Something about looking at wine labels really intrigues me -- the fact that they combine factual data with regional cultural influences, whether those might be purely label-design elements or wine labeling requirements specific to a designated viticultural area.
And so, with that in mind we finally reach the crescendo of WLW #1.
Friday's installment of Wine Label Week was sort of pre-empted to bring news that we Canadians are bigger drinkers than ever. This is a "label" that didn't surprise me, and in fact I think it could be expected with the number of people I know who are newly interested in buying and discovering wine. Nonetheless the stats that were released point to a significant trend worth looking at and in that regard I wanted to post an entry on it.
I also wanted to post it since the post I have here today was still being assessed by the experts on Friday. I refer to my "mystery wine" and its a mysterious label pictured here. For it, I turned to the helpful and resourceful folks on the members' forum at JancisRobinson.com.
MYSTERIOUS WINE WITH LABELING MYSTERY
As we can see, this label's different from previous examples during WLW. Yes, the designation is there -- it's an A.O.C. from Beaune, 1er cru -- putting its geographical origin in Burgundy. The vintage year is where things deviate intriguingly. Someone has written directly on the glass bottle in felt pen or paint above the front label.
Was this written by the winemaker? And is there a particular practice indicated by this? That was essentially my question to the wine forum.
And the answer, as suggested by Jancis Robinson herself yesterday, is that hand-written vintage years do indeed imply that the bottle would have come direct from its maker.
Perhaps what's most striking about all this is where did I manage to come across such a bottle, especially since I have not been to Choreys-lès-Beaune since the summer of 2000, when this wine would've still been very much cellared away in some quai.
The truth is that I found this bottle about three months ago. It was left behind in a vacated apartment adjacent to mine and I immediately took interest in it when I saw it. (Unfortunately, it was already empty but, as I said, I do gravitate to wine labels and might be well on my way to full-fledged vintitulism, the practice of wine label collecting.)
In any case, it was only in researching the winemaker when preparing this post that I realized something all of a sudden. The previous tenant had shared his surname with the one on the bottle's label.
With seemingly direct access to a Beaune domaine, this is one neighbour in whom I am kicking myself for not taking a keener interest while we were still neighbours. (I have no idea of his whereabouts now and in fact have been sending back any mail that continues to arrive, marked Déménagé in large letters.)
Who knew a link to a cellar full of Beaune 1er cru could've been as close as just across the hall?
But Quebec an anomoly due to SAQ strike
We interrupt Wine Label Week for an important announcement. Canadians have been labeled as increasingly likely to drink booze and they do it more regularly and in larger amounts too. This was determined by 2005 facts and figures on drinking supplied by the government, which in most places across the country also supplies the wine!
I gleaned the following from a French-only report on Vin Québec:
Alcoholic beverage sales continue to surge in Canada, says Statistics Canada. 357 million litres of wine and other potent potatables were sold in 2005, which is 4 per cent more than 2004. Plus, in 2005, total sales were up: $4.2 billion, compared to $3.9 billion in 2004.
In Quebec, the numbers did not increase due to a six-week strike at the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec) provincial liquor corporation.
No numbers from 2006 have been spit out by the state yet.
Between 2000 and 2005, the average Canadian (15 and older) increased their spending on alcohol by 35 per cent to reach $161 per person. In Quebec, average spending was $228 per person (which is definitely more my style).
Which leads to the juicy stuff... How much booze did we drink, strike or no strike at the liquor store? In Quebec, the average person had 17.5 litres of alcohol, which is still the most in Canada.
In British Columbia, the number of litres totaled 15.7; 14.3 in Alberta; and only 12.5 in Ontario.
OK, there's nothing more to see here... Back to your labels, winos.
Posted by Marcus | Friday, September 28, 2007
When I was asked to pick out the four best "cottage" wines -- inexpensive, chillable wines built for enjoyment with food and on a shoestring budget -- I put together a basket of these four. It turned out that they were the wines with the most colourful labels you could possibly assemble while browsing the aisles at my wine shop.
I promise you I didn't buy these wines because of their labels, but clearly people do. The people I shopped for said that each on went down beautifully. But did they do it blind? Could they have been swayed by the pretty labels set out before them? Though we are in the middle of Wine Label Week here at Doktor Weingolb I am sorry to say that we may never know.
What we do know is that this sunny foursome of a flight started off with what must be the value wine of the summer: the Brumont Gros Manseng/Sauvignon Vin de Pays des Côtes du Gascogne 2006 -- it's the green one at the left.
It's anything but green. A nose of lemon meringue pie; a palate of grass and citrus that is pulled down by une trame de gras, or a perceptible layer of fattiness, without coming off at all oily. This wine has admirable balance, and in between, presents nice acid and weight with that smidgen of fat and sweetness on the finish.
I think this wine lacks minerality, though many people have called it mineral. Not in my books. But in my books, there's nothing wrong with not being mineral. So this wine is a bit of a cream puff, at its core I get a strong musky confit which punctuates the wine but doesn't diminish its soft, gentle and somewhat subtle elegance. Simply astounding for what was the cheapest wine of the bunch!
Pair it with a buttery or rich breaded chicken dish supported by greens or garden fare. Or have it as the best aperitif you can buy with a dozen dollars and change.
But you don't have to take my word on it.
THIS SUMMER, PEOPLE WHO LOVED A COLOURFUL GREEN LABEL
- Joe does
- The Georgia Strait does
- A BC blogger does
- Vin Québec aussi!
- Somebody writing in Oregon
- and Gang of Pour too
There are no doubt other favourable reviews I encountered during the summer for this Brumont, a wine that is better than ever (and which just HAPPENS to have a newly designed label this year... yes, it is a coincidence -- there's no established link between pretty labels and good wine.)
Click on the other cottage wine bottles across the top of the page for reviews of previously released vintages. Each of them in their latest version is delicious (except for the Syrah rosé which I have never tasted and cannot not really vouch for other than to say that it sports the reliability and great pricepoint often wielded by wines bearing the Fortant name -- now that's how to read a label! The Fortant label alone is why I bought it for my cottage-bound friends.
Posted by Marcus | Thursday, September 27, 2007
The last entry in Wine Label Week was entitled "How to interpret a wine label" and featured good tips and valuable lessons on getting important facts from a wine label. It just might make dinner go a little more smoothly if you carefully examine that label on the bottle. The label is going to give you some good clues on what the wine will taste like without uncorking the bottle.
Here's another label that's worth a gander.
... But not so much for what it tells you about the wine contained inside. More than anything else, this is a good example of how, based solely on a wine label, you can tell a lot about the wine labeler:
Stay tuned tomorrow as Wine Label Week continues because I will post what I'd say was the most unanimously reviewed best-value wine of the summer. Hint: It's definitely got a label.
Posted by Marcus | Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Here's a wine I bought based on the label. It's a Cheverny. I interpreted that to mean that it would be a Sauvignon Blanc varietal, the type of refreshing and appetizing wine that's affordable, serviceable and, these days, quite crowd-pleasing.
After noting the wine's designation, my eyes went to the year of vintage. It was 2005, which played in its favour, if for no other reason than it was fresh and not past its peak. (Many say that 2005 was a great year all across France and for white wines in particular so that was another consideration in my purchase.)
At this point, I wasn't quite ready to buy the bottle yet. In addition to the price tag, my eye would be drawn to one other place on label that most people ignore: The percentage alcohol by volume. A weird place to look when you first are picking up a bottle but it's natural for me. I go from wine designation, to vintage, to alcohol level.
This is because I don't like "hot" wines, not because I'm inclined to getting a quicker buzz when I drink. Those wines that have alcohol measuring 14% and above (even alcohol of lesser proportions in white wines) have a greater potential to seem hot. That's not to say that heavily alcoholized wines like Zinfandel and Amarone can't be balanced -- I'm just always on the lookout for that percentage captured in the lower corner of the wine label.
GETTING THE FACTS UP FRONT
The Oxford Companion to Wine says the labeling information for alcoholic content that appears on a wine label is usually stated as a percentage followed by '% vol' but may be expressed in degrees (°) or, in Italy in particular, as gradi.
For the wine pictured at right above (click for a larger view of its label), the typical percentage measurement was given, coming in at an expectedly light 12% alcohol -- at the low end of the scale but certainly well within the norm for white wines of this type. I made a mental note, and by virtue of this, plus the vintage and designation, I went for this bottle.
When I finally opened it, I knew there was some mistake. It was as if this odd shaped wine label had its grayish circular frontspiece peeled away to reveal a bright red octagon -- STOP! (Just take another look at the shape of the label...)
This 12% Sauvignon tasted like its 14.5% cousin produced by Grand Marnier in Chile's Valle del Rapel. It was incredibly hot, with the alcohol expressing itself in a searing, unpalatable, and thoroughly unbalanced way. I was amazed that a 12% wine could taste this alcoholic.
It was at that point I checked the percentage again. This time the label said 14.2%. I did a double take. But how could that be?
A ROUNDABOUT WAY TO TRUTH IN LABELING
It turned out the back label indicated a level of alcohol more than 2% higher than the front label (see image at left). From tasting this wine, it was clear that the back label was correct and the front label was lying. But I bought the wine based on what the front label said, as one could expect.
I had to refer to the Oxford one more time. It said: Alcohol tolerances vary considerably and can be as high as 2 percent alcohol in the US.
Although this wasn't the US, I could tell that this wine's labels were playing fast and loose with the tolerance standard, a rule that ultimately would allow having two different readings for a single wine and have them vary by an industry-accepted margin of error, and still have each of them be considered accurate!
I won't buy 14%+ alcohol Sauvignon so I took this bottle back outright.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
A bottle of wine can have one, two, three or even four separate wine labels affixed to it. Any one of them can carry pertinent information and it pays to look at each of them before making a purchase.
Tomorrow: How to interpret wine labelers!
Posted by Marcus | Tuesday, September 25, 2007
We all need them. I'd go freaking nuts if there were no labels around when it comes around to wine time.
The wine label on your bottle indicates so many different things that shape a wine on many different levels. We're talking appellation, place of origin, type or style, vintage, alcohol level, producer, vineyard, bottler, or importer... the list goes on and on and each of these things greatly affects whether you're going to best appreciate the bottle.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR ON A LABEL WHEN SURVEYING A WINE BOTTLE
The following are the main categories suggested by Jancis Robinson as the typically mandatory bits of information on a given wine label, although national or international minimum criteria may be stricter on a local or regional basis.
For each of the following label information categories, I've included a real-life example. The example is based upon the Prado Rey bottle of wine you see pictured at left. Click on it to enlarge it if you wish to follow along with what's what on a typical label.
- Wine designation: Denominación de Origen (or D.O. -- an official Spanish appellation desginating quality)
- Geographical reference: Ribera del Duero
- Volume: 750 millilitres (standard wine bottle size)
- Alcoholic strength: 13%
- Vintage year: 2001
- Name and address of producer: Real Sitio Ventosilla (S.A.) Gumiel de Marcado, España, EU (it's Spanish wine!)
- Bottling information: Estate bottled (written in red across the image and since I bought this in Quebec, it's also in French print mis en bouteilles à la propriété -- is that missing "r" a typo?)
- Varietal information: none specified (this is likely a blend of grape varieties)
- Gratuitous government interference: something on the back about containing sulphites
- Sweetness: none specified (most wines, especially dry wine which are in the vast majority)
- Fizziness: none specified (this does not apply since it is not a fizzy wine)
I would also add these other types of information to look for on your wine bottle.
- Product Origin: Spain
- Type of Wine: Red
- Style of Wine: Crianza (separate top label, cut off from photo)
- Importer: Bergeron-Les-Vins
- Product Number: +929034 (useful when shopping for a specific bottle)
Based on this, you glean a few things from the wine you are about to uncork.
WHAT NOT TO LOOK FOR IN A LABEL
One major way the label helps is it signals low quality as in serious plonk or if you're in for an unpleasant surprise. I'd say be careful if your label doesn't sport at least five of the label items listed on this page. Otherwise you might be in unchartered territory.
For example, take the contents held in the glass container at right. Sure, you've got grape varietal information (Grenache), volume -- oh wait that's weight (907 grams), and something vague about the producer being in the business for a long time (Since 1932 -- glad that's not the vintage year!) ... ah, how old-fashioned and quaint. But don't be fooled! That "caramel" claim is not exactly a suggestive wine tasting note.
As a wino, I'd definitely avoid cracking open this one.
Never trust a wine that you can spread with a knife! (Or, for that matter, a wine label that depicts children licking their lips...)
Posted by Marcus | Monday, September 24, 2007
- Labels... Who needs them?
- How to interpret a wine label
- How to interpret a wine labeler
- Colourful wine labels
- The wine label as a branch on a family tree
- Wine Label Week wrap-up
Before I become the David Cronenberg of wine blogging, I'm going to radically shift the recent trend of dark and foreboding posts around here, i.e., Damaged Goods I & II, which centred on mutilation -- both oenological mutilation and the bodily kind too.
(Basically, in those entries, I realized that I'm the type of wino that will go down with the ship: the discovery of tainted wine leads to painful blood blisters from resealing the contents by hand; and furthermore, when spoiled wine unexpectedly happens in the middle of dinner at a BYO resto, too hastily speeding your ruined wine for an exchange suggested by your "sommelier for the evening" (who actually works at the wine shop up the street from the restaurant) can land you in a traffic accident if you are not careful. It's all a bit like the Cronenberg film Crash, but with wine all over the car seats instead of sex.)
So without further ado...
Tweet, tweet... It's Wine Label Week! A sweeter, gentler, more mild-mannered approach to paying tribute to what's in the bottle. There will be some wine opened and tasted to be sure -- and I promise that whenever possible I will enlist cute budgies to help present the material -- but ultimately the focus next week will be on wine bottle labels. Specifically, what they can tell you about wine and what they can't.
At the end of September last year, Doktor Weingolb was ... hmmm, apparently posting lots of pictures of food from the looks of it ... and as such, missed the opportunity to launch Wine Label Week. For those of you keeping track, the first-ever theme week on this blog was last year's Portuguese Week or the great Semana português!
Btw: Doktor Weingolb is pleased to report that in 2007 Portuguese Week has spun off into something more like Portuguese Month, with Catavino hosting WBW 38 on the subject of wine from Portugal! Click here for details on how to prepare for that.
In the meantime, stay tuned for WLW #1: WTCTYAWWTC -- it's straight ahead!
Posted by Marcus | Sunday, September 23, 2007
Yesterday was Car Free Day (I call it Car F*** Day). Either way, it was observed in many places across the globe, but unfortunately, nowhere along my usual -- read: wine-errand-related -- cycling routes. These are the routes that I am mostly likely to take on a daily basis.
Which is exactly why I found the above poster that's been floating around the Internets so interesting. You may have seen it.
This strip of Lafayette in New York City is among my most travelled when I'm in Manhattan. That giant wine store you see situated prominently on the corner with the big red flag that reads Astor is the reason why I frequent this stretch. (I realize most people may not have recognized it but it was the first thing that caught my eye when I saw this scene -- I've got a wino-track mind.)
The next thing that comes to my mind -- most likely what the ad designers wanted to elicit in the mind of any cyclist who sees the poster -- is that this accident is actually me on my bike having been cut off by a car f***.
In my case, it happened like this: The car f*** would've thought that the yellow light meant I was about to stop and so the car f*** edged out, as they so annoyingly do before they get a green. In fact, I was not stopping. I was not even slowing down. I was moving fast because I was going to make this light in order to hurry back into Astor Wines & Spirits to take back some corked wine that I had just bought and opened at the NoHo Star BYO resto at the corner of Bleeker a couple of blocks down the street.
God. It's bad enough interrupting dinner because you've got to make a wine run. Last thing you need is a car f*** getting in your face. This is why you need to wear a helmet.
At least I am a master at bike-spill recovery and injury-avoidance. And at least that corked bottle I was carrying in my knapsack put a hole in the car's windshield.
Posted by Marcus | Friday, September 21, 2007
I drink a lot of wine. Friends have talked about slowing down.
It's important to look at your consumption from a strictly medical perspective, and I do, every once and while. I'm not sure my intake is what I really need to be concerned with.
I get these tiny lacerations on my hands from recorking wine. I recork wine more than most, I guess.
I remember I started hand-recorking in order to take spoiled wine back to point of purchase. Of course, these days I could easily go get a device like the Rabbit to do this -- I have friends who installed a fancy mechanism on their kitchen wall. But I stick to old habits. So whether it's wine which is tainted, oxidized, or simply off, I immediately recork the bottle with its contents.
I just shove the cork back down. Sometimes you need a good angle. A cork that has a strong and firm edge can help -- you go at it about 10 degrees from perpendicular with a little twist. But sometimes it's not that easy. The bottle opening can seem to be impossibly tight or the cork can look like it's bloated to twice the size it was before it was disengorged. Sometimes you need to work at it.
LIKE CORKED BATTER, I CHOKE UP ON IT
But anyway, the first time I put a cork all the way back into a spoiled bottle and returned it, the wine store employee I returned it to was alarmed. He either found it seriously fishy or miraculous that I recorked the bottle myself (I don't think he cared about the condition of the wine). He asked: Do you have a wine bottling system at your house? Is this some sort of illicit wine-returning operation is what he implied.
It's not like I'm putting capsules back on the tops (though I have managed some nice homemade versions of that too). But how did you get the original cork back in? I told him. It's not that hard. And it's worth it. It prevents spillage when returning a bottle of wine for thing. I couldn't understand why I was considered suspect for being a good customer.
Here's a mark on my right hand. Both left and right hands are equally useful in recorking wine.
Aside from properly sending back spoiled bottles, you need to recork unused wine well (and store it in cool conditions) if you want to enjoy it another day. This is an even more important reason for recorking. See this post for helpful information on the benefits and rewards of doing things right. Since starting this blog, I've been recorking wine more and more for very reason of optimal storage, though I do still encounter about the same amount of bad bottles to return. So I've noticed these marks on my hands more and more.
The next photograph shows both my hands on a night when the recorkings were numerous (and with less yielding corks than usual). I took this photo with my chin.
Posted by Marcus | Thursday, September 20, 2007
Coffee is the new wine; espresso is the new claret.
Intelligentsia is the new Cheval Blanc; Anthony Benda is the new Véronique Rivest in Quebec.
Mr. Benda, pictured here behind his shiny Synesso at Café Santé Veritas, is the best barista in the town. His customers already knew that, but a strong third-place showing in at the Canadian National Barista Championships in Toronto yesterday meant that he was officially among the best in the country, a shining light outside Vancouver's legendary artisanal coffee scene.
Michael Yung of Caffè Artigiano (Park Royal) won the contest and Cady Wu, of Wicked Cafe, also in Vancouver, came second.
As a wineblogger, it seemed to me that this type of competition was restricted to sommeliers representing the world's greatest restaurants. Now I think it's an indication of how coffee is becoming the new wine.
For proof of this, read the feature story of last week's Dining and Wine section at NYTimes.com and if you are still in doubt, just watch the multimedia included in the report. We're talking:
- Blind coffee tastings (known as "cuppings") with some serious slurping going on
- A coffee industry newly characterized by brokers and direct trade, which mirrors the négociant/domaine dichotomy in wine production
- Quotes like "go almost anywhere, do almost anything and pay almost any price in pursuit of the perfect _" -- no, not wine... "cup of coffee" is how that statement ends
The fact is that the best coffee in the world is just as accessible to coffee drinkers as the best wine in the world is available to wine lovers. Through direct trade, the finest coffee beans on the planet are now being harvested to the top of their potential. Up until quality roasters started endeavours based on direct trade engagement of coffee growers, the best beans weren't doing that. (A similar modernizing phase in wine could be argued to have happened many years ago, before the advent of Mondavi-ating and Rolland-eering winemakers.)
WHERE TO BUY: A GAMUT OF FINE COFFEES AT CAFFÈ IN GAMBA
In Quebec, it's obvious you go to the SAQ to purchase wine. As of last month in Montreal, it's become equally clear that you go to Caffè In Gamba when you want to buy coffee. Sure, you can get some okay beans at the corner grocer, but you could also say there's drinkable wine for sale at the dépanneur. It might be true but I'm not going to condone it.
Get yourself to Caffè In Gamba in Mile End next time you're low on coffee. The place has a retro, vintage attitude to it yet it is the first to sell Intelligentsia's coffee blends in Montreal (or in all of Eastern Canada I believe -- I had to get mine in New York before this place opened). The café stocks both Kid-O and Black Cat blends. Check out Kid-O pictured first on the left along their wall of coffees).
In Gamba has great selection, as you can see, and prices are reasonable. It comes to about $9 for a sealed roasted-within-the-week 1/2 lb bag of Kid-O, which seems to be the going rate in the U.S. too. The friendly In Gamba scale, which offers free cappuccino deals, encourages customers to buy their coffee bulk. So you don't need to dole out a lot of cash to get in the game. Get a small sample for evaluative brewing or ask the barista for advice on the bean that best suits you.
Caffè In Gamba is at 5263 Ave du Parc, just north of Fairmount.
If you don't live in the Mile End area, check out the supply of other great coffee beans at these places:
Caffè ArtJava sells Gimme Coffee! beans in Plateau Mont-Royal and downtown.
Café Santé Veritas sells 49th Parallel beans in Old Montreal.
Posted by Marcus | Tuesday, September 18, 2007
When I receive not one comment on a wine I review on this site, I'm bound to notice. I don't feel sorry for myself, I feel sorry for the wine.
I'm taking about a Portuguese wine I profiled three weeks ago. It's the only Weingolb post in a long time that hasn't received any comment and the first Weingolb review since January to go by uncommented.
Granted this Portuguese wine was not given a great review -- hard to spur on interest or conversion in that. But I think that it's the wine being Portuguese rather than it being less than stellar that explains why no one is intrigued enough to submit a response to it. I'm not sure what to do about this.
I did a Portuguese week in February and March of 2006 when this blog was officially renamed Doutor Golb do vinho. I think that caused more of a scene on BlogShares than it did among my few readers.
Nevertheless, a year and a half later, I'm still pursuing my fondness of good-value indigenous regional wine of Portugal. More than 5% of my posts deal with the produce of Dão, Douro, Alentejo and Ribatejo et al. I believe that's a lot for the wine market I live in.
I do appreciate other sites like Catavino which focuses exclusively on Iberian wines. They're a great place to go when you know you're looking for a Portuguese bottle. But how do you introduce Portugal to a wine drinker who might not think to go looking for it? [Update: this issue has been somewhat immediately remedied by Catavino announcing their Portuguese focus for WBW 38, just moments after I posted this entry! Well played Catavino!]
For one thing, Dr. Vino's hosting of WBW #37 is a wonderful and eye-opening look at indigenous wines and I'm glad such a big theme event has come along to profile wines like Portugal's -- which is exactly what Dr. Vino's own write-up tackled.
In the end, I think my 5% blog rule is effective. I think in particular of how RougeAndBlanc, which features a majority of French and American wines, manages the same kind of thing when he integrates a healthy dose of wines like those from Portugal and most recently, the Balkans -- which is cool -- into his regular lineup of reviews.
It's almost like blogging about wine regions ripe for discovery on the sly -- perhaps that's the best way to influence the masses. Do it in between the Côte-Roties and international Cabernets.
SOME SLY WINES TO TRY
Fontanário de Pegões (tinto) Palmela 2003
A lighter and more inviting wine than you'd expect to dive into. It's a rare single-variety Castelão wine from a region which is named Palmela and whose reds I am not used to trying. It is a fruit-forward wine that is ready for instant enjoyment. No fretting over tannins. Almost too quaffable the way this wine flows and flows. But then Fontanário de Pegões gets its name from a fountain. I like a well-named wine.
Full descriptive information: www.cooppegoes.pt
SAQ product file:
SAQ site is down on Monday morning! / Site web SAQ est en panne! Now available
TOO SLY BY HALF
Quinta do Côtto (tinto) Douro 2003
I was running into Kingston's LCBO with little time to waste. I picked up a couple Domaine du Ruault and then saw this bottle on the way out of the Vintages section. It was $21. I snapped it up. When I uncorked it, I knew I had made a hasty purchase. Though it possesses a lot more character, depth, body and tannic punch than the first wine, it is not any better balanced and actually has less personality. It may be a superior wine to the first (check the specs at www.quintadocotto.pt but it comes down to value and its $20+ sticker price is off.
Little did I know how prescient my notes would be. It turns out that Côtto is not a $20+ wine at all. It's available at the SAQ for $16.95, making it justly priced at $4 less than what I paid.
And that'll teach me for being such a sly wineblogger, thinking I'm entitled to reduced wine prices every time I pass through Ontario.
Posted by Marcus | Monday, September 17, 2007
Well somebody sure came up with a tantalizing challenge for WBW 37. Tyler Dr Vino Colman's theme was discovering indigenous grapes (those other than the big six grapes varieties being the general idea), but his exciting call to action was tasting said indigenous grapes by drinking them in their native homeland.
Hmmm... Let's see. Shall I fly off to Northern Moravia in the Czech Republic for more of that Modrý Portugal? Maybe I'll just jet out to Château de Chassagne in Montrachet for some Aligoté with Michel Picard -- haven't seen him in a while anyway... wait, I hear the Almalfi Coast is nice this time of year and I've been meaning to sample the Piedirosso first hand.
I eventually came back to reality and realized that Wine Blogging Wednesday was already upon me, no time to pack or to even book a ticket. It was clear I would be drinking in my own kitchen for WBW 37.
Luckily for participants, Tyler, the good host that he is, built in a second challenge for those WBW keeners like me who can't seem to do enough each time this monthly event comes around. He claims bigger bonus points will go to those who have their indigenous wine at the same time they sample its New World wine counterpart.
Rising to this challenge I drank Domaine Monte de Luz Tannat 2005 from Uruguay and Alain Brumont's Torus Madiran 2004, an appellation contrôllée from France's Southwest.
For each wine, the main grape variety is the lusty and powerful Tannat, the only grape that is spelled the same backwards as it is forwards, and apparently a lot of these Uruguayans think they have the grape sussed out after the Basques brought it across the Atlantic Ocean in the 1800s. But does the New World come up with a hopelessly backwards rendering of this legendary vinifera?
To answer that question, Domaine Monte de Luz Tannat 2005, being the younger of the two, was up first (though it's not younger by much -- only half a year since Uruguay is a Southern Hemisphere country).
At first approach, this had light fuschia edges with darker ruby centre. Is this a bretty smell I'm getting? It's a rather stinky barnyard aroma, eventually loosening up to reveal hints of candy, perhaps even cotton candy. Holy Montevideo.
On the palate, there was red currant, quite astringent with plenty of greenness right out of the bottle with an unforgiving bitter aftertaste. Also cocoa and kir -- chocolate-covered cherries with a lot of bite to it but little real depth. Dinner helps it down a bit but this one comes up short in most respects... except when after the tasting was done and we drank the remainder with 86% dark chocolate -- then it fit right in. It's a cheap boozer. Thoroughly rough hewn.
I bought this bottle in Tyler's very own indigenous hinterland of Manhattan. It was at Martin Bros, a recommended merchant from his ingenious indigenous New York City wine shop map. I got a good deal on it too. I think it was on sale for only $6.
And then it was the Torus's turn. Torus Madiran 2004 is about twice the price of the former so you expect more and that it does deliver. We moved up considerably from the earlier, more rustic version of Tannat. The Torus was buffered with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes -- potentially upping the ante and playing in its favour. That's full disclosure. Consider it a home court advantage.
And we taste. Nothing notably different in its colour or consistency, but the nose was softer in every way possible. Fellow taster Eric S. said it was indoorsy -- a reference to his calling the last one outdoorsy, which at the time drew the comment "outdoorsy, like a logging camp" from another drinking buddy. Point taken: the greater integration of tannins here was duly noted.
Tasting this Tannat brought forth elegance and dynamic effect. Spicy but refreshing, almost like a Pinot Noir. Had exactly the finish that the Luz didn't. Long and lingering with a strong mouthfeel receding into tingling mouthcoating acid. Fruit was also more sophisticated.
It was delicious with a hearty dinner of olive pasta and breaded chicken covered in grated Parmesan cheese. It doesn't brood like some more serious Madirans can and its lower price point makes it a little less extracted and easier to pair as a result. I'd take hands down every time. Find it in Quebec at almost every outlet of the SAQ.
WBW 37 was a great exercise. I'm tempted to go back over my notes on the British Columbia Barbera I tasted last month and compare them to an example of an original Barbera d'Asti.
Mahoma, Uruguay. 13.5%; Domaines & Châteaux d'Alain Brumont, Maumusson, France. 14%.
Posted by Marcus | Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Here's an amazing bargain which I'm a bit late in posting considering I had bought a case and then finished most of it in the busy proceedings leading up to WBW 33: Mid-priced Midi.
At under $20 Canadian, the Château Meunier Saint-Louis A Capella Corbières 2003 definitely fits the bill, if you can find it. The new 2005 cuvées have come in and are replacing the old stock. The SAQ is raising its price by about a dollar. Still a wine that is quite ripe for discovery.
Eyes: Deep purple with a bright nearly neon magenta rim.
Nose: Muted and non-descript at first sniff. (Actually I didn't note anything down but that could be because I headed straight to the tasting.)
Mouth: Chocolaty, but dark and rooty, like a rooibos tea. The fruit presents an interesting vegetal edge, suggesting celery, earth, mineral and tomato. Great structure and nice acid -- I think I can safely say that I've never liked a Midi red from the 2003 vintage as much as I like this one. That it is so elegantly dry is a no small wonder during the year of the heatwave. It has good body and a lovely aftertaste. This wine is a fine specimen and with an admirable level of extraction that supports the dynamics of the wine.
(Lots of notes made here. Why am I such a mouthy blogger?)
Stomach: Because of the extraction and inky but balanced concentration of flavours, I'd serve this with your finest repasts. Perhaps opt for meals that possess the fullest, most heightened flavours. (When placed alongside other top Corbières, A Capella demonstrates that it is of another calibre -- don't let it do the same thing to your food!)
The wine makers have put out a real steal of a deal and wonderful and rich addition to the dinner table.
Martine & Philippe Pasquier-Meunier, Saint-Louis, Boutenac, France. 13.5%.
Posted by Marcus | Tuesday, September 11, 2007
This is Anthony. He's the barista at Café Santé Veritas, and yes it's true, this bar serves no wine. Anthony makes a mean macchiato, which is my drink of choice when I'm working at my day job.
This is the kind of cappuccino you can expect at Café Santé Veritas. It's got latte art. Anthony is a great latte artist but the shots taste as good as they look because they're made with 49th Parellel coffee beans.
At Café Veritas, Anthony works with a very expensive machine that has three groupers. See... 1, 2, 3. He says this means a lot to him and to the coffees he makes. He mentioned something about temperature, and how important regulating heat is to a good espresso shot. I'm not a coffee geek, but clearly machines like these are hard to come by. It's the only one in Montreal so no wonder he likes it. Plus, it's shiny.
As a wino, I find it hard to believe that Anthony never drinks what he is most surrounded by. Or at least, he has coffee very rarely and almost never while he is on the job. Here he is, with his steady uncaffeinated hand, pouring the milk into the espresso shot in order to make latte art. (Café Santé Veritas will soon be able to tout their bar for something more: next week Anthony will be entered in a stakes-is-high barista competition. Good luck Anthony!)
It's always a luxury if your favourite café serves a solid food menu. (Having come back from New York last month I can tell you that it doesn't happen very often so Montreal is lucky.) That the menu at Café Santé Veritas is solid AND healthy -- none of the dishes containing meat are cooked using any oil, for example -- is another big plus. But the thing I like most about the café is its devotion to doing more than just one meal right, serving up nutritious fresh breakfasts as much as delicious lunches or desserts and snacks.
Always fresh chick-pea salad, with a tofu wrap on the side. Salads Waldorf (below) and grilled chicken with blueberries (above) are two of my favourites.
CAFÉ SANTÉ VERITAS 480 Blvd Saint-Laurent (corner Notre-Dame), (514) 510-7775.
Posted by Marcus | Sunday, September 09, 2007
The theme has been summer nostalgia and letting go post-Labour Day weekend. Yesterday, when I admitted that every season has an end, I also came to terms with a too-aged bottle of wine designed to drink young. It was heavy and cloying and a lack of freshness suggested that it had oxidized.
It was one of those sunny and versatile summertime wines, namely the Frescobaldi Albizzia Chardonnay Toscana 2005, and it showed that its limits were as clear and well-defined as summer -- Montreal's shortest and most sudden season. (It turns out that the Albizzia cuvée is very appropriately named for "usually small trees or shrubs with a short lifespan"... just check Wikipedia for the proof.)
That was then, this is now. This post is about the food I often served at wine-curated picnics over the last three months, and it's entirely true that the picnic pictured here featured those Albizzias, so sunny and versatile then, as well as that rosé you see.
What I served is a simple dish, so versatile with wine and yummy on its own, that's been plenty on demand around my place. I've received requests for the recipe in person and on Facebook. So it's about time I quite stalling and fess up: It's roasted vegetables, people. The most amazingly good and amazingly simple food fixing known to man.
Roasted vegetables, antipasto-style
- Choose 1 (or 2) of: cauliflower or broccoli florets, fennel, onion, tomato, mushroom
- Add a generous splash of olive oil and mix to generally coat everything
- Roast in the oven uncovered at 450 F for 20 minutes, stirring once
- Let cool momentarily in mixture of butter, capers and garlic, or instead, fresh mint and salt and pepper
- Serve! And save leftovers for an enjoyable cold lunch
(Note: Cauliflower takes 25 minutes; tomato and mushrooms take 10.)
I hinted in my last post that this kind of recipe would fade in the weeks to come but I don't believe it now. For one thing, I would drink pretty much any wine with this other than your most delicate whites and most tannic reds. On top of that, hardy vegetables continue to be plentiful into the fall and the heat your oven gives off to make this dish only becomes more pleasing as the days shorten. Plus, as I look ahead to the short-term weather forecast, I see that the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday of September are scheduled to be summer's most formidable heat wave. It's summertime again. Get picnicking.
My Italian wine over-consumption two weeks ago when I was a tasting panelist has paid lovely dividends. I figure nicely in Bill Zacharkiw's latest column on the (Montreal) Gazette's Wine with Bill Zacharkiw website. Check out the site -- it's growing rapidly as Bill's tenure takes off since replacing veteran critic at the newspaper Malcolm Anderson -- but also note this direct link to the goods I helped sample: Valpolicella Classico, Ripasso, and Amarone wines.
It's been said about Bill before but let me say it again: no one has the know-how and the knack for identifying a wine's key attributes and instantly matching them up in appropriate food pairings. His writing readily conveys this, so it is a joy to read his reviews, which are totally mouthwatering and score-free to boot.
Posted by Marcus | Wednesday, September 05, 2007