Advance TV exclusive on last year's Champagne controversy!

champagne shock tina fey on 30 rock liz lemon donaghy estates     john jack donaughey estates donnaghy esates alec baldwin on 30 rock
The Jay-Z Cristal feud from last summer gets rehashed on tomorrow's episode of 30 Rock. You heard here first. And I got the news from, of all places, my rabbit-eared 15-inch television set, which aired, for some strange reason, this episode called "The Source Awards" tonight, February 28. I pick up local Canadian stations instead of actual NBC affiliates, which plan to show it tomorrow, March 1, during the network's usual Thursday line-up.

It's so rare that little old me gets an early scoop on anything wine-related that this naturally had me running off to blog as the credits began to roll. And so now, almost a full 24 hours before its American airing, I'm posting a spoiler. Yay! Spoiler!

Of course the sitcom's treatment is hardly news. It just satirizes the situation that Cristal-less Jay-Z created when he used a formidable boycott effort to stand up to a certain Champagne house's distain. Louis Roederer, which owns the Cristal brand, had insinuated that the image of their product was being hijacked through repeated use in hip hop videos.

This is a comedic springboard for 30 Rock. It introduces 10,000 cases of Donaghy Estates sparkling wine which immediately turns out to be severely undrinkable. Jack Donaghy, the likable big boss character played by Alec Baldwin, is in possession of the Long Island cuvées and obviously wants to unload the stuff. As luck would have it, hip hop showbiz personality Tracy Morgan seems to appreciate the wretched wine, downing it amid looks of shock and disbelief from those around him. So it isn't long until Donaghy Estates starts an ambitious marketing drive targeting the urban African American demographic. But hip-hop b-boy Tracy is the only brother who can stomach it. Mayhem ensues; guns go off. Racial tensions, rather than wine gone bad, become the crux of the wine debacle.

Which is exactly why this news item originally made headlines. It was about race, not about spoiled wine, or spoiling yourself with $600 wine, as the case may be.

As it turns out, some teasers of "The Source Awards" are available online. But they are only snippets and not the juicy parts when hip hop culture and haut Frenchiness clash. In fact, in the YouTube clip below you can only see a hint of the bottle of bubbly on Liz Lemon's desk (Liz Lemon is played by series creator Tina Fey, ex-SNL) and in another shot Jack Donaghy cradles a flute. The joke in this segment doesn't involve wine or rap though. It's about Condoleeza Rice and a surname that makes an unfortunate racial pun.

It's a very funny show, even if this isn't the best episode I've seen. Its witty handling of the Cristal to-do is definitely worth checking out. If you're not Canadian and have to wait for it, you can still catch it, but not until 9:30 pm ET. Instead of fretting about the U.S. lag, read up on the whole wine dispute from last summer, also courtesy of NBC.



pink trout shallots grelot potatoes roasted cauliflower boston lettuce salad
It's time for your close-up, fishie.

If you like eating warm meals, the snakshot life may not be for you: My more photogenic dinners make for gruelling drawn-out photo sessions and you don't get to munch until work is done. Hot lights, fickle AA batteries... this line of work is not all glamour, no matter what you may have heard. If I'm lucky I've got a splash of unoaked Chardonnay or Tocai Friuliano to keep me going. Once the posedown stops, I've built myself up a mean appetite and, fortunately, something worthy of snacking on until the next attractive catch swims by.

This trout plate looked so good that I ran it twice: sumptuous at close range, and looking delicious in this previous aerial shot I snapped. It's a wrap.


Two versions of Merlot (from way down low): Domaine Campradel & Fortant de France 2005

Following a familiar grape as it travels down toward the Mediterranean to ripen and then takes sticker prices south as well
Domaine Campradel Vin de Pays D'Oc Merlot 2005Fortant de France Vin de Pays D'Oc Merlot 2005
Here are two Merlots that dip way down low, in terms of vineyard location and also in terms of retail pricepoint. These do not come from the land of Pomerol or Friuli or any other Merlot-centric region (which capitalize on the grape variety's ability to perform well in relatively cooler climates). Perhaps not coming from any of those places is partly why these versions demand less money. Indeed these are not Bordeaux by a long shot. These are from the sunny Midi (which has a much warmer climate), and at the very least it offers something a lot of Bordeaux and Northern Italian reds can't offer. Bargain Merlot.

Basement-bin bargain Merlot. These two bottles are among the cheapest recent shipments in Quebec. Click on the images for detailed product information.

Of Merlot, a traditional grape within the Bordeaux blend and mainstay in the areas surrounding the Gironde and Gascony, Jancis Robinson contributes the following to her Oxford Companion to Wine:

With Syrah, Merlot has been a major beneficiary of the Languedoc's recent replanting with 'improving' grape varieties. Total plantings in the Languedoc more than doubled between 1988 and 1998 to reach 18,500 ha. Most of this is destined for vins de pays for the only Languedoc appellations to sanction Merlot within their regulations are Cabardès and Côtes de la Malepère. Merlot has been a much more successful import here than Cabernet Sauvignon and can produce some good value, fruity wines for drinking young, many of which were shipped to the United States in the mid 1990s to satisfy American demand for this most fashionable of wines.
These two bottles of Merlot definitely have the potential to be great buys -- they come in at roughly $10 a bottle -- though in these post-Sideways days, one wonders how fashionable these bottles really are. Popular trends aside, since they are produced from the same grape variety from the same wine region from the same vintage, it seemed so natural for me to compare them in a single post. Yet despite their "face-value" commonalities, I looked closer to unpack some issues around the production of these wines.


I wondered whether there might be another reason why these wines are so inexpensive. It may have something to do with the fact that they have come out of fairly big, fairly international machines. They are not examples of corporate wine though, or at least I am not considering them to be.

While the Fortant de France brand is part of the massive holdings of the Skalli Family -- the first French producers to make a splash with wine that touted grape variety rather than appellation -- it still captures a certain place and certain time. When done tastefully, isn't that the most honourable trait of the winemaker, no matter how extensively his family of producers stretch out around the world? ... No matter how much the gimmickry of a certain grape variety on the label may try to usurp that place and time?

Of the two, I actually prefer the Domaine Campradel Vin de Pays D'Oc Merlot 2005 though. I would gladly recommend it over the Fortant de France Vin de Pays D'Oc Merlot 2005, comments above notwithstanding. Domaine Campradel is one of some 40 French estates that produce under the Louis Bernard seal. The Rhône-based Louis Bernard brand you might see on bottles is, more than anything, an alliance between the growers or récoltants and the merchants or négociants, which are what Boisset America, importer of Louis Bernard wine, term as expert sales and management teams. (Corporate-sounding, yes, but no wine production process here is owned or managed by a corporation.) The Boisset America web site explains the relationship with synergistic fervour: "Because the members of the executive team are also wine specialists, a commitment to quality wine is maintained on every level." Where there's a claim to quality wine, my open mouth is never far behind.


The Campradel was fairly opaque and deep red in the glass and noticeably richer to the eye than the other Merlot. (Though of the two, the Campradel started out colder which seems to make a difference to the eye when you pour it out -- has anyone else noticed this?) It had a nice brick edge. It was surprising to contrast this with the light fuschia colour and transluscent appearance of the Fortant.

Both Merlots gave off an aroma of sour cherry but the way they tasted seemed to be a direct extension of the way they looked, giving Campradel an edge as a greater value wine. It was full of savoury fruit ranging from cherry to berry to plum to stewed prunes. It had a lovely finish and final note that came off a bit like burnt sugar. Very lovely. Overall it was the wine with a deeper profile.

The Fortant had as much body as the Campradel, but lacked the depth and personality. It did not seem to present much character at all, which is a harsh blow that makes Fortant's varietal endeavour feel more than a bit hollow. But with time, this changed. A greenish run within it that made the wine seem quite astringent finally opened up to reveal promising cocoa tones. It's a wine for splashing about and if you decant it the pay-off is there: Merlot and all its chocolatey smoothness and approachability, a perfect partner for lip-smacking desserts, as the Fortant label suggests.

In the end, quite different directions for these two $10 Merlots from the 2005 Pays d'Oc harvest. I opt for the Campradel and how it pairs readily with dinner. Although I suspect the Fortant has its own equally valuable role too, it's not as impressive.

Orange, Vauclause, France. 14%; Sète, France. 13%.



portabello mushrooms four-cheese pasta roasted red peppers parsley tricolor
Red, white and green makes Il Tricolore, also known as the flag of Italy. (No disrespect to Mark Rothko but red, white and brown is not quite as appetizing a colour combination, though it does make for an attractive rectangle in its own right.)

I have no clue whether the culinary legacies of Italy contributed to the creation of their national colours. I'm not even sure I was attempting Italian cooking when I had these roasted red peppers spill over four-cheese pasta and grilled portabello mushrooms on parsley.

What I can say is that this meal is incredibly flexible. It seems adaptable to any of the three wines I talked about in yesterday's post: Red, white and pink. The hearty mushrooms take the place traditionally held by red meat, but don't demand a red wine to match. The pasta is rich enough to take on a red wine but nuanced enough to pair with white. If I added leftover chucks of cooked ham to the pasta like I did recently, it, whether served hot or cold, would be delightful with a rosé. The peppers -- which I have heard called difficult to match -- were very sweet and equally easy-going as the rest of the plate. So pick your favourite wine (...or should I just say give a colour a tri).


White, red and rosé: If you close your eyes, can you tell which is which?

blind tasting experiment red white and rose pink wine detection  blindfolded
I once heard something crazy and it went like this. Red and white wines when tasted blind at about the same temperature are difficult to identify. Studies say 60% of participants failed and this Wine Lovers Page article explains more. This is shocking because a) so many people consider themselves exclusively white or red wine drinkers so how could they screw up telling them apart and b) red and white wines are often posited as polar opposites both at the dinner table and in wine talk in general.

Although I thought I could distinguish the two in a blind taste test, how shocking a notion is this really? Not really that shocking, especially if you had styles of red and white wine you were largely unfamiliar with. After careful reflection, I think that b) is a vast oversimplification of the world of wine and a) can be the expression of a preference for many different things -- not just taste -- such as the refreshment value of chilled drink like white wine, for instance. But basically, in the end, shouldn't the presence of tannin in reds -- and all the elements it helps to create, structure, depth and astringency -- be a dead giveaway?

stemless crystal riedel blind tasting glasses take the wine color taste test
And so with that, I got out my trusty Riedel blind tasting glasses, a gift from my thoughtful friend Johanna who visited Austria last year and picked them up for me as a souvenir. I was glad to christen these top-notch glasses in this way as until now they only made for lovely conversion pieces that sat impressively atop my wine fridge. In action they are even more fantastic, as you may be able to see here. They are thin but strong crystal and they have a purple tint when held up to the light but do not reveal the slightest hint of its contents' colour. Obviously stemless, they have depressions built in the bottom and side for your fingers. Easy to swirl and a great shape for catching aromas. Using these babies, determining red wine from white wine was going to be a cinch!

stemless crystal riedel blind tasting glasses take the wine color taste test
And what can I tell you. It was easy. Here we are pouring out "the reveal" ... drumroll. Correct answer! My tasting companion who is an occasional wine drinker but mainly a beer lover, had no difficulty whatsoever. Seeing this, I told her to open a bottle of rosé wine and then secretly choose two of the three available wines to feed me. This was also relatively easy to detect. She had given me pink and white wine. The pink wine had a tell-tale tartness and slight astringency that simply was not there in the soft and rich white wine. The white we opened actually had much more body than the rosé, and maybe even than the red. That level of "lightness" which people often assume creates the great divide between red and white was not really a true factor here. Despite a lighter wine with a darker colour, I correctly guessed which was white and which was rosé. I pour out the reveal again.

Reds lighter in tannin would've given us more trouble likely. We had a red from southern France (a Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre blend) with a firm tannic presence (Clarification: the red is this one not what the label would indicate on the half-bottle, which I used to conserve the wine which had been opened previously.) I also wonder whether a white wine with greater bite, like a Sauvignon Blanc, might have muddled the identification process with its bracing attack. (I know I once had a Beaujolais that seemed so sour and attacking that I thought it could been mistaken for white.) Incidentally, our white was a unique Chardonnay-regional grape blend from Sicily, which I like a lot.

We probably should've had a third person there who would try to decipher the red from the rosé. After all the rosé was the same basic blend as the red and came from the same region. Yet, I'm betting it would be simple to distinguish, since the rosé was so noticeably less consistant and extracted than the red. Like comparing water to wine, you might say?

The serving temperature for this experiment is a key variable. I recommend something in the middle -- 12 degrees say -- so as not to give one side or the other too much trouble in naturally expressing its aroma-driven characteristics and acid levels.

All in all it was a worthwhile experiment. I think the lesson here is to picture wine as a full spectrum rather than just red, pink and white. Cheers!



alex niall pretzel logic writing your name in your food kitchen lettering food fonts foodie language

The ultimate snakshot. I don't know if this image (which was created by my friends who evidently will not remain nameless) is entirely original but I do love the idea of food photography having its own do-it-yourself captioning. It's worth exploring.

Food as art is fun but this is food art at a new level. It makes the point that food's function can go beyond nutrition: All the educational goals of alphabet soup updated to feed minds hungry for Rubik's-Cube challenges as well as geometric visualization and reasoning. I'm tempted to say it's just playing with your food, but clearly this cannot be for kids. It's too good not to nibble on with a pint of beer.


The entire package: Rosemount Estate Diamond Label 2004

Aussie wine dynasty is launching redesigned bottles with pointy bases; current vintages of Shiraz still prove to be sharp despite their traditionally rounded bottoms
Rosemount Estates Diamond Label Shiraz 2004 southeastern australia
I feel quite late in posting this New World Shiraz review. Not because I was uploading a heap of Chilean, Californian and Australian Shirazes last week for Wine Blogging Wednesday #30 and not because I went bouncing from browser to web browser trying to find a way to upload today's notes (I had to use Safari to sign in and do the image uploads but Mozilla to actually publish). No, no, it's none of those things. This feels so late because the 2004 bottle of Rosemount Estate Shiraz pictured above seems light years behind the fancy vessels used in their other wines, like the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc that is out now, shown over on the right.

diamond bottle four point base glass wine vessel rosemount estates sauvignon blancIn case you haven't seen it, Winorama has posted a full review for it -- well, a review of the wine at least. But I found myself immediately drawn to the image of the bottle itself, which is a design wonder: it's a typical wine bottle that comes to four points at the base. It's a clever marketing idea to concretely convey Rosemount Estate's diamond logo within the physicality of the vessel that contain their Diamond Label wines. Sheesh, this is starting to sound like a semiotics essay. The point is that I bet Francis Coppola is kicking himself for not coming up with this showy gimmick for his similarly named Diamond line first.) It simply looks great, especially when it's carrying white wine.

But the package shouldn't affect the wine, should it? Hmmm... would blind tastings exist if it didn't? Would millions of dollars in advertising and product placement be spent if packaging didn't affect people's perception of the goods? As a serious taker of wine tasting notes, I hope that none of those things gets in the way of my assessments. But there is something about the bottle I have that is worth drawing particular attention to.

The 2004 Shiraz wine bottle, though not as pretty as the newfangled one, does feature another interesting if somewhat odd physical feature: the flange-top. I know there are people who hate the way flanges interfere with some corkscrews but I happen to like these a lot. Flange openings seem to let the wine flow out of the bottle in a more graceful stream. You're less likely to slop and if it's a delicate older wine you are less likely to add extra aeration from a choppier flow. Flanges do collect dust though and their shape prevents manufacturers from covering them with capsules so they do require dusting from time to time -- but then some corks flake upon uncorking, which makes this a moot point in my mind. (This report from last year indicates all that I had suspected -- the Rosemount flange-top is out and even the Shiraz bottles will eventually start donning the sleek new look.)

I digress. In the end, the Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Shiraz 2004 is going to arrive in your glass pretty much the same no matter the carrier, pointy-toed bottom or flaring flange-top. Trying my best to block out all the fanfare, here's how I found it:

It sports an opaque purple colour with pink rim. On the nose it is rich -- big savory cherries and spicy grenadine with a hint of eucalyptus. The spicy element translates directly to the palate.

This is a big and instantly rewarding wine. The oak is noted at beginning middle and end on the palate but it's not a turn-off; it's well integrated and sincere. This varietal may not be tremendously structured, nor does it possess a fantastic finish but it IS a quaffer. The acid is there and even on the second night nothing got too overly rounded for my liking.

Rosemount's version reminds me a lot of Midi Syrah, but juicier, more savoury, more viscous. A definite barbecue wine, meaning serve it with any bold food year-round: Harissa-scented sausages with couscous and chickpeas, grilled chicken salad or delivery pizza that on any other night would be too sweet and heavy for your elegant French wines.

Denman, New South Wales, Australia. 14%.


Two solitudes to tango

lcbo latin tango campaign saq latin tango campaign
ontario south american wine salequebec south american wine sale
Having your own website on a holiday is giant trap of tackiness. On Valentine's Day it's the kiss of death, especially for blogs, and above all for wineblogs. Wine is perceived to be romantic.

If Google slips into their masthead a chocolate-covered strawberry that cleverly looks like a "g" and Yahoo! depicts a little love story with raining hearts on their logo, then of course a wineblog would want to at least feature a special post, if not totally customize Blogger's template to shades of pink and red.

So what do I do? Last February 14 I sent a valentine to an inanimate object. This year is winding up to be no better since I am about to do an exposé on collective nouns falling in love with one another. It's state-run corporation love!

Pictured above are the current ad campaigns of the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) and the SAQ (Société des Alcools du Québec). First some background for those who don't know: These two wine monopolies cut a line that divides a English province from a French one. Like the Capulets and the Montagues, they don't mix well. If you've ever tried returning to the LCBO tainted wine you bought at the SAQ you know this. They'll shake their fists at you and growl that you should go back to where you came from. You'd think that they were mortal enemies.

But what to make of these pictures then? Both trumpet the arrival of South American wine; both celebrate the fact that love is the air. Well why not? Chilean and Argentinian wines are typically released at this time of the year. And it is Valentine's Day too, isn't it? Add that to the fact that we all know Latin Americans tango at the drop of hat (I don't think they stop tangoing on February 14 at all, except to eat and to watch Evita). Put all this together and -- whoomp, there it is! -- the SAQ and LCBO are in lovey-dovey lockstep, casting curious glances at each other like it's the first night of instructional ballroom dancing at the Gatineau community centre. They have so much in common it's evitable that they will fall hopelessy and irrevocably in love, and... um... merge.

Until then (but not for long) the two corporations continue to operate separately. The SAQ's worldly and exotic promotion runs through the weekend. The discounts during the LCBO's Latin Fever last a bit longer -- until February 24. Click on the tangoing twosomes at top for details.



ham steaks balsamic mesquite glaze grilled radicchio cheese pasta basil grape tomatoes

I'm really not trying to be hokey or cliché posting this soft-focus scene and then a suggesting Champagne as a match for it. I know that it's practically Valentine's Day and I don't want to sound contrived but a slightly spicy glaze slathered on ham steaks accompanied by a rich and cheesy pasta and dotted with juicy and basil-y sweet whole grape tomatoes? You're going to open some Champagne or other fine dry sparkling wine. Screw romance though. It's to set off the dinner. What may or may not happen with the diners is for another blog to get into.

When it's hard to pair red wine (or even white for that matter) with a certain foods, just pop open some bubbly... With the teeming market-fresh flavours shown above, I might recommend a vintage pink Champagne in particular, say, the Louis Roederer Brut Rosé 1999 but really anything goes. Fizz is the renowned safe bet for a bottle you can uncork at any meal.


Hot French Valentine: Château de Lancyre Pic Saint Loup Grande Cuvée 2001

Château de Lancyre Coteaux du Languedoc Pick Saint Loup la Grande Cuvée 2001
Thanksgiving and Pinot Noir. Oktoberfest and beer. Rosés and the picnics of holiday long weekends. Sometimes observances on the calendar call out for certain well-suited wines. But I tend to think that Valentine's Day is neither particular nor demanding enough to tap for service any specific wine.

And yet, I look down at my tasting note today and I find something virtually made-to-order for Valentine's Day. So here comes a special recommendation, and I'll tell you why in a moment. For now, keep in mind that February 14 is only three days away. If you really want the bottle pictured above (click on it for SAQ details) you may not have the easiest time locating it. You may need to act now for a timely Wednesday evening uncorking.

The wine is Château de Lancyre Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint Loup Grande Cuvée 2001. I bought it a couple of months ago because of its provenance. Mid-range Languedocs from the 2001 vintage are great. I've found in the past these wines pay big dividends. Plus I got it because it is a Languedoc cru -- somewhat of a rarity -- and I was interested in seeing what my favourite type of red wine would taste like when produced from a vineyard demarcated as "superior."

(I also bought it because it's well-reviewed and because it was getting increasingly difficult to buy since stores here in Quebec seem to find it increasingly difficult to keep on display shelves. If this particular Pic Saint Loup cru was so spectacular, I wanted to make sure of it before going out and buying multiple bottles of any remaining stock.)

In the end I'm not sure I would buy more of this -- it's not quite my style -- though I would call it a stand-out. And it stands out especially as a Feb 14 wine. Why?

First it is hot. Hot and French! Like a maid's uniform on Valentine's Day. Seriously, this wine is a tad cooked for my liking at 14.8% alcohol. It has gotten so hot in fact that the percentage by volume on the bottle label had to be blackened out and then reprinted just above the original figure. This means that the high alcohol content on the label draws as much attention to itself as the alcoholic sensation on your palate. But if anything, it's hot enough so as to demand that it not be consumed all alone . . .

And, of course, this wine is French, as in:

Domaine familial de tradition viticole, le Château Lancyre cultive ses vignes sur un terroir exceptionnel entre mer Méditerranée et garrigue, celui du Pic Saint-Loup.

La conduite du vignoble et le climat typique de cette appellation permettent d'obtenir des raisins (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre) qui, cueillis à maturité optimum, rendements maîtrisés et après un élevage de 12 mois en futs de chêne, donnent naissance a cette grande cuvée du Château de Lancyre.

Ce vin peut avoir du dépôt.
This French on the label is even more sexy if I leave out an English translation. Use you imagination!

Finally, in addition to its hotness and Frenchness, this wine is actually a real "Valentine" -- a wine produced by a vignernon who's real name is Valentin. True! (Monsieur Valentin works with Monsieur Durand as a winemaking partner.)

The Languedoc red that they have made features extracted fruit and dark subsuming berries. It is slightly spicy with great richness and depth and there's a nice tannic touch to it too. But I did sense that this wine has a tad too much heat, which mars the kind of delicate acid balance I look for.

If a certain equilibrium is nearly lost, virtually everything else is stellar here. Not everyone will find this cuvée teeters much as I did. This is fine Midi winemaking, and though I think it could've been truly great, I know a lot of people are going to really enjoy this bottle. And not just on Valentine's.

Valflaunes, France. 14.8%.


WBW #30 New World Syrah/Shiraz: Chile's Errazuriz Estate 2005, Australia's Jacob's Creek 2004 and a California Pastiche

wbw 30 Errazuriz Estate Shiraz Valle de Rapel 2005 Jacob's Creek Shiraz/Cabernet South Eastern Australia 2004Looking down the barrel of New World Syrah/Shiraz ...and I see good and bad.

For this month's WBW theme, brilliantly resurrected by Tim at Winecast (who is always ready for for a WBW throwdown -- good job organizing Tim!), I wanted to taste more than just one rendition of New World Syrah.

Why? Well, I don't usually drink much New World wine, and certainly not its version of the Syrah grape, which in Australia is infamously known as Shiraz. Because I'm inexperienced with all but the Aussiest of versions, I wanted to try to cover all the bases and not come out of the event making a snap judgment.

So I tried for three, got confirmation that at least two of the bottles were majority Syrah, and then from there took away one solid winner.

First, let me introduce the third wine, the also-ran, which ended up seeming to be ineligible for this event. It is the Joseph Phelps Vin du Mistral Red Pastiche 2005 (see image at lower right).

The 2005 vintage of Pastiche is mostly Grenache and Syrah with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The exact figures aren't released. I even tried calling the Phelps 1-800 number to get closer to the details on this wine, but no luck. The stuff lives up to its "table wine" vagaries, and I can respect that. Suffice to say, the Syrah can't reach 51% of the composition of this wine -- what with Grenache being listed as the first ingredient and then two other grapes added into the mix. Yet the Syrah does stake its claim in this winning blend, which is quite reminiscent of a fine Rhône cuvée. It is a dignified and delicious dinner wine (it goes beautifully with Jacques Pépin's roast chicken, which is a meal I posted about just a couple of days ago). This Pastiche possesses all the smokiness and bite that a great Syrah would.

In Quebec (where I write from) Red Pastiche has a new lower-than-ever price -- some three dollars less than the LCBO in Ontario, which is a coup. And now that it is under $20 (Canadian dollars, that is) this wine is both a great value and an impressive offering. Nothing short of a great Californian example of robust viticulture and ingenious winemaking.

Speaking of fantastic wine at attractive pricepoints, witness the first bottle you see at the top of this post. It is the Errazuriz Estate Shiraz Valle de Rapel 2005. Buy this wine!

Joseph Phelps Vin du Mistral Red Pastiche 2005A vanilla-sweet nose opens up into a dark and berry delicious full-bodied wine. From the very outset when I uncorked this bottle, it was hard to believe this was a $15 wine. On the palate you get strong anise flavour supported by a cream soda edge. It is perfectly calibrated and the acid and tannin here make this wine soft and round and totally worthy of $20 or more. The Errazuriz has all the savoury spice you'd expect from an Old World Syrah, all the charm too. Bolstered by a firm oak backbone, it's clear this wine has got the goods to make it big. You could say that it could go far. And yet, I am tempted to say this is something designed to be drunk young. Its vigor and mouthpopping attack demand it. That, and a great big hearty steak with fried onions in a red wine sauce.

If what Errazuriz produces can showcase great dimension and a nice viscosity in an affordable Shiraz, Jacob's Creek on the other hand makes a wine that washes down too much like water. Jacob's Creek Shiraz/Cabernet South Eastern Australia 2004, pictured second at the top of the post, is only $1 less than its Chilean counterpart. You will want to fling that buck you save right out the window.

This blend of at least 51% Shiraz does get better with aeration but that is about all I can say in its defense. I tried to put this wine through its paces and it tasted like grape juice in the face of the above. Light to medium body with little in the form of real personality. And that is a shame because I've tried the 100% Shiraz varietal from Jacob's Creek and it holds its own. Perhaps I could refer readers to that post and in so doing end this entry for WBW #30 on a positive note.

That is what WBW #30 deserves, because in my mind, this installment has been a really striking topic and one that an Old World wino like me finds rife with interest, surprise and tremendous wine value!

Viña Errázuriz, Santiago, Chile. 14%; Rowland Flat (South Australia), Australia. 13.5%.


Remembering and savouring Santa Rita Reserva 2003

Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Valle del Maipo 2003
I recall the names Santa Rita and Santa Carolina from my early days of burgeoning wine-worship. These two were patron saints of great wine value. (Or at least they were at the time -- I haven't seen a Santa Carolina bottle in years and Santa Rita only makes occasional appearances around here these days.)

[UPDATE: Six Santa Carolinas and a Santa Rita have been spotted as part of the LCBO's "Latin Fever" promotion, on until the end of the month.]

It's interesting to think that that part of my wine education went the way of Chilean wines. I was a Niagara Peninsula boy who loved Cabernet Franc, not that other one, and who had inside of him a blog fairly devoted to the wines of the Old World. But at the time, Chilean wines were indeed great values, especially the reds, which made fantastic everyday bottles.

Here, I check in on the Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Valle del Maipo 2003, a wine I recall drinking as long as I've been drinking wine. Yes, all eight years of pounding.

Thorough decanting opens the up the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon substantially, which, even though it was three years old when I uncorked it, was at first quite tight.

It had a deep red velvet colour with a magenta rim. Vanilla and savoury spice with very lush berries were present on the nose -- delicious! Like a wonderful combination of grenadine and vegetable soup!

On the nose it is almost better than it is on the palate which shows licorice, medicine, dark carbonized fruit, and wood. Slightly too acidic but it is balanced and with a long finish. It has a full body and tannins that are not totally elegant but at least integrated enough to give the wine structure without being totally domineering. The whole package is well served by a nice dry edge.

At a glance, this is a wine that needs some time but it possesses a beautiful bouquet with eucalyptus flavour -- that medicinal quality that can be a bit off-putting at first. Don't have it on its own, serve it with dinner. When paired with the right food it is a 100 percent luxurious addition to your meal. Try a very rare steak with roasted root vegetables, hardy greens like Brussels sprouts are also a good match for this wine. There's a juiciness to the wine that perfectly echoes the iron and tender red meat of the steak.

To sum up: This is still wise value, done in a typically international style.

Alto Jahuel, Buin, Chile. 13.5%.


Snakshot part deux: Après-poulet

après snakshot organic local grain-fed chicken saint vincent montreal jean talon market quebec brussel sprouts basmati brown rice green peasIn the world of food and wine pairings, the chicken breast is like that kid who plays right field in pick-up baseball. He'll contribute but certainly not play a starring role. By the end of the evening, he'll get the job done and little more than that.

Unless that chicken breast is from a flavourful grain-fed roasted bird. Yum. Then you can tell the difference a local organic chicken makes. You're not out in right field anymore, that's for sure.

The following are scenes from that delicious whole bird, post-incision. Feast your eyes. Like the chicken, the Brussels sprouts were grown in Quebec too. I'm spoiled now. Spoil yourself too. Enjoy it with anything but a run-of-the-mill wine.

Enate Somontano Chardonnay 234 2004Based on comments left on this site's last chicken entry, it's the wine that helped wash down this chicken that people really want to talk about. I had half a breast and half a leg with the 2005 Pastiche from Joseph Phelps. This Californian red table wine is unlike any other I've tried and was perfect for a whole roasted chicken like the one we ate. Its New World take on the wines of Old is definitely worth noting and I will be integrating it into my post for Wine Blogging Wednesday #30 (which, by the way, is on February 7 -- already upon us -- and the topic is a juicy one: New World Syrah/Shiraz.)

We actually opened a Spanish Chardonnay first, but it was mostly gone by the time the chicken was done. Chardonnays aren't a bad idea either for roast chicken. The Enate Somontano Chardonnay "234" 2004, though nicely bodied and slightly nutty, was not oaky though; an interesting Arbois take on Chardonnay, such as a Savignan-Chardonnay blend or, for the initiated like the Montreal's very-own Caveman, a full-on Savignan, is a perfect fit.

Savignan with dinner... definitely don't expect any right-field boredom there.

Who else has got a favourite organic product? Or favourite organic food supplier where they love to shop?



roast chicken or the egg organic grain fed jean talon butcher saint vincent
"Chicken puzzle" ... What came first, the chicken or the egg? A good question and one that is readily conjured by the image shown above.

But when I took this photograph that wasn't exactly what I had on my mind. I was getting ready to open a bottle of wine to have with dinner. Roasted organic chicken, locally raised and grain fed, is a cut above your everyday hen. My friend Eric gets his whole fresh chickens from a local butcher set up at the Jean-Talon Market. And then he prepares his birds using a simple yet elegant Jacques Pépin recipe. The results easily demand one of your better Rhône reds or a good Pinot Noir.

Puzzle solved.