20060323

It's a blog blog world

I know it's not news that the New York Times is now syndicating the biggest wine blog in the blogosphere, The Pour by Eric Asimov. Only five posts into Mr. Asimov's new gig and some 250 reader comments have already been recorded.

To me, the news generated by The Pour is that the Times has a new-found awareness of the blog. Their new wine blog is friendly and fun, in contrast to their foray into food blogs six weeks ago, which was not exactly true to the basic blogger ideals.

Personally, I find there's nothing worse than following along on a blog, finally entering that first well-meaning comment, and then seeing your comment removed during moderation. I got that experience from the Times' other blog on the "Dining & Wine" pages. On that blog, readers' comments are edited (read: cut) more than they are moderated (read: monitored).

NEW JOURNALISM FOR NYT

I don't see that same heavy hand at work on The Pour. If Mr. Asimov is managing all the moderation and comment responses himself, then he definitely has a deft touch. If a team of moderators are required -- and with 118 published comments on the initial post you kind of think they would be -- then it's a team that chooses not to rule like a ruthless desk editor.

It seems the idea that a blog is more than just a web log is coming into focus at Times. After all, it's an online discourse too: A forum for its author but also for that author's readership. (When you ignore this last point, the Pour blog would really be no different than the online version of Mr. Asimov's weekly column, also called The Pour.)

And while I still may not consider this new practice over on the NYT site a proper wine blog (exactly who is moderating all those comments?), it certainly is a welcome addition to the Internet wine community.

20060322

A Mont Tauch souvenir from Michel Marty: L'If 2003

L'If 2003 carignan merlot vin de pays
This French vin de pays is supposed to be a half-and-half. Half Carignan for rustic flavour, half Merlot for plummy smoothness. The combination is greater than the sum of the parts. This is a caramelly, darkly spiced and beautifully fruity wine.

The L'If 2003 by the Mont Tauch co-operative needed to open up a bit. To look at, it was a deep red colour out of the bottle and there was fruit was on the nose. On the palate it began to differentiate itself: All blackberries and violet with a caramel centre that seemed to extend its length in the mouth. A marvellous concoction. Made me think of little pots of lavender-infused crème caramel.

THE GRAPE BREAKDOWN

The Merlot is quite transformed here. That it made up 50% of the blend surprised me. This certainly didn't remind me of any Merlot I've had. As for the Carignan, it strongly conveyed a Spanish style. But what's important is how the two grapes work together to assemble a tremendously successful and distinctive wine. It's that caramelly length buffered by dark spiced fruit that really drives me wild. I rebottled the leftovers and looked forward to it the next night.

On the second evening all the tightness in the wine was thoroughly rounded. Port-like qualities pushed this Mont Tauch bottle further west from Spain into Portugal. A distinctive and awesome bottle. Now I'm on the look-out for similar blends.

WHERE THIS WINE IS COMING FROM

It's the first I've noticed a blend like this, though definitely not the first Mont Tauch bottle I've enjoyed (i.e. See Wine pig). I am quite fond of this area in the South of France that mostly goes by the name Fitou (though this appellation gets dropped for products like L'If, which operate on less restrictive Vin de Pays categories like du Torgan).

This Fitou web page I bookmarked a while ago actually mentions L'If winemaker Michel Marty and his name is certainly one I'll retain for future reference. He is referred to as an oenologue on the bottle label. That's colourful. So is the depiction of an if -- actually a type of tree -- on the bottle label. Apparently a devastating forest in the town of Tuchan in 1885 left one sole if standing on Mont Tauch. That tree, once a symbol of the village, is now the inspiration for this wine.

I don't know if that snippet is going to satisfy my burgeoning interest in the Merlot/Carignan combination Marty has crafted. It's a quaint tale meant to draw to wine buyer in for that first taste. Once you've tasted it, you forget about the trees and want to know more about the story of these grapevines.

Mont Tauch, Tuchan, France. 13%.

20060321

Wine as wintertime echinacea

echinacea herbal remedy natural plants medicinal holistic healing and preventive medicineYesterday I counted down the final minutes of winter. Normally, I am not someone who engages in any kind of rite of spring. But for me, this year's vernal equinox marked more than just a seasonal observance. I've made it through the entire season without one single cold or winter flu!

I keep records on wine, not on sniffles, however this streak of good luck makes me want to crunch numbers. I can say that if ever there was a time for me to be bedridden it would have been the winter of 2005/06. All my coworkers suffered immensely with something, in many cases the "worst most persistent" cold in their adult lives. I thank them for staying home when their contagion was at a peak. Beyond that, I seemed to have developed a knack for interpreting pre-sneeze body language, honed skills towards impeccable hand-washing, and oh yeah, had a drink every day.

Yes, a drink a day. Why not? After all, this is a wine blog here. I didn't set out to string together day-after-day of wine consumption at the time I started this blog last year. It just sort of happened. I guess this blog has made me realize a personal best in terms of number of glasses of wine drunk (whether it has met its potential in terms of worthwhile wine writing, valuable tasting notes and useful cellar records, I leave that to the reader to decide).

My friend Johanna calls all of my wine-drinking something else: Self-taught immunity. She suspects that my cold-free winter has something to do with the daily doses of wine I've been administering myself. The alcohol in wine is enough to kill off a lot of pesky germs, or something like that. Could be true I suppose. In the end, I'm just glad that a sore throat or stuffed up nose -- two of the worst enemies of civilized wine drinking -- didn't interfere with my duties or (what-has-turned-into) my everyday enjoyment of wine.

Okay, so with that, I now leave you and the lab coats to ponder over my personal stats.

Wine has been coursing through my blood for:

  • 121 consecutive days

    That's 17 weeks, more than an entire season, or exactly 4 months to the day as of yesterday (Hey Hope Springs Eternal! Happy fourth-month anniversary to me!)


  • 82 blog entries

    That's 885 paragraphs 37,000 words, or 174,207 characters -- 211,368 characters if you count the spaces!


  • Roughly ten Friday night round robin tournaments at Tomlinson Fieldhouse

20060320

The Ti-tannic: Domaine Mouréou 1999

Domaine Mouréou 1999
French wines are labelled by region rather than grape variety. The Madiran pictured above is no exception -- Madiran is a place-name from the south-west region between Bordeaux and Spain and not a little-known species of grape.

But here's a secret. If you want to know the predominant type of grape that goes into AOC red wine from France's Southwest, just remember that the a's have it: The word Madiran possesses two a's so its essential grape, Tannat, has two a's as well. This also works for the other big red of the Southwest, Cahors. There's one a in Cahors, so the grape of high stature in Cahors wines is none other than Malbec (known locally as Auxerrois, another single-a grape).

TANNAT, AS IN TANNIC

Now that you know the Madiran you've taken off the shelf is made from Tannat, what do you do? Likely, you opt to let it cellar. Tannat is so named for its heavy tannins, the thing in grapes that gives off a puckering bitter taste and nobly allows wine to improve with age.

The Domaine Mouréou 1999 has sufficiently shaken off all residual bitterness; the only astringency left in the mix contributes towards the overall structure of the wine. In seven years, most Madirans are at their supplest. In fact, for those that feature equal or greater proportions of Cabernet to Tannat, even that much ageing is not de rigeur. I think the Mouréou is a case in point. With a blend topped up with 60% Cabernet Franc, there's no just reason to fear its younger self. The 2000, which has been tapped as a good year, is certainly ready to open, and I doubt even the next vintage on its way to the market would need much decanting to enamour its drinkers.

TASTING NOTES, SERVING IDEAS

This wine immediately offers a heady aroma. To the eye it is deep purple with vibrant magenta edges. Domaine Mouréou is not as full-bodied as most Madiran wine might be, but it does possess a lovely mouth-filling sensation and a great multi-varietal sensibility. I taste jammy and brambly berries, blackened spices and vanilla. And then beneath it all, a backbone of toast and molasses.

A duck confit or gamey red meats are the standard Madiran pairings. I cooked up a Spanish tortilla of potato, eggs and onions instead. I added some purposeful flavours like cumin, black olives and Manzanilla sherry to this recipe since, after all, this was no fruity Spanish Tempranillo on my table. The results were fantastic.

In the end, the legendary Madiran can be a quite approachable wine. It's all about striking an interesting balance. So go ahead and rock the boat.

Patrick Ducournau, Maumusson, France. 12.5%.

20060316

Taking the house out of a good house wine: Château Lalande Bellevue 2003

Château Lalande Bellevue Premières Côtes de Blaye 2003
Yesterday, I pointed to a great picnic wine named Bellevue. Today I suggest another Bellevue. It's about the same price and has a similar French provenance, but this is no picnic wine. This is a Bordeaux, the wine enjoyed in drawing rooms and in Michelin-endorsed restaurants everywhere. But when a Bordeaux is a tremendous value and at an affordable price, why not take this wine out of the house and let it flow on a picnic? Instead of fresh salads and antipasti, bring lamb sandwiches. This stuff is a treat.

I was turned on by the 2002 vintage of Château Lalande Bellevue Premières Côtes de Blaye last year. It was marked down during a promotion. The discounted price was ridiculously low, especially for a wine with a Bordelais appellation. And one that earns the respect of a three-star review from Michel Phaneuf (who won Gourmand's best wine guide for the second consecutive year). The 2003 bottle made an appearance in stores several months ago, and after tasting it myself, and I can imagine Phaneuf giving it a rating just as good if not better than its predecessor.

A GOOD YEAR FOR BORDEAUX WINES

The 2003 harvest in Bordeaux is considered a good one. But it's important not to place too much emphasis on vintage. Plenty of bottles from lesser vintages end up worthy wines. What is important is cost -- because I'd like to know when the lauding of a vintage by experts ends up sending up the sticker price. Good news here is that there's been no jump in price for the Lalande Bellevue of the 2003 vintage -- just click on the bottle image above for pricing details.

Indeed, this vintage carries with it the graces of a vintage as valuable as 2003 was, and then some.

It's slightly vegetal in a perfectly delicious way. Nice nose, and as dark baked cherry and cassis ooze across your palate, the astringency kicks in: perky tannins and a dry and long finish, with vanilla and a hint of fruit. On the first night, the wine seemed tight but charming and perfumed. I served it with pork filet, sautéed red peppers and mashed potatoes. At the table, its echoes of acid melded to every mouthful of tenderloin like a match made in heaven. After aeration -- in this case a two days in the mini bottle -- Lalande Bellevue rendered itself strong in matter, yet deft and structured. The balance between the fruit and acid is really quite phenomenal. The finish is delicate but so persistant. This medium-to-full-bodied wine strangely seems lighter than air.

J. Espiot, Marcillac, Gironde, France. 12.5%.

20060315

Doktor Picnicblog: Château Bellevue La Forêt

marcus gilliam is doktor weingolb picnic blog food and wine enthusiast montreal mont royal summer lookout
There are so many things about this photo that I am not sure of. Who took it? And when was taken? And, uh, what am I doing?

These answers are all lost in the mists of time. Yet I can almost certainly recall that the pink stuff in my glass was Château Bellevue La Forêt. It's a thoroughly dependable rosé from the Côtes du Frontonnais region of southwestern France (click on my wine glass in the image above for more details). During my formative years, Bellevue La Forêt was practically synonymous with weekend lunches on Mount Royal.

Perhaps a little too formative based on this unraveled Lotus position I am demonstrating here.

TIPS ON SERVING TEMPERATURE

But remember folks, it's not how much you drink, it's how you drink it. Yesterday’s post, which featured a stunningly beautiful painting-like photograph, shows that picnics don’t have to be limited to a bottle or two if you want your wine perfectly chilled. On hot summer days though, volume can present an issue for wine reaching the right temperature. Thermal sleeves are the best devices for traveling with wine bottles that need to be served cold. Put the bottles and their sleeves in the freezer separately during the hour before your departure. Can’t get those rosés too cold when the air temperature will instantly start warming it up.

Backwash
Thanks to Collin C for pointing out to me that I might need a little adventure in the picnic equation I wrote out yesterday. Here’s what I’m working with now: picnic = wilderness + friends + wine + food

20060314

Wine's fine line

prague spring wedding czech castle grounds post ceremony toast after vows
There's a fine line between a blog about wine and a blog about picnics. Collin at See, Sip, Taste, Hear has made me realize this: it's only March and already he's bringing his wine out into the great outdoors for all to see. Now that's blogging commitment!

So without further ado, it's photo of the day time. Pictured above is another brisk Is-it-spring-yet? picnic scene. It's Spring in Prague (not Prague Spring) and the year is 2004. This was one of the biggest picnics I've ever been to. There was lots of wine on hand (literally, everyone was holding a wine glass -- can you spot all 5 fizzily filled flutes in the image above?).

DISCOVERING CZECH AND SLOVAKIAN WINES

My trip to the Czech Republic was an wine eye-opener: The country opened my eyes when I opened its wines. Local products are quite good. Moravia, to the east of Prague, is a full-fledged wine-producing region. Their Modrý Portugal is a bizarrely named but delicious wine reminiscent of Cabernet Franc though lighter and fruitier. Then of course there is the local Sekt, which is the sparkling wine that dots the scene above. One doesn't travel to Eastern Europe expecting to be beguiled by the wine. It happened anyway. Great bubbly!

So yes, in case you hadn't guessed, the couple captured in the centre of this photo are shown celebrating their marriage vows. I was indeed attending a wedding and between the ceremony and the reception there was this amazing luncheon overlooking the city from atop the Vyšehrad castle grounds. Among the most memorable picnics ever. Where friends + food + wine = total wonder & bliss.

That's my working equation for picnics for now. I think it covers all the crucial elements. In my mind, it's pretty darn close to the equation for enjoying wine... Like I said it's a fine line.

20060313

Is the Pope bombastic?

No one opened a Châteauneuf-du-Pape for Wine Blogging Wednesday's Rhône theme. I'm guessing this is because these wines have a reputation that is just too lofty. Jathan at Winexpression hosted the event and did great job presenting the topic and the many posts devoted to it. So why did no one feel the need to splurge? Isn't Wine Blogging Wednesday good to you? Couldn't someone have popped a cork to feel the love? (Dr. Vino did actually review some Châteauneuf, but only after he stumbled upon a promotional bottle doing the rounds.)

What's even more weird is that at least eight WBW bloggers (and myself too) went so far as to mention Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and then reach for a Côtes du Ventoux or some other secondary Rhône appellation instead. Catherine at Purple liquid brought up Châteauneuf-du-Pape three times in her post -- never tasting it but rather writing about it as part of the oenological profile and historic heyday of Counoise. Catherine always provides great perspective, but she wasn't breaking out the good stuff that night. Then there's The Caveman and Beau at Basic Juice who proudly introduce to their cellared Châteauneuf-du-Papes, thumbing the capsules teasingly, only to eventually pronounce the bottles "way too powerful" or, my favourite, "sufficiently complimentary." Hah! Fine. Keep your Châteauneuf all to yourselves. Admittedly, I myself (Doktor Weingolb) pulled the same thing, calling my imperious Pape prized, expensive, special. Grumble. And then I whined about having to find something else to blog about. Shame!

People, what's wrong with us? Is it just because the mid-week WBW is on a school night? Or are Châteauneuf-du-Papes really just too good to drink? Is it that we are not worthy? Or does all the overweening pride in the wine world make name-dropping a requisite feature of this event? I think some of us owe Jathan an apology here!

20060310

My office coworkers really know how to make a toast

everthing you wanted to know about opening champagne except sabering
There's no shame in uncorking your bubbly by the book and these two party-goers have clearly done this before.

A few colleagues of mine threw a top-shelf wedding party for our director last week. It was a wonderful potluck preceded by an even more wonderful toast. Sometimes, when the urge to get the party started is strong, things go awry. The toast is rushed, the speeches are flubbed, or worst of all, the champagne cork goes through the roof and no one gets any fizzy in their cup because it's all over the floor. Not at this party. Here we see a textbook demonstration of how to correctly open a bottle of champagne. (Restaurant À l'Os might want to take notes.)

  1. Do hold the bottle obliquely (cradle it in your arm). Don't just open it on a table. Avoid any perpendicular angles created by uncorking it on a desktop or a computer workstation.

  2. Don't point the bottle at anyone. And for heaven's sakes, if you are lining up your glasses getting ready to taste the goods, be aware of yourself: don't interfere with the person opening the bottle and if that person is standing directly above you, duck! (Everyone in the immediate area of the bottle should be cautious and careful. Contents are under pressure!)

Once your sparkling wine is open you can let the party start and forget all your worries.

As instructive as this photo is, I have to say that there's something to its composition that I really like. Things kind of radiate out wildly from the razzle-dazzle of the bright white flash in the centre of the photo, but beyond this foreground there's a strong almost soothing symmetry forming out of the office-space architecture. The oxymoron that is the phrase "office party" is perfectly captured in this moment (And I love how the image within the image is captured in the screen of the ditigal camera at bottom right). Best of all for winebloggers, the release of the cork from the champagne has been clearly depicted as merely nudged out of place -- gently coaxed out and emitting the faintest whiff of a noise, like that of a granny passing wind during high tea, or so said the sound that professionals strive for.

As for yesterday's quote that led to this post: "The only time it's okay to open champagne at room temperature is when the room temperature is 35 degrees"... I'm not sure who said this. What is for certain is that you make absolutely sure to measure those degrees in Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Popping a Krug in the steam room is never a good idea.

20060308

WBW #19 When in Rhône: Cellier des Dauphins Prestige 2002

I wish I was in the Rhône Valley. Instead it's late Tuesday night before Wine Blogging Wednesday and I'm on my way home from work searching for an idea. I'm scratching my head wondering where I am going to find some Côtes du Rhône to blog about. Every liquor outlet I walk by has already closed. The convenience stores will only sell table wine and I'd be lucky if the label even said France, let alone Rhône. Things are looking bleak. Then my thoughts wander to the sole Rhône bottle I have in storage at home, a prized Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Expensive -- that goes without saying -- and a purchase that I promised myself would be for a special occasion. I wonder whether I could really do it. Could I really pull out the cork? Drink the Châteauneuf with pork sausages and fried potato rounds while watching American Idol and then recork any precious drops that are left over to have during lunch at work. I could arrange to bring in a lunch more special than peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. And my post would end up looking something like this.

No, that would be wasteful. Now I know why Jathan warned everyone about leaving WBW to the last minute.

And then upon the horizon, an idea.
captured and claimed mountainCellier des DauphinsmountainCellier des Dauphinsmountain
Cellier des Dauphins produces the ultimate travel wine. They come in six-packs but you can buy them individually – just tear out a bottle or two for a hasty purchase. There are light-weight, fit next to your keys in your pants pocket, and have screwtops for easy opening. Plus, they’re a breeze to pick up en route to your destination. Usually that destination is a picnic. But that wasn’t the case for me. As I found out Cellier des Dauphins is also the ultimate wine for your late-night pickups, for your American Idol campouts or what have you. In a cinch, I find my red and white Rhône on the main drag.

Back at home, I taste the red first while the white continues to chill in my freezer. It's no Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but the Cellier des Dauphins Prestige Côtes du Rhône 2002 at least has structure. The vast majority of the blend is Grenache -- and even more daunting -- Grenache from a bad vintage (2002). Somehow this little wine manages quite well. Mouth-puckering tannins make you want to eat that saucisson right out of the picnic basket. The 15% Syrah indicated in the descriptive file seems to do its job: the fruit of this Grenache-based blend is not going to overwhelm you. It's reined in and given purpose, and with the distinctive peppery taste I expect from the Rhône. The consistency is a bit thin and the colour is very light. But hey, it's $4.50!

On to the white, which is also called Cellier des Dauphins Prestige Côtes du Rhône. In fact, these two wine labels are identical so producers don't need to cover new printing costs incurred in the move from white to red, from one vintage to the next, which makes this is the only non-table wine I've seen that avoids mentioning the year of the harvest. While the bottles are quite small (250 mL), there's still space to add a little sticker with the year of vintage on it. Any urge for the producer to do so are made moot by his careful market analysis: People buying this wine are going places in the here and now; they don't need any indication of provenance. What does need some indication is the aroma. It's fruitless and tight. Tasting it is even worse. A candied black licorice note is very strong. Acids are not well balanced. The white Prestige needs to be drunk several degrees colder than the standard. This Cellier des Dauphins entry is not as convincing.

But as I mentioned from the outset, these are wines for your moveable feast. When on a picnic, you want that white to be extra cold and refreshing, so serve it ice cold. And what's more is that you are not going to drink these wines on their own -- they are to wash down the fried chicken and potato salad. To judge them in a vacuum is not entirely fair. Besides, you know what they say about the best picnic wines... They are ideal because when you are on a picnic, you aren't close enough to your wine cellar to select a better bottle.

Tulette, Drôme, France. 13.5%, 12.5%.

20060307

Santa Rita and Saint-Romain: Chilean separated at birth from Burgundian twin?

Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2002
The Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 2002 is a gorgeous wine. I wonder if this is the best wine I've had for the least money. With beautiful body, strong buttery tones, a delicate balance of sweetness and acidity, the 2002 is marked down from $18.50 to $15.70 (click on bottle above for more details).

It's difficult not to think of Burgundy as the touchstone for Chardonnays. They may not be everyone's cup of tea, (and Lenndevours made a valiant effort last week in defending the varietal) but I guarantee that when you spend upwards of $30 on a white wine of a better-than-average vintage from Burgundy, you'll see why Chardonnay is a stronghold in the wine world. In the right hands at the right time, the Chardonnay grape can make legendary wine. When I compare it to a recently-tasted Bertrand Ambroise Saint-Romain 2001 -- a slightly off vintage in the Côtes de Beaune that was well-handled by a reputable vintner -- this little Chilean bottle has all the makings of truly great Chardonnay. By no means as concentrated or as full-bodied as an Ambroise, you could certainly serve this several degrees colder than a top-notch Bourgogne to highlight the bracing astringency that's there. And there may not be as much luscious Burgundy sweetness in the younger Medalla Real, but there is a hint of it and I would not be surprised to see it age gracefully. Not as deft or as mineral as a Chablis, but not as oaked and overcooked as an industrially-produced New World wine, Chile's entry from the Valle de Casablanca revels in the care that clearly was put into this cuvée. Hand-picked grapes boasted on the back label may be part of the success story. And there's a nod to the Burgundian tradition when the winemaker explains his use of French oak barrels.

What food pairs with this stunning wine value?

It is a must-have with buttery broiled white fish in generously herbal cream sauce. The lush smokiness that comes through via the wood underlines why sometimes stainless steel can be a bit boring. Meatier fish like salmon would work, as would a bold chicken marinade. Red meat might not work as a pairing, but this is a wine that makes you want to give up red meat anyway.

Viña Santa Rita, Casablanca, Chili. 13.5%.

20060305

At last, Portuguese week sees the light ... finalmente

Quinta do Minho Loureiro 2004 white wine from portugalThere have been so many wines from Portugal I've tasted during Portuguese week that it now seems clear to me: Five days devoted to posting on this country's many different wine producing regions just isn't enough. There's Estremadura, which, like Ribatejo, is transforming itself by adding modern vinification techniques and looking beyond the production of bulk wine. There's Dão, the region that approaches the Douro from the south. There's Bairrada, similar to Alentejo: yet another burgeoning wine region. And I have overlooked so many other corners of the country where winemakers have their own thing going on. I wish I had time to post on them too. But I hope to visit the Iberian Peninsula in person to truly understand more about Portuguese wines. Until that time, there's the Internet and there's the local wine merchant.

Portuguese theme week here at Doutor Golb do vinho ends up in the northern DOC appellation of Vinho Verde. I call it the light at the end of tunnel. This is a suitable metaphor for the future of Vinho Verde. When it comes to Portugal, wine buyers have been tunnelling through the tintos and never get through to see what the entire country has to offer. Yes, white wines do exist. This situation obviously stems from the fact that white wines throughout Portugal have been backward and isolationist for years, perhaps more so than any European wine product. On top of that Vinho Verde, in the northwest area that borders Spain's Galicia, is frequently misinterpreted, often connoting unripe, bitter and "green" white wines (when in reality Vinho Verde is the official label for whites as well as any other colour of wine coming out of the region -- though these examples rarely do make it out).

The Vinho Verde appellation name actually comes from the exceptionally moist ecosystem that endows this maritime region with sprawling lush greenness. It's true. And here are some other great things about today's Vinho Verde. Like German wines, they are made from grapes that yield low sugar content which promotes light, refreshing wines that are low in alcohol but still maintain a fine balance of fruit and acid. Vinho Verde vineyards account for about 15% of Portugal's total, and of all, it's these grapes that have the richest soil, humidest climate and breeziest exposure to the Atlantic. The land has been producing wine since ancient times and its grapes are said to be diuretic and aid in digestion. The grapes are: lvarinho, Arinto (or Pedernã), Avesso, Azal, Loureiro, and Trajadura. Aromatic and grassy by nature, Loureiro is at the head of this class.

Often said to possess laurel notes, the varietal we tried last night was lightly herby. Quinta do Minho Loureiro 2004 was also wheaty, beery and slightly effervescent. Its finish was virtually non-wine like. Almost like a cider or a lager, with its raspy, fresh and clean dryness on the palate. Minerals and some pepper noted too.

I'd open it with some of the $0.89 tins of sardines I feasted on during the week. Or with Asian cuisine. Or simply on its own.

20060303

Getting a little (just a little) nationalistic with the Touriga Nacional

In Portugal, my money's on Ribatejo. This is a central region of the country, not far to the northwest of the Alentejo. It's traditionally a bulk wine producer since the area nearest the banks of the Tagus River feature alluvial soil that spawns cheap quaffable reds. Now that stonier vineyards higher up in the Ribatejo have been discovered, cultivated and exploited by modern vintners, some serious wine (and serious wine grapes like Cabernet and Syrah) are now on the scene.

Tercius 2000 portuguese redOne outfit making a name for itself in the rocky upper vineyards around Almeirim is Falua, maker of Tercius 2000. This is another blend that does not present overwhelming tannin (though it is aged in small oak barrels). To me, the 2000 vintage leads with a whole lot of savoury fruit. It is composed of three different grape varieties, hence the name on the label.

Trincadeira Preta, which is known for deep colour, great richness and fruity aromas, also goes by the name Tinta Amarela, Espadeiro and Castelão. Tinta Roriz is Tempranillo, as already mentioned earlier this week, another spicy and flavourful grape. So where -- and I've been wondering this all week -- does the generalization that all Portuguese wine is tannic and acidic come from? Perhaps that lies with the Touriga Nacional, finally making a star appearance for Portuguese week, four bottles into the week and the third grape to round out this blend's threesome.

Touriga Nacional, more than any of the other regional grapes, is known for its tannins. It seems to me that most of the other varieties I've been tasting are really not all that tannic. It may be a coincidence, but I've also only been drinking the less expensive wines -- ones that you would be not expect to be age-worthy and therefore likely to contain the tannic Touriga. I would imagine that the more you go up in price, the more the wine features a grape that raises the ageability factor: the quest for structure, if you will, is not selling cheap. And so -- me of little wallet -- I am guessing that Touriga is not selling cheap either.

I think that most of the Portuguese wine people are buying, like my purchases, are actually blends composed mainly Tinto Roriz. And this is good. I think it should help demystify the rustic reputation of Portugal as well as all this acid and tannin business.

But onto the Tercius 2000. Having no more than a fraction of Touriga Nacional, this wine ages only to a certain extent. I'm not sure why the 2000 is still on store shelves instead of a more recent vintage. Don't bother decanting this. I think six years is its limit. Tannins are present but supple and yielding. Notes of wood also bind the wine together and create a nice structure.

This reminds me a lot of a Languedoc wine. There's dark fruit leading to a licorice centre. Pervasive notes of pork fat counterbalanced by a herbal astringency. The nose is slightly bitter but on the palate there's a smoothness that's very reminiscent of Port wine. And like the Trincadeira Preta would have you believe, this wine is entirely and deeply purple in colour.

Almeirim, Portugal. 13.5%.

20060302

A night off with the Aussies: Jacob's Creek & Penfold's Koonunga Hill 2004

It's remarkable how the right bottle at the right time can do so much for you. I am not talking about careful cellaring or making wise choices during a flight of wines. I'm talking about the thoughtful gestures of others.

Jacob's Creek Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2004 was not what I was planning to open today, let alone post on. After all in the middle of Portuguese week, what could be stranger than an oaked international varietal?

I woke up this morning and it wasn't long before I knew it would be one of those days. The bus driver told me to get out and walk when I didn't have the exact change. It was about a block to the subway, so his unsavoury show of power only meant the loss of my respect rather than the loss of my time. The smug subway car conductor had something to say about that though. The entire green line was down. I would have to seek out another bus to get to work. The fact that I didn't have a proper transfer allowed for some fleeting but mandatory humiliation, which the driver feasted on like a vulture to carrion. At least this time I was let stay on. Could the inconvenience have been worse for him than me, I wondered.

Showing up for work 45 minutes late, it was clear that my lunchhour would not be spent posting my latest installment to Portuguese week. I would have to make up time. That was the least of my worries though. The office today would be a day of stomach-dropping excitation. The kind of day when you don't realize lunch passed two hours ago because events are rocking your cubicle and making food a nauseating prospect.

And then came Danielle.

Stretching her arm out to hand me a generous expression of gratitude, I suddenly realized that when things you don't plan on start happening, they don't always have to turn into nightmares. Having a surprise visit from a colleague like Danielle certainly helps. And hey, so does the gift of a little vino. I hope you like Shiraz, she said, as I pulled the bottle of the bag. You bet. I have a feeling Danielle must've visited Weingolb before.

Some hours later, there still would be no Portuguese wine posted to the blog, no Portuguese wine opened and on the table. But who cares? The Shiraz was uncorked and decanted, and Gordon was grilling chicken in a skillet. While long grain rice slowly and aromatically steamed in the cooker, florets of broccoli readied themselves for a quick blanching. We were drinking Penfold's Koonunga Hill Chardonnay. Oaked chard and a slice of gruyère on toast -- how many time zones had I crossed to reach this oasis?

And it got even better. In a brilliant manoeuver, Gordon emptied the remaining white wine into the pan to create a mustardy dressing that he poured over the risotto-like rice, flecked with green onions, and the broccoli. Dinner looked stunning, as always. Gordon is such a great cook. Eric joined us and Danielle's Shiraz was poured into glasses...

A beguiling aroma of garrigue, black cherry and bay leaf. It tasted totally unlike the smell though. Baked plum, anise, wood chips and a slightly viscous cola finish. Gordon pointed out the cola and hints of vanilla. Medium to full body, and tremendously smooth. This Shiraz is convincingly textured by well-integrated, well-ripened fruit.

Thanks for the pick-me-up Danielle: Down time should always feel this good.

Today's originally scheduled post, and the start of the second half of Portuguese week, will appear here tomorrow.

20060301

Semana português continua/Portuguese week rolls on

Prazo de Roriz Douro 2003 portuguese red
The minimalist design on the label of the Prazo de Roriz Douro 2003 mentions in tiny tiny print a parcel of land -- Quinta de Roriz, or the Roriz Estate, if you were to translate it to English. This lauded vineyard, which, by the way, produced the wine that went on to take the Number 55 spot on Wine Spectator's Top 100 this year, is actually connected to the cuvée presented yesterday: Like the Altano from Douro, the Prado de Roriz is another feather in the cap of the prestigious Symington Family, who have been producing port in the region for more than a century.

We bought the Prazo de Roriz, a winner of a blend, in Niagara over Christmas. Back then it was about $15. In Quebec, the SAQ never stocked it and doing a quick search on the current stock shows that there are only three left at the LCBO (just click on the image above for more). I am surprised to find that it is priced to clear at $11.95. What a deal!

I do suspect the praise this Prado de Roriz got from the annual Wine Spectator listing is directly related to its fruity and vital "drink me now" style. One reason to drink now is its lack of tannins -- not so much a deficiency as an important and unique quality of this wine. That quality also likely the reason why one of 2005's celebrated wines is now found marked down in price.

This wine went way too round and flat after I neglected putting the leftover mini-bottle of wine in the fridge. Thinking the wine would become more harmonious and attractive after recorking it turned out to be my mistake. The storage technique may have something to due with this -- it was the first time I deviated from chilling the leftovers -- but I suspect that it has something to do with the wine too. After two days time, I had stripped this beauty of its natural charms and I think it was because I had virtually induced a three-year-process of ageing, simply through encouraging air to affect to the recorked wine. Three years is not at all something that this wine needs or wants. Even though I had expected any vintage from hot and sweltering 2003 to shoulder the weight of time (my "lucky leftover" rule for 2003 had never failed me), the Prado de Roriz, despite its full and strong character, was simply not made for it. Drink now, drink now!

For some pairing ideas, I can say that I had it with the same thing both nights -- a pork loin roast with mushrooms, green peppers and oregano in a maple-mustard reduction sauce. In the past, I've had it with a savoury fish fillet in a pungent brown butter sauce. Tannins are light so both ideas work. Heavy, gamey meats might be the only selection that would let you down.

My tasting notes: Complex nose, with a sharp tanginess right out of the bottle. Almost seemed to be searching for balance (hello tannins?) but with such intriguing complexity and matter to the wine, as well as a lovely finish, the wine was nearly as charming as my intial sampling of it over the Christmas holidays. Darker fruit than most Portuguese on the palate. Hints of licorice and fat. Definitely not of the same calibre of most under $15 reds.

São João da Pesqueira, Portugal. 13.5%.