiculous real fast. The catchphrase they use is 1 + 1 = 3 but no matter how often it's repeated to me it meets resistance. I think McDonald's Big Mac + any wine in the world = nothing more than a -5, not a +3 as the authors suggest. But Big Mac lovers will disagree with me. Perhaps they should buy this book.

Fast food mentions aside, WTDWWYE does deal with a lot of real food and a lot of wine. It comes at each separately: at the front, food entries are given a list of matching drinks, all supplied by culinary experts, after which beverages get their expert-generated list of pairable foods.


Here is where the wines that readers like me have been husbanding for that special moment of culinary bliss come to the fore. I turn to Andrew and Karen and ask for advice. In response, I get a mixed bag of interesting tidbits. Personally, I find there to be too many vagaries and the stringing out of list upon list, all of them dancing around the attractive idea of finding common rules for the book's pseudo-science.

The authors get real close to securing some of these common rules at the start of the wine-based section. The clever bits contained under "By Type of Wine" is very interesting and infinitely useful. It spells out the truest and most scientific guidelines for wine matching and arranges ideas by attribute, i.e. acidic wines, tannic wines, etc. But it's only three pages and barely scratches the surface. Then the bigger 75-page "By Name of Beverage" segment begins which is only as successful as it is misguided.

What really bothers me is this guide claims to be a "definitive" source on pairings. Definitive is a big word for such a tenuous science and such a relatively small reference book. There's certainly nothing definitive about wine pairings when entries are grouped by varietal, as they are here. The authors of this book have heard of terroir and as a result some wine regions -- mostly French and broad -- are covered. Occasionally an effort is made to specify California Cabernet and Merlots. The cynic in me suspects that this only serves to better placate their key demographic.

Me, I don't drink much American wine so I first tried looking up what I had already opened from the previous night: A Minervois. There was no listing for it.

Then I tried looking for what I had on hand and was ready to drink: Coteaux du Languedoc. No listing. Not even a mention for any Languedoc wine, perhaps the biggest up-and-coming wine region in the world.

Then I dialed it back a bit and went flipping through the pages for a varietal wine. Though virtually all of my wine cellar makes no mention of grape variety as Old World wines seldom do, a knowledgeable drinker could figure it out. But that's a high-maintenance condition to using WTDWWYE. I just pretended I had a Viognier to crack open, since I recently had one that I really enjoyed. Under Viognier, the first item listed was appetizer. This is less than instructive. Mini-quiche? Pig in a blanket? Breaded shrimp? Cheeseball? What!?

The rest of the list painted a better picture for pairing Viognier. But I have to wonder about what the expert who submitted this particular response was thinking. Either the expert had more to say and the authors left it unsaid (which unfortunately is by design since all the expert-supplied entries are in strict list format) or the expert is masking his or her expertise by being imprecise. In either case, what good do the authors think these vague entries are doing?

Then I moved away from wine and investigated some of the oddities in the previous section organized by food item.


I'm a home cook who owns a tiny cellar's worth of wine. The entries filed in this book aren't brimming with the practical tips they are purported to have for people like me. Strategic tips is more like it. These are strategies that trendy restaurant sommeliers, B&B owners, or program directors at wine resorts would likely use since they are expected to have crib notes for everything they serve. For the everyday chef, it seems like a heaping serving of pedantry.

The book is impractical for other reasons too. For instance, if this book had been written for me a lot of the lists would be left blank. What to drink with Oreo cookies. NOTHING. What to drink with Kumquats. NOTHING. What to drink with Ketchup. NOTHING. What to drink with Epazote. What the heck is Epazote? I don't eat any of these things so I'm certainly not going to uncork a bottle for them!

It's all a bit unnerving. Never has the rigorous employment of weights and measures seemed more like the devil's work. The authors have even deciphered what Spring pairs well with, as have they for Late Afternoon. Indian Summer, February 29th, and Summer Solstice are in there too I'm sure. Missing is what to drink for Coffee Breaks and Teatime.

And so the book arcs from whimsy to the shockingly obvious:

Scones: tea, esp. English Breakfast...
Éclair, chocolate: coffee, medium to dark roast
And then back again to the reverse mapping:
Coffee, in general: apple pies and tarts; breakfast dishes, esp. wheat-based; brunch dishes, esp. wheat based.
Passages like these that make one wonder if there could be a better job than doing this guide and getting paid by the word.

By the time I got to reading up on individual spices, I realized this book can be taken too literally. Marjoram is a white wine spice but oregano is a red wine spice. Fennel, white; rosemary, red. Coriander, white; thyme, red. As this rate, I'll be serving rosé with every bloody meal I cook. The herbes de Provence I use almost nightly is turning out to be a real nightmare lurking in the spice drawer.

But if this part of the book is frequently frustrating, the section on cheese is done well -- admirably inclusive and quite instructive.

I'm sure there are some other lists I would use and maybe even consult frequently, but my feeling is there's not much here that you couldn't get from a two-second google. And besides, when you google "McDonald's Filet-O-Fish + wine pairing" the results you get back are supposed to be funny.


Saint-Chinian and its "Veillée d'Automne" inspire seasonal squash, coated and roasted

acorn squash recipe egg omelette dish poivron recetteIf you want a good recipe for squash, common sense dictates that you should turn to the cook who dislikes this autumn vegetable. Alright, sometimes even common sense needs an explanation.

This may sound weird, but as a someone who usually shuns all types of squash, I find that I can really do these vegetables justice. I know from experience -- all those times I'm stuck with a buttercup or a hubbard -- how one can make these super-sweet gourds really sing. So if a squash non-believer like me can build a meal around it, surely all you squash-lovers out there could try my recipe.

Before I get to this dead-easy dish, a word on what inspires me to prepare squash since I don't exactly love the stuff. Basically, two things: the seasonality of squash is quite enjoyable, and so is making a wine pairing for it. In fact, the bottle pictured above was inspirational enough to get me to fix my acorn squash two ways. Coated and roasted (see recipe below) as well as in a shallot and herb omelette.

The wine was Clos Bagatelle Veillée d'Automne Saint-Chinian 2002. Something about its spicy/earthy character -- perhaps the Mourvèdre, perhaps the Syrah -- really accentuates the spice mixture I make for the squash.

In general, Saint-Chinian reds are majority Syrah blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre -- a common formula for grape blends throughout the Midi region of France. Yet Saint-Chinian wine always seems to be stamped with its own very unique profile, or at least I find it to be. Just last night I had the Clos Bagatelle Cuvée Tradition 2005 which conveyed what the réserve bottle did but with brighter tones, full of cassis and red fruit. For more on the various products from Clos Bagatelle, a forerunner of the Saint-Chinian A.O.C., including their Donnadieu brand, consult this online order form.

SAQ stocks so many Saint-Chinian wines, I'm sure that it must be the biggest carrier outside of France. So many bottles are bargains though Bagatelle may be the most trusted name. Give them a try, with or without the following food pairing. (Sometimes I like my little spice mixture so much with Saint-Chinians, I can't wait to bake -- this stuff goes great on slapped on rice crackers or crusty French bread... just open a bottle and see.)

Coated and Roasted Squash

1 acorn squash, cleaned and cut into eighths (any in-season squash will work, except maybe spaghetti squash; though butternut is probably the best type, acorn is what I had on hand)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cumin
dash of garlic powder
a few chili flakes
freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil onto a cookie sheet. Lay out the squash sections.

In a small bowl combine the ingredients of the spice mixture. Coat the sections, rubbing the mixture into the concave surface and sides. Bake until desired tenderness. About 25 minutes.


200 up: California cost, Chinese interest, and the growing value of the wine blogosphere

This is my 200th post and I've decided to let someone else do the writing. Sort of.

Check out these stimulating posts from the last few days:

I have to say that sometimes I wonder whether wine bloggers get their due. These people are doing what they know and love, and offering it free of charge to enquiring minds. And enquiring minds are getting great answers from them, not just reading through rehashes of dinner parties or stumbling through obscure journal entries, which is all that some people think wine blogs are good for.

Wineblogs are so much more than that. And I'm saying this as a wineblog reader, rather than a wineblog writer. After receiving last month's WBW prize, which I won using wine bloggers' notes to determine the origin of 15 different wines, I realized first-hand the quality of wine blogging that's out there. Under the auspices of "Where's Wino?" organizer Basic Juice, WBW participants played a game of blind faith. The idea was to label the origin of wines based on nothing more than bloggers' tasting notes for them. It turned out that nothing more than their notes was more than enough.

Had bloggers' descriptions been inaccurate or imprecise, the results could've been distrastrous -- like a game of broken telephone gone awry. But the fact is wine bloggers demonstrated their worth. They offered reliable and trustworthy notes that helped me and first runner-up Brooklynguy surmise the origin of the vast majority of these wines. That kind of descriptive ability is a valuable service, and that's on top of the great reporting (like the above) that many of these blogs provide.

If you can rely on a blogger's tasting notes to hazard a guess on where a wine is coming from, surely you can rely on those same notes to figure out whether you're likely to enjoy that wine, or whether that wine is going to suit the elaborate dinner you're preparing. And if that isn't reason enough for wine lovers to cuddle up in the blogosphere, I don't know what is.


Le Guide du Vin 2007 by Michel Phaneuf

Book review edition

Editor's note: The order originally intended for this post has been reversed.

... and while I haven't lost any admiration for Michel Phaneuf I definitely have for his publishing house.

Let me first give you a disclaimer. This is not a proper book review as the following criticisms came after only a brief scan. (But wait, isn't that what reference guides are for -- brief scanning?) Okay, I take it back. This is a real book review.


I have not bought this book, though I'm sure I will. No squabble would be big enough for someone like me to go without this valuable publication. But after today's glance at a copy, I've got plenty to say. What I saw over a five-minute perusal may take a real long time for me to get my head around.

Le Guide du Vin 2007 Michel PhaneufFor the 2007 edition, Le Guide du Vin introduces chapters, which are by region, that are subdivided by producer. Producer! This removes the separation of red wine reviews and white wine reviews. This is great if you're trying to get a better handle on distinguishing your Castello di Fonterutoli offerings from your Casanova di Neri offerings. It's not so great if you're having seafood and want to make a purchase based on Phaneuf's rundown of various Chablis, Muscadets or Sauvignon Blancs. To compensate for the confusing white-red intermingling, Phaneuf's rating symbology now acts to indicate whether a wine is red or white. As a result, readers now have to look at the symbols at the end of the review to determine what bottle's red and what bottle's white. They fixed what wasn't broke!

I'm sure I'll get used to it, but this move seems to be more Wine Spectator than classic Guide du Vin. The Wine Spectator wows its readership with its annual Top 100, which just started its yearly unveiling this week. The Guide du Vin is supposed to do the opposite and dumb down offerings so Quebeckers can figure out what to enjoy with their contrefilet and frites. Le Guide is a wine-buying guide; the Top 100 is not. So this new arrangement by pedigree instead something more down to earth like "red or white" is hard to swallow.

At almost 500 pages -- the same as last year's huge anniversary retrospective spectacular -- I suspect that increasingly large fonts with greater pitch are overinflating the size of this guide. The type is so unwieldy it hangs in a jumble. Illustrations are not inset with text running around them (they have no layout whatsoever leaving them to absorb massive chunks of space on the page). Even the newly introduced producer headings seem to show off the space they waste. This is the wrong idea for what is purported to be a pocketbook and a quick-reference guide. Design is key and this year's design is much less than expected.

Too Bad. Part of what excites me about Phaneuf's guides is the deft presentation of vast information delivered at a glance. This year it's like looking a PDF file permanently set to 200% view. The sense of survey is all but gone.

My best advice to readers doles out some buyer's guide wisdom that this book is lacking. Wait a couple of weeks till the end of the month and buy this book when vendors routinely discount it for 20% off.

Le Guide du Vin.
By Michel Phaneuf.
In French. Illustrated. 496 pp. Les Éditions de l’Homme. $26.95.

- 30 -

START OF POST: The much-anticipated Guide du Vin 2007 is finally out. I saw it today, a day after it was supposed to appear on shelves. Though I noticed November 14 was pushed to November 15 on some web sites, Renaud Bray did start selling it late yesterday. Some stores still don't have it. I have no idea why dates originally indicated October 24.

What's more important is that Quebec's foremost wine critic is back and guiding shoppers through the aisles of SAQ, the province's liquor monopoly. And also important, at least to me, is that I've found that my mini-reviews are on target. The wines that Michel had been writing about over the summer met the same grade that I had assigned to them in this space during the past week. This Rhone is four stars, this Cahors is three and this Sicilian is also three stars. I am really pleased with this. I think it really means something.

I am not trying to toot my own horn nor I am trying to do his job. This matters not because I can say I could predict what a real wine critic would write, but rather because it solidifies his book as a suitable guide for me, especially the French wine section of it. We're on the page, so to speak. I tend to like what he likes, which is valuable asset when Phaneuf tastes as many wines as he does.

Finding a reputable wine-buying source with whom you can identity is far from a given. Just ask any Parker-fearing wine blogger such as myself...

Return to top for original flow of post.


A Weekend Without Wine: Tea time

bigelow green tea earl grey stash english breakfast twinings lady grey teabags

How many winos out there have ever taken tea leave? I have. This is my story.

I am a regular wine drinker. If a day goes by without having a glass, I know something's wrong. I've caught a cold and can't taste anything. I have a sore throat and don't have an appetite. Or I'm eating Chinese food (not that there's anything wrong with that) and uncorking a bottle would seem like a waste.

The day before yesterday I was so busy working that I had no time for a proper dinner and as I was lying down in bed I suddenly realized how out of whack the world was. Had I not had a glass of wine? I wasn't sick. My kitchen was well-stocked. What's wrong with me that I've skipped out on a drink? I didn't like how this felt. Something about it felt very very wrong -- I didn't drink though nothing was wrong, which is so wrong!

Looking at the clock approaching midnight from my pillow, I held still. I braced myself as I thought of leaping from the bed and storming into the kitchen to rip open a bottle. I could have a nightcap. I could take a little moment here.


But I wasn't moving. I think that's because I realized that wine calls out for more than a clear nose, an appetite, or an attractive food complement. Wine calls out for time. Indeed, time. The wee hours of Monday morning tend not to offer that and so I turned over and went to sleep.

stash English breakfast red teabag packetBut back for a moment to the Weekend Without Wine that this post refers to. In the middle of last month I managed to acquire a cold smack at the end of the workweek, as luck would have it. My weekend was decided for me. I faced a bevy of numerous and sundry teas, all served hot so as to soothe, all taken throughout the day at various times and with meals. The switch was instinctual I guess you could say.

Yes, with my cold, substituting teas for my usual glasses of wine was immediate. I drank teas, and my stuffed-up self managed to get some sense of aroma from the penetrating heat. I drank teas and more teas and appreciated their flavours.


tea earl grey blue teabag wrapperI used to think tea was the teetotaler's perfect answer to wine. Both drinks are tannic, tend to have bouquets, and in general offer heightened taste experiences in liquid form. I respected tea's structure like I did a fine wine's, and went so far as to give them the wine tasting treatment. Yes I actually made tea tasting notes!

But how could tea and wine be more different if the only time I have tea is when I've ruled out wine. Unlike wine, tea doesn't require a clear nose. Tea doesn't require an appetite. Tea doesn't require an attractive food complement. Tea doesn't even require time! I'm practically having tea in mind as I write this.


bigelow green tea packetI expected to have something well-researched and insightful to say about tannic connection between wine and tea, but it turns out that I don't. I'm already moving on to the next T - Tasting. (It is interesting though how Wikipedia's entry on tannin swiftly goes from tea to wine to pomegranates to leather; and how the discussion on wine and tea both explain how we go to great lengths to minimize the tannic quality in our brews -- don't steep tea too long and always avoid press wine, which doesn't extract juices through gentle crushing.)

But I digress. Here are those tea tasting notes I wrote up.

Listed in order of serving:

Stash English Breakfast
Bigelow Earl Grey Green
Celestial Seasonings Green Tea

Lipton Orange Pekoe
Twinings Lady Grey
President's Choice Ginger & Peach Herbal Tea

Twinings Earl Grey

The green teas generally paired better when served with dinner meals or after dinner, however its level of caffeine could be considered an drawback of enjoying its strong flavour profile, its depth and its firm tannic finish.

Teas flavoured with bergamot, orange, and lemon were well-suited to light desserts and breakfast meals, especially breakfast loaves and breads. The citrus tones complement the yeastiness in the food.

English Breakfast could be a meal in a cup it is so full-bodied. The only one that could survive in the face of fatty foods and weighty dishes.

Summary: Each tea was so different that I liked them all in their own particular way. The Bigelow, in trying to compromise, is probably my least favourite. The blend is a nice idea but here it is not executed as well as could. The green overpowers the grey; the result seems disjointed. Both the Stash English Breakfast and Twinings Earl Grey are fine teas that I would return to any day.


Domaine Labrande 2001: mini review

I'm writing mini reviews in anticipation of the annual Quebec-centric Guide du Vin compiled by local wine chronicler Michel Phaneuf. And I am finding that I love the process. There's something about the earnest organization involved in maintaining constant tabs on wine production from around the world that really is exhilarating, in a geeky way. Lately I'm realizing that a lot of people do this very well, not just Michel Phaneuf or say Jancis Robinson.

Alice Feiring is one of the most fiercely dedicated chroniclers of natural wine produce. She just put up a two-part post explaining her most recent "dog and pony" show where natural wines like those of Clos Roche Blanche went head-to-head with Yellow Tail in a blind taste test. The way she explains the events, you'll find yourself laughing when you least expect it. She is always a very funny read, often poignant and a real writer. But with posts like these ones, it's clear that chronicling the wine she loves, vintage after vintage, is what drives her.

Turning to Quaffability, a blog I refer to a lot yet for some strange reason do not feature in my link list [I've added it now], you get another picture of the committed wine chronicler. After publishing his blog for over a year now, John G realizes that his regular and long-term attention to the wines he enjoys gives him a chance to assess the history of a wine. Casillero del Diablo, an everyday wine I've sampled myself over the years, gave me a real shot of recognition when I read it. This is what it's all about.

Domain Labrand Cahor 2001Domaine Labrande Cahors 2001 $12.65 (on sale)

Baldès owns the land, Clos Triguedina is the estate, yet this Québécois op Labrande is the name that appears on the label. I remember recognizing it as a bargain in the late nineties, and its quality-price ratio has only gotten better. The 2001 is as strong as the 2000, and drinking well now. The current vintage is spicier -- there are intense aromas of star anise, orange peel in throes of a tannic grip, earthy spices, and nice fruit. It's fairly full in body and loves food.

Ranking: 2 (but drink now like it's a "1" if you want to enjoy the bright anise tones)



Perrin Réserve 2004: mini review

Perrin Reserve côtes-du-rhône 2004Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône 2004 $15.85

Switching now to mini reviews of red wine, this Rhône red has long been a staple among my circle of friends. After the hot 2003, the 2004 is easier-drinking if no more balanced. Beautifully pure fruit flavours and notes of spice with light-to-medium body. Fantastic with simply prepared meals like roast chicken. (SAQ's descriptive record -- click on the bottle -- suggests fancier dishes like duck but that's not at all what comes to my mind; their comment that this wine is "very dark red, almost opaque" strikes me as just plain wrong).

Ranking: 1



Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Sémillon/Chardonnay 2004: mini review

Penfold's Rawsons Retreat Semillon Chardonnay Southeastern Australia 2004Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Sémillon/Chardonnay South Eastern Australia 2004 $12.95

There may not be a broader appellation than South Eastern Australia and to it I've vaguely tagged the grapes for this entry "White" -- but make no mistake about it, this blend of two big international varieties yields a very distinctive wine that's far from generic. Rawson's Retreat Sémillon/ Chardonnay is quite unique. It's a particularly striking contrast to Sémillon blends from Graves, for instance. Bordeaux expressions tend to be a wee bit racy and full of complexity with mineral notes and levels of spiciness so rich that it can recall nutmeg, but clearly Australia can produce a more attacking Sémillon. This is sweet and cocktail-like, with bright lemon-lime notes, which might be largely imparted from the Chardonnay. Interesting blend and one that is quite Aussie. I see that the 2005 vintage has already been released.

Ranking: 1

[I posted this review earlier today not realizing that Michel Phaneuf had indeed reviewed this bottle in his last edition (p. 358) which diminishes the urgency of my current little mini review exercise, however I'm glad I went through the paces anyway as it's interesting to compare how similar our remarks were: he commented that the affect of the Sémillon added to the Chardonnay was distinctive whereas I made basically the same comment but inversed it, separating out the affect of the Chardonnay added to the Sémillon; he gave it three stars as I did but then he promoted it to "bargain" status.]


WBW #27 Icewine: Graf Hardegg Steinbugel Seefeld Weinviertel 2002

graf hardegg riesling eiswein steinbugel seefeld weinviertel 2002
It was a pleasure to be able to have my first encounter with an Austrian wine for WBW #27 Icewine, hosted by the The Kitchen Chick. And, being the Niagara boy that I am, I've had plenty of icewines, but never an eiswein. (Rarely does the New World obscure the Old World in my wine repertoire -- I think this must've been the only exception to that.) It's great to have finally tasted the European stuff with this bottle of Graf Hardegg Riesling Eiswein Steinbugel Seefeld Weinviertel 2002, which is quite a mouthful -- both saying it and drinking it. But before I get to the tasting notes...

graf hardegg riesling eiswein steinbugel seefeld weinviertel 2002Ahead of uncorking this eiswein, I found myself taken in by some interesting cultural-political markings on the bottle label. The crest was beautiful and the label it was on was even more striking. A minimal design on lovely parchment. To top it all off, the capsule was one of the most miraculous I've seen. It was copper-swathed along the shaft and at the cap a round version of the Austrian red-white-red triband proudly displayed a clever dot-matrix black eagle surrounded by more dot matrix printing, somehow done in a circle. A little background on Austrian symbology and legend is here, if you're interested. Personally I just liked admiring these decorations, making sure I got my money's worth.

Yes, all icewine is expensive, and this eiswein is no different, though I did get a good deal on Graf Hardegg Riesling Eiswein. So finally I went in to taste it.

A golden hue and an immediate aroma of petrol poured out, reminding me of the best Rieslings I have tried. This was a good sign. On the palate, the first sensation was of buttery viscosity. There was honey, agrume flavours, great depth. A nice prickly feeling around the edges of my tongue confirmed that this Riesling expressed its acidity and forged great structure and length. I found this assessment of the wine online:

Schlossweingut Graf Hardegg, in the Weinviertel, "produces brilliant eisweins from riesling with a very fresh, clean bouquet that brings to mind extremely cold but clear winter days in northern Austria." These eisweins, he believes, "are not sticky but quite lean, elegantly structured and very, very impressive.
I would agree. (Jamie Goode has a page on the wines of Graf Hardegg.)

As this was an occasion to taste such luxurious stuff, I had planned ahead for a suitable dessert pairing. A tart of apricots and pistachios echoed the sharpened and sweet fruit flavours. And it was while having dessert that my fellow diner Eric pondered over the Graf Hardegg back label, written in German -- a language he knows well. We could tell that the information was describing the harvest of the frozen grapes, supplying the exact location, date, and time of day, but most was not a term he made sense of, as in Most 31° KMW. I blurted out something about wind direction and then we proceeded to go through about four translation dictionaries before we finally figured it out by simply pulling out the Oxford Companion I bought last month. It ain't wind.


The entry for the initialism KMW was the easiest to locate immediately. I found that it stands for Klosterneuburger Mostwage, which is Austria's standard measure for grape ripeness or "must" weight. And must weight is important because it indicates the concentration of dissolved compounds -- about 90% of which are sugars. This of course determines fermentation and what the final alcohol content of the wine will be.

In this case, 31° KMW came out to 11% alcohol for this eiswein. But I what I still need to examine is why -- after drinking no more than 150 millilitres of this, and after having had only a couple of glasses of red wine, all of which taken with plenty of food -- why did I wake up the next morning with a cloudy head that shaped up to be one of the nastiest headaches I have had in a long while?

Eiswein virgin perhaps?

Schlossweingut Graf Hardegg, Steinbugel Seefeld Weinviertel, Österreich. 11%.


Making do with mini reviews: Corvo Duca di Salaparuta 2005 (bianco)

le guide du vin 2007 michel phaneufNote: Yesterday I trumpeted the upcoming release of Michel Phaneuf's Le Guide du Vin 2007 hoping that today would be the day that wine lovers would find it on sale in bookstores. Not so. Librarie Renaud Bray, which probably has more copies on order than anyone, is still awaiting shipment and none of its stores have it. Since Tuesday is usually the day of book releases, the guide likely will be delayed for at least a week (online catalogs seem to have replaced a date of October 24 with November 14). I've also now heard that Phaneuf's publishers will savour the timing offered by the Salon des Livres happening November 16 to 20 in Montreal.

Weingolb will now present some tiny reviews I've done in the Phaneuf style. Over the next week -- except for tomorrow which is Wine Blogging Wednesday -- I will use star ratings and cellaring rankings to evaluate wines, and the wines will be ones that Phaneuf has assessed but in previous years. No, it won't replace the need for a new Guide du Vin but it may satisfy the intense desire for a wine buying guide that always hits around this time of year.

Corvo Duca di Salaparuta (bianco) Sicilia 2005 $13.55

The regional grape varieties in this intriguing blend are Inzolia (sometimes written Insolia) and Grecanico. The resulting wine is appley, but very nicely structured. This is a bargain. Inzolia typically makes quite a meaty wine for a white, offering body and richness. With some spritz provided by the Grecanico grape, Corvo supplies superior refreshment value with some dimension to it.

Drink young for its full flavour profile: 1

***½ (Three and a half stars, or three stars plus extra mark for being a bargain)