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...