20071231

A map of who makes my favourite wines of the year

From left to right (click to enlarge):
Croft, Quinta da Roêda, Cimo Corgo, Porto E Douro, Portugal.
Domaine de l'Écu, La Bretonnière, Le Landreau, Loire-Atlantique, France.
Château Grinou, Monestier, Dordogne, France.
Clos du Tue-Boeuf, Les Montils, Loir-et-Cher, France.
Planeta, Menfi, Sicilia, Italia.

Recap of the best wines in 2007 that I reviewed:
In February, I drank Quinta da Roêda Vintage Port 1997.
In October, I drank Expression de Granite Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine 2005.
In November, I drank Clos du Tue-Boeuf 2006.
Throughout autumn, I drank Grinou Réserve Rouge 2005.
Over the last 12 months, I drank La Sagreta Rosso 2005 & 2006.

Croft makes my favourite wine of the year



Croft Quinta da Roêda Vintage Port 1997 (about $20, per service)

Don't hate me for mentioning port in my year-end look back at the favourite wines I've drunk. Port is wine -- fortified wine -- or wine fortified by the addition of grape brandy. Brandy is a spirit. It's distilled which is where some people like to draw the line between wine and all other alcoholic beverages. Wine is fermented, hence it is alive. Tipple is distilled and therefore it lacks soul.

But port, or port wine, is still mainly wine -- basically 4/5 fermented grapes. That one-fifth brandy actually is created from distilling other wine. So though port is a small part distilled spirit, all of port's "spirit," so to speak, is wine, through and through.

Here's something else of interest: Who knew that the Portuguese have a definition for Canada, one that likely predates Canada the country? In Portuguese, Canada is a measure used in making port wine. It's "the amount a man should drink everyday [which is the equivalent of] 2 liters" (note the non-Canadian spelling of litres). I got this information from the Croft website glossary. I hope they're talking about drinking water here, because 2 litres a day of port wine or even the most watered-down wine sounds deadly. I have no idea how using this measure actually helps in the production of port wine.

Speaking of appropriate portions, since port is fortified wine it is best delivered in small amounts, definitely in smaller amounts than wine. Higher alcohol, greater concentration and denser viscosity all work to limit your intake of port in one sitting. So it's no wonder port can cost three or four times that of a fine table wine. A single bottle of port will often last over three or four dinners in the average two-person household. Where the 750mL bottle of table wine is something I'd consider "one service" (i.e. it is entirely served during the meal at a dinner for two), the exact same size bottle of port is what I'd call three or four services (i.e. it is not entirely served during a dinner for two; it would have additional services left in it).

Using this principle, I'm squeezing an $85 bottle of port by my spend-about-$20 rule. This is cheating perhaps. But the important thing is that this stuff happened to be some the best wine I drank all year, no question. This says more about my burgeoning interest in port than it might about the quality of this Croft bottle versus others -- I would have a hard time ranking this as today's best port since my background is so limited. But if I'm honest, the best vintage port I drank in 2007 was the only vintage port I tasted, and it was definitely amazing stuff. I would recommend this bottle to any wino.

MY TASTING NOTES ON PORT WINE

This port is from a vintage ten years ago at Quinta da Roêda, a vineyard that has long been recognized as one of the great port vineyards of the Douro Valley. Of Roêda, nineteenth century poet Vega Cabral is to have said: "If the wine district were a golden ring, Roêda would be the diamond." Croft's Quinta da Roêda is not produced every year -- vintage port never is. It comes out only after exceptional years. But unlike other ports Croft's Quinta da Roêda is made from grapes of a single vineyard, rather than mixed with grapes from several vineyards. (The best port, quite opposite to the best wine, is drawn from grapes of multiple vineyards -- so as to gather the very best grapes of the vintage... hmmm! Terroir is not port wine idea.)

Croft's Quinta da Roêda tastes like the finest wine I can imagine, concentrated into something stronger while still retaining the balance of the wine it was made from. It's as savoury as it is sweet. You taste it for hours after you've swallowed it. It's out of this world.

That's the best tasting note I can give on it at this stage of my wino life. Perhaps I'll develop a tasting note template for port that alters the existing one I use for regular table wine. I think I would at the very least need to eliminate the food pairings from the note since port, while nice with chocolate or rich cheeses, generally is not something around which you'd base your food, no less your meals. It's a few sips to be relished, and the astounding length of it helps prolong your (single) glass of it anyway.

I got a great deal on this bottle and gave it as a birthday gift to a friend who was celebrating a birthday early in the year. Soon after that, I was treated to a taste, which meant it was opened only as it was starting to peak (vintage ports need a minimum of ten to 15 years before consuming. That generalization surprised me slightly when I took a sip. I can't fathom that it would possibly get any better than what I had tasted, but then I'm newbie (for now) when it comes to port wine.

20071230

Domaine de l'Écu makes my favourite wine of the year

    

Expression de Granite Muscadet-Sevre et Maine 2005 (about $19)

With a tip of his hat to the soil that the Melon de Bourgogne vines sit upon, Guy Brossard at Domaine de l'Écu creates a memorable Muscadet in more ways than one.

He makes an organic, biodynamic, terroir-driven wine from the Nantais region of France and it's terrific. He produces a touchstone for the zesty, minerally and briny style of modern Muscadet, the definitive wine where the Loire abuts the Altantic Ocean. And you could literally say this wine has touched stone -- it is after all named after the granite under the vines -- and when you taste it, it still seems like it's reaching out and bringing you that wonderful stoniness and minerality.

That's not why I think it is a wine of the year however. On top of being the epitome of great Muscadet, in 2005 this cuvée goes great lengths to integrate remarkably luscious fruit flavours into a perfectly balanced white wine that promises ageing potential. And it does all this at under $20.

At the place I bought my bottles of the Expression de Granite -- the SAQ -- the total per bottle came to $19.55. That was in October. Prices have gone down markedly since then, but so have SAQ stocks. In fact, the SAQ catalogue no longer even lists this item. Click on the bottle image above to go to The Wine Doctor's resourceful reference page, which includes tool to find stockists that carry this wine. (I see that this is another Doctor who has just posted notes on this wine in December.)

Many places should still carry the 2005 Expression de Granite outside of Quebec (along with the Planeta this might be the most widely distributed bottle in my top five). American merchants will likely sell it at pricepoints down to $15. Grab them! Or tell me where I can get more for myself, please. As always seems to be the case, the fab 05 vintage is being ever-rapidly replaced with the subsequent vintages.

This is a truly amazing wine, and likely the cuvée I am most confident proclaiming the "best" that's out there.

Eyes: Light and transparent.

Nose: This struck me as typical. Citrus fruit, subtly rasping aromas, mineral and slightly floral, maybe anise.

Mouth: In the mouth, the distinction of this wine is revealed. Very saline at front palate, enticing weight and personality through the mid-palate, and fine length echoing strongly a level of fruit not often seen in a Muscadet. A tremendous expression! It is masterful how a firm and briny attack relinquishes to strong and fruity finish -- no Muscadet I've known has a such an amazing arc going from saline to citrus as this one does.

Stomach: Great on its own as a classy aperatif. But because this wine is so much more dynamic than the usual Muscadet, don't limit food pairings to oysters. I think it makes me light up so much because it carries tones of licorice and anisette. So any dish relying on a fennel bulb would be a perfect match. Equally as good would be savoury salads featuring orange sections to echo the lovely citrus notes. Ultimately the admirable acid suggests its versatility. I would like to try this with fresh fish in a herb sauce with lime, savoy cabbage coleslaw, zesty garnishes with capers and shallots, and so much more.

20071229

Clos du Tue-Bœuf makes my favourite wine of the year

   
Clos du Tue-Bœuf Rouge Cheverny 2006 (about $15)

In any previous year, Portuguese red blends -- frequently strong values -- would be in my list of favourites. Last year, the Casa de Santar Dão 2003 was one of my go-to everyday wines, for instance.

This year, I have found similar strong value, and a familiar rusticity, flavour profile and food-friendliness, in a Cheverny red blend, the generic cuvée from Clos du Tue-Bœuf (of France's Puzelat fame).

Cheverny is a French AOC in the Loire Valley and it is more associated with white wines than red. I would hardly expect it to suggest to me my favourite Portuguese bottles. But it did.

It's even stranger that the grapes blended together to do this are Gamay and Pinot Noir -- not exactly kin to the indigenous grapes of Portugal, or their reputation for yielding heavy and tannic wine.

This entry-level Tue-Boeuf was introduced to me by BrooklynGuy back in August. At that time, I was the first of thirteen people to comment on his report, salivating over what sounded like my ideal find -- what he titled "The Finest Value Red of the Season". Having just arrived back from a New York vacation days earlier (during which time I got to experiment with some inexpensive unfiltered Beaujolais that was Bguy-approved and meet the man himself), I commented that I could only hope to return sometime in the fall to hunt down this fetching cow-killer of a cuvée.

Months pass, and it's late November. I'm in Brooklyn. By all accounts this wine is out of stock (but I had all but entirely forgotten about it anyway). Sure enough, along comes Brooklynguy to meet me at a Seventh Avenue wineshop in Park Slope called Prospect Wines and he's carrying with him his last bottle of Tue-Boeuf and he proceeds to serve it me at BYO down the block. What a guy. That this wine turned out to be every bit as good as he had described was just the icing on the cake. This was one of the best wine experiences of recent memory -- and surely one of my favourite pours of the year too.

This wine is definitely unavailable in Brooklyn (or else I would've retrieved it), and as I mentioned, I couldn't get it in Canada. So suffice to say good luck to you tracking some down.

For the tasting notes on this one I leave you in the capable hands of Brooklynguy, who wrote about this bottle from summer into fall on CellarTracker in 2007. Here's how I cut and paste his observations together. (Thanks again Brooklynguy!)

Eyes: Light but deep, ripe and earthy (hmmm... I think this is referring to palate rather than appearance).

Nose: Lovely Pinot Noir nose of griottes, clean aromas of dark red berries and once open for about 10 minutes, vivid floral aromas -- dark violet.

Mouth: Pure, juicy, sweet and luscious, this is a bowl of black cherries on the palate, with pleasant earthiness and lip-smacking acidity. Smooth, although slightly grainy texture, and floral. Delicious. Low alcohol.

Stomach: Fantastic inexpensive Pinot/Gamay blend incredible how delicious this wine is (especially when you're eating -- we had it with hummus and fresh Middle-Eastern bread, bean stew, grilled lamb, and salad). When you think that it costs about $13 it becomes ridiculous.

20071228

Château Grinou makes my favourite wine of the year


Grinou Réserve Rouge Bergerac 2005 (about $16)

A common theme on this annual best of list is catching the 2005s before they are replaced by the 2006s. Since 2005 was such a remarkable vintage in so many places it's not surprising to see this. But most of the acclaim for the harvest of 2005 is usually not placed on wines that are this cheap, and this good-drinking this early in their lifespan.

Here we have a young wine that seems too good to be true -- with already a firm grip and a youthful embrace it seems to know no growing pains. It's outlook is positive. It promises to only improve, which is to go from great to even better.

That what's doubly incredible about the 2005 Grinou Réserve. This lusty Merlot varietal from Bergerac, a region just outside of Bordeaux, is a keeper. Winemakers Catherine and Guy Cuisset give this cuvée a full ten years of prime drinking time, so it's peak time may not yet have arrived. Buy up cases while you can.

If that sentiment sounds familiar it's because it was first uttered by Joe of Joe's Wine back in September. At that time, he gave this bargain an admirable score among heavier hitters. I'll be monitoring that score as it likely will go up when Joe revisits it in years to come. Thanks
Joe for sounding the alarm on this one.

Meanwhile, who will be the first to report back here on the 2006 Réserve? Michel Phaneuf gave it a similarly strong review in his 2008 guidebook but he leaves out any promise of future development that somehow the 2005 managed at under $16.

Eyes: The colour is a richly-hued purple.

Nose: Had a few problems with cork taint in opening about a half-dozen of these over the course of the year and the nose can be a bit funny -- is it sour cherry? -- it suggests something mineral but at first it's quite funky as well.

Mouth: Incredibly smooth on the palate, greeting you with intense, mouth-filling spicy oak and fruit of great depth. Mid-palate turns towards earthy tones and licorice. Finish is very long and lovely lengthy plummy note etched with a slight rasp of acidity that just leaves you wanting another taste. To me, this nears perfection. A well-crafted wine, with totally integrated wood. When I dissect it, it comes across like a textbook example. And it's $16! Why? Because the B is for Bergerac, not Bordeaux.

Stomach: With the rustic cuisine I tend to make, this wine is put somewhat into misuse. I had a heavy lamb pot pie full of butter and hot spice. The wine's body, which was medium, became even less present. Spicy food is not good for it. The black fruit came through less than the minerality, making it stricter than it needed to be.

20071227

Planeta makes my favourite wine of the year


La Segreta Rosso IGT Sicilia 2005 (about $16) & La Segreta Rosso IGT Sicilia 2006 (about $16)

It was late last year that I tasted this 2005 blend of Nero D'Avola, Syrah and Merlot from Sicily. It was bold and unusual, not what I typically expect from Italian wines in the price range, namely expressions of light to medium body with some tart damson plum or zingy black cherry.

There weren't much of those. Or at the very least, you could've said the Syrah packaging aligned the fruit flavours of the Nero D'Avola and the Merlot with newer world traditions: cedar, spice box, lovely roasted notes, substantial body. It was perhaps too young to drink in 2006.

Fast forward to the end of the 2007. It was November and great praise met the release of the 2006 Segreta reds. Swayed by the positive reviews, my friends and I went out to buy and taste it. Somehow we ended up with a bottle of the 2005 back in front of us. We didn't know it at the time we opened it up.

We didn't know it, except immediately I felt I couldn't be drinking wine that was less than a year old. Sure enough, this was the older vintage. Although bright and charming, there was a mellowness and fine integration to it. I wasn't taking notes at the time, but it didn't matter. It was one of those tasting moments where all the elements come rushing together perfectly -- jotting down individual components of the wine as they come to you doesn't apply when a wine is this whole, with this much integrity.

Many critics underline how tones of mocha and raspberries envelope one another within the beautifully tannic arc of the 2005. I'd go along with that. But it'd be a cop-out not to provide my own notes on a wine I'm proclaiming a wine of the year. Problem is that there is no more 2005 left where I am and all I can do is retell the story of not paying enough attention to wine labels and the happy mistake it created.

A TWO-IN-ONE ENTRY IN MY FAVE TOP FIVE

So this post for one of my five favourite wines of the year is actually for two different wines. The Planeta Segreta Rosso 2005 -- the wine that moved me -- and the the Segreta Rosso 2006 -- my great "red" hope for drinking in the new year. (Click on the first "drink now" bottle image above for 2005 availability in Ontario -- click on the second "lay down" bottle image for 2006, which is what the SAQ is currently stocking across Quebec.)

So meet the 2006 red Segreta... It's not the same wine as the 2005 by any means -- it adds Cabernet Franc into the mix -- but if anything, its critical acclaim has only grown from last year's reaction. For more technical details and press, see the Planeta website, which is making me want to visit all corners of Sicily with every mouse click. With any luck, in about ten months' time the 2006 will integrate as amazingly as the 2005 has done (isn't it interesting that the release date for the 2005 Segreta was only in August -- about a year later than its release in Quebec and perhaps much more timely). Without a doubt, I know I can look forward to 2007's edition to be bottled and shipped out soon from this island off the tip of the Italian boot.

(While I admitted to not having notes for the 2005 other than a fallible memory, my notes for the 2006 are very much hot off the press, and I might add, rather hastily arranged from a BYOW dinner at a small, noisy, and dimly-lit resto, just moments ago.)

Eyes: Brickish red, but with intense hues and quite opaque.

Nose: Earth, thyme, hints of cooked fruit? Developing...

Mouth: Savoury attack, with stewed vegetables and ripe tomato, grippy but with a silky texture and somewhat woody.

Stomach: Garden fare done Italian-style, hearty pasta with sausages, bold herbs, anything oven-roasted.

20071226

At the end of 2007, tracking down the best wine I've had all year


Arriving home from holidays spent with my family in Ontario late on Boxing Day, I have wine on my mind and lists at my fingertips.

This time of year is particularly good for amassing long wish lists. Wines you'd like to buy yourself, wines you'd like to store into the new year to share with others. The timing is particularly good for me. That's because, for a change, I'm perusing the aisles in the Ontario Liquor Board's Vintages. Or being generous and not following a budget to more freely make wine purchases.

I also equate this time of year with an opportunity for me to enjoy wine at lunch and at dinner (as my grandfather pointedly made known to all my relatives gathered around the Christmas dinner table -- I'm still not sure if his comments were a pat on the back for my resilience and earnest enthusiasm or the start of a future intervention).

THE ANNUAL BEST OF LIST . . .

My Annual Best of List for the last 12 months will be appearing here over the next five days. I won't have one single favourite as I did in 2005 and 2006, when I selected one top wine. This time, I'll be singling out a handful. They are all wines that I haven't yet posted any reviews for here, mostly because I was saving my notes until the end of the year to anoint my number one drink-it-everyday, anyway-you-like-it wine.

The gauge is drinkability plus affordability: Charming, masterful wines that are ready to drink now and come in at around $20 or less (even in Canadian dollars and including a hefty Quebec tax -- so these will not break any banks). Hmmm... Shall I offer some examples of what I am talking about?

WANNABE CHIANTI

One wine you won't see on my list but clearly could have is the Poggio alla Badiola IGT Toscana 2005 from the vaunted Mazzei house. You also won't see it in Ontario's LCBO flagship store at Yonge and Queen's Quay, as I was there and looked hard, hoping to find just one bottle of the four cases that was indicated on the LCBO website. They must've been scooped up fast because this baby is a special "Give me all 48!" bargain. Wannabe Chianti? Why not.

As of today, I've only briefly tasted this wine after picking it up at the SAQ. I desperately want to search out more for proper note-taking but already I'd easily make this bottle a top runner-up for the year or an honourable mention or whatever it is that makes people sit up and take notice. It could be the greatest Italian wine value that's out there. And since well-made Italian wines are not usually cheap, especially in Quebec, this is certainly one to watch out for.

OLD WORLD MALBEC

While I'm allotting space for bottles that didn't make my list, here's a couple more notable 2005 reds that amaze me. (What is it about 2005?) They are both from Cahors in Southwest France. I call them the CDC 05 and CLC 05 -- the Chatons du Cèdre 2005 and the Clos la Coutale 2005 -- and they're just the ticket if you ever find the general repertory section of the SAQ a little drab. These are very cheap and very widely available. Having had them both many times over many recent years, it seems to me that they've never been better. Priced at $12.45 and $14.25 respectively (and that's in Canadian funds after all taxes), they are below my daily wine budget's typical range.

Amid the mass-produced alternatives that they share the shelf with, and amid all the ersatz Fuzion in the Argentina section that stares them down from across the store, these two are real standouts of the moment.

20071218

Dreaming of a White Xmas: Domaine Mourgues du Grès Terre d'Argence 05, Palacios Remondo Plàcet 05, Domaine Cauhapé Sève d'Automne 04, Bodegas Aura 05

     
Is one in five accurate odds that the wine you open is spoiled? Our Dreaming of a White Christmas blind tasting -- hosted by Joe of Joe's Wine -- marked the second time he and I got together with five bottles. As it turned out, we found that one of the five bottles had gone off, just like what happened at our first event.

Back in October, I hosted a Cab Franc Table Talk night where I found that oxidation had all but ruined one particular bottle (to be fair, Joe was less categorical on this wine's demise). And then for Joe's white wine event earlier this month, we had a corker on our hands.

One in five bottles seems tremendously unlucky and much more than my usual day-to-day discovery of defective wine. But no complaints here, since Joe and I get so much out of these blind tasting nights. An evening of wine appreciation like these is so much more than the sum of its parts, even when there's a minus in the mix, so to speak.

So without further ado, here's our notes (Joe's are inset and mine follow) on some wines made from white grapes along the Spanish-French border: blends and varietals from Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Verdejo, Viura (Maccabeu), Malvoisie and the two Mansengs (Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng).

(The order corresponds with the bottles aligned across the top of the post, which are clickable images that offer more detailed product info.)

1. Domaine Mourgues du Grès Terre d'Argence Vin de Pays du Gard 2005

The decanter on the left held the Domaine Mourgues du Grès Terre d'Argence Vin de Pays du Gard, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. A new appellation for me, this wine was reminiscent of the white Hermitage I had recently. Yellow gold in the glass, the nose showed lavender, lemon, apple and toast. A touch thin on the palate, but as it warmed it showed a nice, rich apple flavour. Good acidity, but a bit hot. Very Rhone-like, and a nice effort.
Eyes: Darker than the others, kind of greyish

Nose: Apple, flowers, with complexity

Mouth: Honeycomb, note of cream supplanted onto a grassy edge. Full-bodied and heady.

Stomach: Had this one in a leftover minibottle so I opened it for dinner two days later. Vanilla notes totally pronounced where I hadn't thought to note anything earlier -- a sign or poor oak integration of poor conservation? In any case, with my dinner of trout and sautéed veg, it was an okay match but the woodiness was a bit overwhelming. For a fresh bottle, it'd be a great pairing for boldly seasoned Asian stir fries loaded with crunchy MSG'ed vegetables. An umami-suited wine.

François Collard, Beaucaire, France. 14.5%.


2. Château les Pins Côtes du Roussillon 2003
The next decanter held a Château les Pins Côtes du Roussillon. Corked, unfortunately, as there were some neat aromas hiding underneath - cooked pears, flowers - and some almonds on the palate.
Eyes: Golden-yellow

Nose: Cardboard over white fruit

Mouth: Complexity is there but it's all coloured by cork taint. (Fruit from 2003 already receding it would seem making this even more pithy and pitty -- hard to assess whether buying another bottle would be in order.)

Stomach: This bottle would do a disservice to food.

Cave des Vignerons de Baixas, Baixas, France. 14.5%.


3. Palacios Remondo Plàcet Rioja 2005
For both Marcus and I (and my wife who joined us later) the clear favourite was the Palacios Remondo Plàcet, a white Rioja wine made from the local Viura grape and reviewed here earlier this year. A pale white gold in the glass - the palest of the bunch - I thought it might be the Rueda by the colour. Very interesting on the nose – citrusy (limes), minerally, and floral – gorgeous. Elegant, rich and luscious, with a nice long bitter finish. Sometimes a great wine comes together so well that you can’t use words to describe why you like it so much – the Plàcet is one of those. Marcus and I just bought up the last bottles on the island (sorry).
Eyes: Straw

Nose: Flint, funky and direct -- this wine was less changeable, more distinctive than the others.

Mouth: Mineral but smooth, honeysuckle, with nutty-bitter finish. Medium body.

Stomach: Yum. My favourite style of wine of the bunch so I'd eat this with anything or drink it down all on its own. Joe's selection of cheeses from the Pyrenees did it justice, as did a salmon mousse and yeasty baguette. Even a saucisson side -- why not? Entirely lovely.

Alfaro, España. 13.5%.


4. Domaine Cauhapé Sève D'Automne Jurançon 2004
The next decanter held the Domaine Cauhapé Sève D'Automne, a wine from the Jurançon sec appellation (made from the Gros Manseng grape) and tasted in my Southwest France review. Deep yellow gold in the glass, it showed green melon, banana, honey and pineapple on the nose. The tropical theme continued on the palate - papaya and melon, with a nice bitter and minerally finish. Once again, the whopping alcohol was not overly apparent. Flavourful and elegant, but an extrovert amongst a more reserved peer group. Note: the priciest wine of the evening.
Eyes: Golden, most visually consistent of the bunch, viscous

Nose: Exotic fruit, honey

Mouth: Linear attack, white plum, spice changing more to green apple with a long finish. Nice acidity. Lime zinginess.

Stomach: What a well-made wine -- the way the acidity holds up against the fatness of the fruit. Had leftovers with dessert the following night and though this is a sec, is great with any course. Delicious!

Monein, France. 15%.


5. Bodegas Aura Rueda 2005
The decanter on the right held a Bodegas Aura, a Verdejo from the Spanish Rueda appellation. This golden wine was rather simple - apples and lemon rind on the nose, some minerals. On the palate is was thin and light, lemony and minerally, with a nice crisp aftertaste. Kinda Pinot Griggio-ish, this was a terrific white quaffer - uncomplex, but fun. And the best price of the evening...
Eyes: Yellowish

Nose: Crisp nose of gooseberries and white pepper

Mouth: A full-fronted attack: Racy, appley, lots of zest. A bit of alcohol on the finish lingers. Odd resinated quality.

Stomach: A stand-in for Sauvignon in term of food pairings. There was a goat cheese (Tomme de Chevre des Pyrenees) that Joe served that initially suggested a good fit, but I think it liked it best with an interesting and zesty semi-hard cheese from Spain called Manchego. Clearly, Joe's cheese-mongering abilities live up to his keen wine appreciation.

Castilla y León, Rueda, España. 13.5%.

20071214

On a holiday trip in America, breaking some bread with the inventor of White Zinfandel


In the period between American Thanksgiving and American Christmas (the secular observance falling on December 25), life can turn into one big cranberry if you let it.

This directly applies to the flavour profile of the wines you may encounter, especially if you go along with the idea that White Zinfandel is the made-to-order match for Butterballs with all the fixings, festive holiday luncheons and the heaps of leftovers that emerge as turkey club sandwiches.

White Zinfandel is not something that I had ever knowingly tasted. If I had ever stopped to give this style of wine any thought, I'm sure I would have assumed that I would continue avoiding it, come gleaming 20-lb stuffed turkey or high water.

But quite recently, during a trip to New York City, I discovered there was a chink in my armor. Perhaps this was hubris, or even worse, holiday hubris, which often comes wrapped in coloured cellophane with a tacky wine accessory attached.

AN INAUSPICIOUS END TO DELICIOUS START

BrooklynGuy Neil, whom I met up with while I was visiting New York, lead me from Pineau d'Aunis blend to Pinot Noir bubbly, steering me entirely clear of any Zinfandel of any kind, even though Thanksgiving had just passed.

We drank Muscadet and we drank Touraine. And even in leaving behind the Loire Valley -- practically a polar winter to any Zinfandel grape -- I only strayed as far as the Mâcon.

And when my bottle of Mâcon-Villages spilled onto the sidewalk in Hell's Kitchen (yes, it was me who was the good Samaritan seen picking up glass shards at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 49th Street at noon on Saturday, December 1) I merely crossed the street and got another one almost identical to the first.

One day, change was afoot. I was feeling like something more spicy for a trip to the NoHo Star so I shopped for a lusty red wine. But I blindly passed by the Ravenswoods and Clines and picked up an Alfrocheiro from Portugal (which was a really exciting find -- my first 100% varietal from Portugal -- and it drank beautifully, almost like a light and spicy Rhône).

It would seem there was not a bottle of Zinfandel in the world that would reach this Canadian in New York during the festive season. Or was there one, silently sitting there waiting for me?

Glasses clinked and November became December. My departing train came too suddenly -- I was whisked up to Albany, where Amtrak's 15-minute layover greeted me and my hastily purchased turkey chimichanga with a small and curious bottle of Sutter Home Family Vineyeards White Zinfandel 2005 (the only wine sold in the entire train station -- thankfully with a screw top, the most teensy-tiny one I've ever seen). My train home about to pull out of the station so I wasn't about to split hairs. But I rolled my eyes and grabbed a stout as a back-up (the stout, unlike the wine, was not a screw top, and it went straight into the garbage).

Is this how it would all go down? A White Zinfandel neophyte chugging along Lake Champlain with a $2 bottle of blush to declare at the Canadian border? (For the record, Quebec only imports three brands of White Zinfandel: Gallo, Baron Herzog, and Beringer's sparkling version; Ontarians have a full dozen of White Zin options, including the one I had before me here, but their increased exposure to this blush is because the Ontario wine industry produces some even more ersatz stuff of their own -- namely White Zinfandel-Vidal -- to up the tally.)

Surely such an amazingly eye-opening trip to the Big Apple filled with great food and wine would not be concluded like this?

Well actually, it was the only time during my visit when I had nothing better to do than write tasting notes, so yes, it would be the culmination of my trip.

Eyes: This is actually a blush wine, and not just any old rosé, so it's a paler shade of pink.

Nose: Cidery, both distinct wafts of cider vinegar and aged fruit. How quaint. I'm still amazed at this point that I bought this bottle.

Mouth: Mulled wine on the palate -- practically juice. At first I felt like dumping it, but the line for the train toilet was too long to make it worthwhile. Soon, I starting coming around to it. Totally cranberry profile -- it tastes like Thanksgiving right out of one of those cranberry jelly tins. Not bad tannic presence, who knew a blush (though I think it's got more than a hint of pink) could be so grippy and drying, which mercifully complemented the sweet side of this wine's attack.

Stomach: The Adobe turkey chimichanga I got from Whole Foods was packed with shredded turkey, kernels of corn and spices. I actually felt like I was having a movable Thanksgiving feast, post-dated one week.

So overall, not a bad wine to crack open on the Amtrak Adirondack at 10:30 am (let me qualify that slightly by saying the café car wasn't selling anything with alcohol until noon that day).

Next stop Schenectady, where I picked up a wireless signal long enough to gather the following information on White Zinfandel, U.S. patent #2934857396684759760157495731110490928658.

(Like the wireless bandwidth, the following was stolen from an unacknowledged source.)

In the 1970s Sutter Home Winery was a producer of premium Zinfandel in the Napa Valley. One technique they utilized to increase concentration in their wines was to bleed off some of the grape juice prior to fermentation to increase the impact of compounds in the skins on the remaining wine. The excess juice was separately fermented into a dry, almost white wine that Sutter Home's Bob Trinchero called "White Zinfandel." This wine became the classic example of the varietal style. An "invention" that is Delicate blush pink in color, with sweet aromas of strawberries and watermelon. It is fresh and lively with a crisp finish. Enjoy well chilled.

Varietal Information

Produced from red Zinfandel grapes grown in the upper Sacramento and northern San Joaquin valleys. Grapes for this bottling were harvested early in the growing season (early to mid-August) at low sugars (18-19 degrees Brix) and relatively high acids to maximize the freshness typical of this wine.

Nutritional Information

5oz serving size, 5 servings per 750ml container:
Calories | Carbohydrates | Fat | Protein
108.000 | 008.300 grams | nil | <1 gram

Happy Accident (Detailed information)

In 1975, Sutter Home's White Zinfandel experienced a "stuck fermentation", a problem that occurs when the yeast dies out before consuming all of the sugar.[3] This problem juice was set aside. Some weeks later the winemaker tasted it, and preferred this accidental result, which was a sweet pink wine. This is the style that became popular and today is known as White Zinfandel. Sutter Home realized they could sell far more White Zinfandel than anything they had produced to date, and gradually became a successful producer of inexpensive wines. The demand for White Zinfandel resulted in extended commercial viability of old vine Zinfandel vineyards, which saved them from being ripped out.[4] When the fine wine boom started in the 1980s, demand for red Zinfandel picked up considerably and these vineyards became prized for the low yields from century-old vines.

Rather than use the leftover juice from premium Zinfandel production, Sutter Home (and most producers today) grow grapes specifically for use in White Zinfandel in places like the Central Valley of California. Production costs are substantially lower and fruit quality is not as important to the final taste as it would be in a dry table wine.

In the 1990s the Trinchero family, owners of Sutter Home, began production of a new brand of fine wines, M. Trinchero.


Napa, California, U.S.A. 9.5%.

20071209

Not hanging it up . . . for now

This was a long and mostly unplanned blogging hiatus. Since the end of November, I've been able to travel and uncork great wines with both the legendary BrooklynGuy and the consummate taster Joe of Joe's Wine.

On both occasions, I got to meet their families and felt tremendously welcome. And while I had met BrooklynGuy and Joe before, meeting up with them in their element and spending more time with them was a little bit like getting to know your favourite Pinot. These guys have truly great blogs, but I still gotta say that virtual wine appreciation isn't as nearly good as the real thing -- especially with great guys like these two. You learn a lot.

And for me this just makes blogging seem less important in comparison, less vital. At the moment, journaling about wine feels almost like an afterthought -- or like talking to an answering machine when you know someone will eventually pick up if you call again.

That said, I still have a bunch of stuff I want to enter for my own record-keeping and whatnot, so the wineblog is resilient in that regard. Doktor Weingolb's decanters aren't being hung up for good so I'm turning them around. Wine to come...

20071130

Drying stands and the dryer-resistent decanter: How do you dry your wine carafe?


Who has got tips on decanter dryers?

Normally I find a drying stand ideal. The water drips out on its own with a little help from gravity.

But the skewed angle at which the curvier decanters hang off the stand can still allow draining water to pool in recessed areas and small depressions in the side of the carafe. Once it begins to form a puddle you know you're in trouble. The water will never evaporate. Those stubborn puddles of moisture that linger in the hard-to-reach areas of your wine decenter are even more stubborn as wintertime approaches.

So drying stands: not so easy after all.

I bought this pipe-cleaner at a restaurant supply store. I don't remember what the device was actually designed for, but as soon as I saw the pliable stem, soft scratch-free bristles on a long handle, I knew it would come in handy for the strange microclimates that habitually form in my carafe.

Here I am depicted struggling with this the other day. I had to go it again and again before the droplets of water finally receded.




You need more than to graze them with an absorbent surface. I think this concept for drying is the best idea but have never heard any testimonials as to whether it really works.

20071127

Château Saint-Brice Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 1999


Does this look good enough?


Good enough for this?


I could hardly be sure: This is my first grand cru. A fairly well-reviewed wine described as an expensive but not overpriced product from one of the celebrated châteaux operated by the Moueix family. I found this bottle -- the "second wine" of Château Magdelaine -- at a steep discount of 25% off after it had done some cellaring but was still very much before it's best-before date. Click on the image above for the SAQ's descriptive file on the current vintage.



Eyes:

Nose:

Mouth:

Stomach:

Sorry, no notes on this one. I really wanted to enjoy it, let it wash over me without an expressly critical approach, and see how it would change me.

What has changed? I have to say, not much, so perhaps that says it all. But if anyone wants more details or has a specific question you can email me.

20071126

Anytime wine: O'Terra (formerly Opus Terra) Les Vignerons des Tourelles Merlot Syrah 2005


O'Terra is short for Opus Terra, but you can't really say that since some Californian heavyweights in the wine world have taken over official ownership of the word Opus since the mid-eighties.

When the Vignerons des Tourelles in Languedoc-Rousillon created this cuvée in the nineties, its label (which happens to be the one on the bottle shown above) was considered as infringing on the copyright of the winery, which is Opus One. As an outcome of the legal dustup, Tourelles had to settle for naming their wine O'Terra.

In Quebec, there is no Opus One wine currently for sale. When there was, it was priced at $264. The "opus" of a cuvée that the Vignerons des Tourelles make is $251 cheaper. No wonder Opus One was worried!

I've never tasted any wine carrying the Opus One brand -- I'm sure it'd be hard to compare it to O'Terra Vin de Pays d'Oc 2005, but I think it goes without saying that this bottle here is the anytime wine that Opus One is not.

Anytime wine is a great thing. It's the wine I described in the last post. Only the most difficult-to-pair dish would not be done justice by this savoury, oak-free, fruit-driven red wine. It's not meant to age however, so when I say it's anytime wine I mean anytime this year or next.

O'Terra is 60% Merlot and 40% Syrah. This balance is perfect. It renders tannic values to an exceptably low level for lighter fish dishes; it adds complexity to a flavour profile that is expressive enough to come across whether it served with steak or duck.

What else can I say? I most often think of opening a Loire red for my favourite dinners. But the times in between special dining occasions are more than well-served by this fantastic $13 bottle.

Eyes: A clear red with medium depth.

Nose: Fairly aromatic. It suggested cherry pie to me. Some yeasty notes with alluring red berry aromas.

Mouth: Crisp and refreshing attack with plums in a savoury spice. Tremendous brightness with a dry and light-to-medium body. Intense flavours supported by some round tannin. The finish is somewhat weaker than the attack. Simple but so expressive.

Stomach: A food-friendly package has been delivered to you. I had this with tuna casserole one night, red meat the next. Pork, poultry, salmon, why not? Lamb might not be the perfect match, but it would work.

You also might take Michel Phaneuf's word on this wine since it's been given high praise for a number of consecutive years, even in the troublesome 2002 vintage.

I particularly appreciate Malcolm Anderson's review despite being for a vintage that has long passed. I last tasted this version four to five years ago, yet it still sounds pleasantly familiar:

I really liked this wine’s blend of merlot and syrah. It had a leathery, animal, earthy nose and delightful blackberry fruit on the palate with a complexity rarely seen in a wine of this price. The wine has no oak aging - you taste what the grapes and the winemaker gave you. the wine has enough tannins to add interest to the palate but they are the softer grape tannins imparted by the skin and are easy to handle. If you are lucky enough to have any remaining turkey leftovers at this date, defrost them for this excellent wine. Wine of the week ****

Malcom Anderson - The Gazette - Jan. 11, 2003

Beaucaire, Gard, France. 14%.

20071123

What bottle of wine backs up your meal?


How many people have asked the question: What wine do I serve with dinner? The photo above always comes to my mind when I hear this question. In fact, I should mount this photo onto a flash card and hand it out to anyone who asks. That's because it so perfectly demonstrates the answer to the question (and also because this photo literally depicts a wine bottle hidden behind the food -- you can only see the bottle neck peeking out).

So what bottle of wine backs up this meal? What wine is behind the dish? In order to answer, you've first got to determine what it is you're eating.

Well, that's easy. It's grilled salmon.



Fish = white wine. Problem solved. Push aside the red wine. Let's eat.

But wait! It's not actually fish -- that's really a chicken breast.



So slide the red wine over back over. Roasted chicken = red wine. Dig in!

And suddenly, the gustatory experience of your dinner has been reduced to easy visuals rather than tastebuds and mouthfeel. Any black-and-white answer to the pairing wine with dinner question becomes, at best, a dubious conclusion. My flash card has no clear answer written on the back. Because grilled salmon goes with red wine and white wine; roasted chicken goes with red wine and white wine.

KILLING THIS NEW WINE TREND BEFORE IT IS BORN

Around Halloweentime, Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 spoke out, unearthing a spooky post. Very spooky!

In it, the wine bottles we typically see at our shops are talked about as if they're in perpetual disguise -- like their labels are masks and wine shoppers who come across them couldn't guess what's behind that mask until they open it, pour it out during dinner, and shockingly find [cue thunder and lightning bolts] that it doesn't complement your food!

Therefore, one proposed solution to this horror scene is a line of wines that have no labels at all, just the image of the food you should serve them with, as illustrated by the bottles above. How clever this is!

If only it worked. Dr. Debs explains the problem well. Kudos to the doctor -- check out the full post.

The way I see it, the problem is that the food you make is dressed up every night of the year, not just on Halloween, or on Thanksgiving. Surely no one prepares the same food the same way every night of year.

Take a look again at the flash-card photo of the dinner I recently made. At first, I couldn't even tell if it was chicken or fish I made that night -- mostly because my grilling preparation method with fresh herbs and bold flavours suits both chicken breast and salmon.

One ends up tasting like salmon and one ends up tasting like chicken. The accompanying flavours and textures always support a good food-friendly red wine. Personally, I think nine times out of 10, I'd reach for red wine after grilling no-matter-what, fish included. That's because the preparation supports flavours and textures that nine red out of ten would handle better than a typical white.

So yes, red wine with fish!

Now that's spooky for a lot of people. But to me, it's the truth. Spooky, but true.

But I'm not going to say that on average reds better suit grilled salmon without serving up readers a good example. Nine reds out of 10 may not totally convince you that red wine and fish match.

Stay tuned for the versatile, food-friendly wine I serve with almost anything -- that'll be the next post. I'll give you a hint: It's not Saumur-Champigny or anything remotely close to the Loire.

20071121

New rock's "Hot Earth": Domaine des Roches Neuves Terres Chaudes 2005


I'm not sure why I went out to try and buy the entire Thierry Germain catalogue. Actually I do know why.

After admiring Joe's donation to our Cabernet Franc tasting -- La Marginale -- I realized that BrooklynGuy recommends other cuvées from Thierry Germain. Germain, the wine maker at Domaine des Roches Neuves, also produces L'Insolite, Terres Chaudes (the clickable bottle image shown above), as well as a self-titled domaine cuvée, their entry-level wine. I couldn't find L'Insolite, but managed to bag the other two.

I liked the Terres Chaudes 2005 quite a bit. (I preferred it to the cheaper Cuvée Thierry Germain 2004 -- coincidentally if you swap vintages you can get BrooklynGuy's take on these two, as he tasted the Terres Chaudes 04 and Cuvée Thierry Germain 05.)

Domaine des Roches Neuves Terres Chaudes 2005

Eyes: Dark purple hue with a fuschia rim. Exhibits tears and a lot of viscosity in the glass. Inky depth of colour. NOTE: Sediment is in this wine -- quite a bit -- so it needs a thorough decant.

Nose: Low intensity nose. I thought this would develop more but even on the next night is was subdued. Some licorice and, I think, alcohol.

Mouth: Sour cherry evolving to darker red berries. A rootiness suggestive of star anise takes over to make this Cabernet Franc an interesting specimen that is neither distinctly fruity nor vegetal. Some green pepper and mineral with a lovely creamy note. Drying, crispy and with a solid body and sound tannin. A fine finish with great length. Style very much similar to the 2003 La Marginale, yet I'd encourage people to treat it much more like a "drink now" wine despite the fact that it's in its youthful stage. It's good like this!

Stomach: I've read that you should grill food with this wine but my braised rôti de boeuf (a bas palette or bottom blade roast slow cooked with turnip or carrots and garlic was totally delicious as an accompaniment. Saumur-Champigny earns its title as the food-friendliest appellation of France so you could serve it with almost anything. Since this wine is more substantial fare than most bistro bottles, I would advise you try something richly textured, slightly fatty, somewhat rustic and intensely flavoured. Rôti de bas palette garni, it is!

BAS PALETTE ON PARADE



Varrains, France. 13%.

20071119

One good turn of the page deserves another: A wine tasting notebook for your wine buying guidebook

steve de long company wine tasting notebook
A great bottle of wine deserves a great tasting note.

Think of that today as the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2007 comes out. It's that time of year when wine lovers will be given heaps of wine recommendations. My last post is an example -- Phaneuf's Quebec wine consumer guide that just appeared on Montreal shelves. No doubt that it is the ultimate stocking stuffer for the Québécois wino you love.

But the year-end roundups, ratings and rankings make for rather obvious, somewhat clichéed gifts. Leave them for the unfashionable to give. If I was getting myself a little gift during the upcoming holiday season, it would be the Wine Tasting Notebook, pictured above, from Steve De Long of De Long Wine Info.

This Wine Tasting Notebook, which is newly available on Steve's site (click through via the linked image above, or check my Blogroll for De Long Wine Moment), is comprised of a 60-page notebook and a fold-out spill-proof quick reference guide to wine tasting terms that flips over to reveal a step-by-step how-to instruction on taking tasting notes.

My first official wine tasting note -- way back in the day when this blog was still a baby -- was with Steve's guidance. But what can I say? You don't need to be a beginner to benefit from his clear and complete wine notes package. I love the design, the useful cheat sheets and the conciseness of his guidelines. I used them then and I use them now, with my Vistorta review from a few days ago being wine note #1 in the book he sent me.

In fact, forget beginners. This notebook arrived to save me just at the time when I was floundering amid dead soldiers (empty wine bottles are only a decorative touch until they outnumber the volumes on your bookshelf). I remember looking deep into the abyss of my cork drawer, wondering why I had all these corks and no notes to immortalize the wine they once stoppered. I was becoming a virtual black hole for wine. Taking tasting notes is the healthy way out, or at least that's the way I see it.

But most importantly, with Steve's terminology and how-to guides, your note taking won't flounder before your wine glass while your dinner sits there getting cold. He presents a painless solution. The pre-printed note pages are laid out to allow you to quickly circle, fill in the blanks and jot down your most salient thoughts. Most people don't realize that you don't need to write a book for these things (unless you are lucky enough to come across one of those wines that totally illuminate you, and in turn, your pen as it fills the entire page).

FRESH NEW DUDS TO KEEP THE WINO BEYOND REPROACH

Steve was kind enough to comp me a "Your Brain on Wine" T-shirt that was exactly my colour. It was a nice shade that Steve calls pencil shavings, which is wine tasting lingo for copper-grey.

My first time wearing it was at work. I had a dress shirt with check print over top of it. I remember I was meeting with the person who was previously my boss's boss. Like many of the people I work with, my ex-boss's boss knew about my wineblog after the local newspaper printed my full name and a URL.

It's not exactly fame though. To tell you the truth, I don't think anyone in the office actually follows my posts at all. They tend to try and track my hobby in another way. They study my clothes for traces of wine stains. Yes, this is the civilized society we live in. I believe it's most precisely called Schadenfreude.

So anyway I wasn't surprised when my ex-boss's boss paid me a back-handed compliment about my shirt as we exited the meeting room, saying that it suited me very much "...and you don't even see any marks from the wine..." [laughter].

At which point I did a Clark-Kent-in-a-phone-booth and graciously, yet somewhat indignantly, stuck out my unbuttoned chest to reveal my "Brain on Wine" T-shirt. And by way of correction, I replied: "Look -- the mark of wine is always there," gesturing with hand over heart. I think anyone watching from a distance would've wanted to have me committed. On second thought, those in my immediate midst too.

No matter. Problem solved. I don't think my coworkers will be searching me for wine stains anymore. Thanks to Steve.

20071116

Phaneuf makes many changes in new guidebook on wine buying

What seems at first like a subtle change is nothing short of a revolution: The 2008 Phaneuf Le Guide du Vin has become a wine guide for SAQ specialty products.

In Quebec, the government agency SAQ regulates all wine distribution. At its most simple, it owns a catalog of products for retail sale that is divided in two: wine spécialités, harder to locate and stocked in lower numbers, and wine of the répertoire générale, which is cheaper, more generally distributed bottles that one can easily locate throughout the province.

(To give you a practical sense of this, it's the specialties from the SAQ I most often blog about, that Joe from Joe's Wine blogs about, and that Bill Zacharkiw of the Gazette most often writes about.)

For this 28th edition of his guide, which appeared in stores midweek, Phaneuf explains the new approach. The new focus on specialty wine serves to help the wine buyer navigate a more elaborate and far-ranging part of the SAQ catalog. That makes sense. But I think he's stopping short of saying it all -- he's not mentioning the huge amount of mostly pedestrian wine criticism (mine, example) oozing out from everywhere and that perhaps he wants to "specialize."

Or could Phaneuf actually be saying that the ubiquitous, often characterless cheap wine of the general repertory is just not worth reviewing? With many of the these bottles around the $10 mark and going down in price, does a consumer guide that costs three times that price really add much value to your buying power? Ten dollars in a liquor store is simply dispensable for most people and a three-star review is generally not required to try out a wine with that kind of price tag.

Not that Phaneuf is never reviewing cheap wine anymore. He picks his very favourite items from the general stock -- the bottles signaling the greatest value and the most accomplished wines with a budget price. Yet clearly, he is also announcing (without actually saying it) that the really interesting wine values are not in the general repertory but in the range of wines typically hovering around $15 to $30. This is not surprising. Jancis Robinson and many other have said the same thing.

But never before has Phaneuf so purposely focused outside the general repertory. Ultimately I think this has to make a difference in Quebeckers' buying habits. People who use this guide will slowly start raising the amount they spend on a bottle. As a result, they will buy more specialties. The SAQ will respond by listing more specialties their catalog, achieving greater depth and selection. Better wines will be more readily available in Quebec.

OTHER THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN THE NEW PHANEUF

Stemming from the new attention to far-ranging wine selection, Le Guide du Vin now has space uniquely devoted to:

  • Austria

  • British Columbia

  • Corsica
These are good things! Just looking at the breadth and comprehensiveness now present in the guide makes me want to go to my calendar and assign each week in 2008 a different wine region. (I wrote that in hyperbole but now that it's out there I think I might really try that.)

Axed is a half-hearted and rarely updated section on wine and food pairings. In its place are expanded listings of wine-friendly restaurants in Montreal and beyond, which I like.

Also a nice move, a major change was made to the problematic page design adopted in last year's edition. In this update, designers appear to have taken all of my criticisms to heart: Inset wine labels feature wraparound text and the type itself is a huge improvement. The silly oversized font from 2007 has been relegated to the index, where its cartoon-ish size may actually be helpful since you're skimming for a lot of foreign names and long strings of numbers in their product codes. Improved typesetting throughout the book adds an extra line per page and around six extra characters per line, all while being highly legible. At about thirty pages more than last year's (and I like the new page stock) it's clear the 2008 guide has a lot more words. More words means more wine reviews and that means more consumer guidance and bang for your buck.

Perhaps Phaneuf is picking up the pace a bit because of the increased competition in the wine-expert industry. With those factors looming, he now introduces a collaborator, Nadia Fournier, to whom he seems to be passing the torch, or at least grooming for a hand-over.

I would love to be an intern working on the production of the Phaneuf book -- this thought came to me last year after criticizing it -- so it seems Ms. Fournier is now my official nemesis at six years my junior.

With that in mind, I now offer my very own published critiques of wines which now turn out to have been given top marks in 2008 (the famed Phaneuf Grappe d'Or rating). Remember, these are glowing reviews that I wrote up myself before the guide pronounced upon them:So you know Nadia, it's not rocket science.

20071114

WBW #39 Silver Burgundy: Domaine François Lumpp Crausot 2004


Today it's BrooklynGuy's turn to host Wine Blogging Wednesday. With it comes a theme that brings bloggers a piece of him.

What makes BrooklynGuy tick may be a question you've asked yourself if you've ever followed the ongoing and always intriguing blogging going on at BrooklynGuy's Wine and Food Blog.

It's fairly obvious to the casual reader that BG is big fan of Burgundies. But when I met him he told me that these were the wines that turned him a true wine lover beyond the point of return. He admitted that these were expensive wines. With a newly arrived BrooklynBaby on the scene (and those BrooklynRents aren't going down either you know), BrooklynGuy's need to find greater value wines from storied French wine regions grew more urgent.

Hence WBW 33, hosted by me, which... whoops, wrong WBW! But like the WBW 33 Languedoc-Roussillon value wines I did in May, BrooklynGuy has asked participants to look to other wines -- the lesser knowns and the humbler reputations (in this case, Burgundy's Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais) -- to find some quality bottles at a more affordable, everyday price. Hear hear!

Hence Silver Burgundy. There's no need to always try to go for the gold. In the world of wine, I couldn't agree with this sentiment more.

I have a feeling the bottle I picked up for WBW 39 is too expensive, despite all this. I knew I wanted a red, and since I already had experienced a couple of great Mercureys (both the Michel Juillot and the Marquis de Jouennes would've been perfect entries for WBW 39), it was the Givry region I was perusing. In the end, they were very alluring to me and perhaps I put more weight on the appellation part than the getting a bargain part.

I picked up the Domaine François Lumpp Givry Premier Cru Crausot 2004 -- the Crausot in the name being the precise plot of land in Givry that Monsieur Lumpp uses. This bottle is priced in the mid-thirties in Quebec (see its online descriptive record here). That's because it's not only just any old Givry -- Givry being situated in the heart of the Chalonnaise region -- but because it's also a Givry Premier Cru -- my first Burgundy cru, or classed growth. So apparently that Crausot vineyard is hot stuff. Not sure if crus are what Silver Burgundy is all about, but went for it anyway.

I was very interested in seeing how this would pan out. So, of course, I would be disappointed. I think maybe I should've taken baby steps. BrooklynGuy seemed to want to ease fellow bloggers into this one and I may have dived in head first. Here's what I found.

Eyes: Flashy, intensely coloured and bright ruby in the glass.

Nose: In terms of aroma, I thought it smelled like barn on fire that contained a whole lot of freshly picked mushrooms and was subsequently doused with vats of cherry kirsh. Over time, this sense seems to wane. Maybe I got used it? Not sure. But I see that Jane MacQuitty endorsed this wine -- perhaps because it so vanilla-ish overall.

Mouth: This is a very overt wine. Also very smoky with strong cherry verging on cherry medicine by virtue of the heavy extraction. There's also some interesting earthiness and pinch of cacao, but mostly it reminds me of concentrated jello. A squelch of acid is followed by a much simpler finish than I was hoping for a wine of this calibre.

Stomach: Fairly demanding with food, I have to say. I had to re-season my meal, midstream. The chicken breast encrusted in Gran Padano and mustard-celery seeds was a lively match that stood up to this hulking Pinot. It brought out the spice and verve that lies at this Givry cru's centre. However, my simply prepared mushrooms did nothing for the wine and I really had to enhance them to continue. More flavourful were roasted red and yellow peppers. They had an intensity that paired fairly well because its strong ovenroasted notes complemented the wine's.

A LUMPPY RIDE SMOOTHES OUT OVER TIME

On the second night, this Lumpp cuvée was showing off a fruity licorice profile that I quite enjoyed and by this time the length seems quite spectacular to me but I still would not buy it again -- even if a thorough decant could get me to this point again.

My conclusions on this wine don't beat around the bush. This is a heavily extracted wine that possesses little intrigue and too much oak. Not a lot of complexity or anything that really flags my interest. This is exactly what I'd call a boring though technically sound wine. Other than the nose I'm fairly sure all aspects of this wine could be found in a Mondavi wine of half its price. In a word: Lumpp-ish.

Grade: 2 Lumpps (out of five)

Like it or lumpp it, this was a great chance to discover a region I don't usually explore and also to find out a little more about one of the palates I most respect in the blogosphere: that of the BrooklynGuy. I eagerly await the remaining entries and of course the full WBW 39 roundup. I'm staying tuned!

François Lumpp, Le Pied du Clos, Givry, France. 13%.

20071112

My dinner with Conte Brandolini d'Adda Vistorta 2004



This is a wine that figures more prominently in the mind than it does in the cellar -- I think about it more than I drink it. And I refer to it more than I review it.

In fact, this is the first real tasting note I've done for this cuvée, and only the third bottle of it that I've ever opened. So reverence coloured my note-taking, which in my books means harsher judgment and tougher evaluation rather than the reverse.

But that always happens when your first experience with a certain wine lights up your circuits. That was the 2000 Vistorta, which I mentioned in this site's first review of a New World varietal (I also alluded to it in a comparison of mass-produced Merlots and again recently during Wine Label Week #1). The way I see it, that 2000 vintage far outshone the 1999, and laid the groundwork to earning the 2003 a coveted five-star review from Michel Phaneuf (his latest release Le Guide du Vin 2008 should be out this week -- will it honour the 2004 in similar fashion?).

A NOTE ON THE SOIL TYPE

I love trying to trump Phaneuf, but before I attempt to predict his evaluation of the current Visorta vintage in stores, here is a note on the type -- soil type.

The Grave in the large Italian appellation of Grave del Friuli, northeast of Venice, might conjure up Bordeaux by way of Graves, if not Pomerol. This is appropriate as both the Italian and the French Grave designations come from the same root word which signifies the gravel that generously blankets both regions. But here's where the suggestive name that makes up a wine's designation can fool you.

Vistorta's vines do not sprout up from gravelly soil. Further afield from the central lowlands of Friuli, which have plenty of gravel, Vistorta's estates in Sacile border on Piave and feature soil types that are limestone and clay.

Winemakers says that this, not gravel, is "an ideal base ... with the same characteristics found in the Bordeaux and Médoc wine-producing areas, where the clay soils and hot and dry summers favour Merlot allowing it to express itself at its best."

Hmmm... That's a bait-and-switch, isn't it? Storied Bordeaux Merlot is more right bank than left, and Merlot ripens early so how is a long hot summer going to help? It seems to me the Vistorta people don't have the Grave-Graves connection that would align them more closely with Pomerol and they are trying to sidestep their way to Claret. I am being too cynical?

MY NOTES ON THE CURRENT VINTAGE

This wine does not need convincing -- I guess that is ultimately what I am trying to get at. But many Friuli wines still carry a reputation for a thin bitter body, so I suppose Vistorta is one winery that wants to throw down its claim to convince the first-time buyer before the corks pop, at which point the convincing really begins.

I'm not a first-time buyer, but here's what happened when my most recent Vistorta cork popped...

Conte Brandolini d'Adda Vistorta Grave del Friuli Merlot 2004

Eyes: Medium ruby in colour, exhibiting clarity and little tinge around the rim.

Nose: No shortage of aromatics, yet it still suggests itself as a developing wine. Candied rinds, spices and a sweetish component. Youthfulness on the nose wears off with some time and soon in my glass I'm getting cotton candy, pomegranate, honeycomb and some very well-integrated vanilla.

Mouth: Not a lot of surprises here after spending so much time nosing this wine. It's typical of a Merlot varietal -- damson plum and flowers. (Though the flowers convey some greenness, I still think they are violets.) Quite dry and sporting a lively acidity, this is still on the incline with no doubt several years in it once it peaks. Right now, the tannins are thoroughly drying and there's only a moderate flavour intensity with a medium-to-full body. It's not reaching the heights of the 2000, or at least not yet anyway. Clearly, this is a great expression and a superb wine nonetheless.

Stomach: Some tasting notes -- usually the concluding ones -- aren't rendered until I actively decide what dinner will complement the wine I've got. I find often it's the food you're eating that will help you nail down the essence of a bottle. In this context, food is not only pleasurable, it's quite instructive too. So for the remaining wine I saved for the next night, I made a rich, heavily caramelly meal. This was drawn up as a match for the blackened fruit and caramel tones the Vistorta possesses -- that's my overall sense of the wine that I didn't even note. I prepared carbonized carrots with caramelized onions, broccoli roasted in the oven until the florets started to singe, and my old standby of Parmesan-breaded chicken breast fried in brown (burnt) butter.

Azienda Agricola Vistorta, Brandino Brandolini d'Adda, Friuli (DOC) Grave, Italia. 13%.

20071108

My cork drawer overfloweth


Which I suppose might mean that my cup doth overflow as well... But are too many corks translating into too few posts?

It may be time to do an audit on the corks I keep in my kitchen drawer. Have I been keeping up with all that I have been uncorking and enjoying?

I don't keep every cork, just the ones that stopper really great wines or are exceptional corks in and of themselves.

Corks with cork taint, thought they might be "exceptional," are not included. I prefer to keep the nice exceptions -- corks with intricate designs and memorable vintages etched into their sides or corks with deeply pigmented colour leeched into their ends.

Sometimes I keep plastic and Diam corks, but I tend to separate tehm because, for the most part, they make for useful household implements rather than souvenirs. One of these stabilizes my clothesline, for instance.

Oh, and I love the reusability of those corks that have those black plastic twist tops that often come out of Pineau des Charentes or LBV Port bottles. They earn a special place.

But no, I won't be starting a screwcap drawer any time soon.