Some seriously smoking South African stuff: Boschendal "The Pavillion" Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

This is for Alex, whom I am a fan of. Alex works at ArtJava downtown, my regular coffee stop.

Alex, last name St-Laurent, was trained by Anthony Benda, who is currently the third-ranked barista in the country (he placed as a runner-up in a strong debut performance at the Canadian Barista Championships last fall).

These are big shoes for Alex to fill no doubt, but with his keen aptitude no one doubts he could do it. One day at ArtJava, Alex surprised me with his interest in wine. He approached me for advice on how he could find and drink more of the red wines that he most enjoys. He already knew most of what he needed to know -- that he likes a style of red wine with a smoky flavour profile -- and he even knew that Syrah would be the varietal that would most likely offer him this.

All that was left for me to do was consult my back pages to see what's a good deal on wines like these and not be too far from a roughly $20 to $30 price range he set for himself.

It's practically do-it-yourself blogging. But Alex is a smart guy, so what do you expect?

Links to original reviews feature clickable images that navigate directly to the SAQ online catalog, where you can check the supply of the wine and which stores near you stock it.

And last but definitely not least, Boschendal "The Pavillion" Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Coastal Region 2005:

  • The paradigm of Syrah smoke from South Africa, done up with notes of petrol and wood that give it a blue cheese tone typical of many New World wines; but here it is exceptional for its smart balance, extraction of fruit and stunning texture: Boschendal "The Pavillion" Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Coastal Region 2005 (The bargain of the bunch at $16 -- but I have not yet tasted the 2006 vintage that is rapidly replacing the 2005s.)

Pniel Road, Groot Drakenstein, South Africa. 14%.

Update: I pointed to a picture of the Pavillion bottle (at top) which I found on the web after SAQ.com, who stocks it within the province, ran no image of it in their catalog. It's laziness of me for not taking a photo of the bottle myself. But it's sheer stupidity I didn't better explore the site that the picture came from.

That site is EWine.co.za -- not to be confused with EWineCentral.com -- and it is apparently more than a your typical online wine vendor. They house a lot of good content on the South African wineries and winemakers, including audio media, like the sound file of an interview with Boschendal vintner JC Bekker, all placed nicely on a a profile page devoted to Boschendal. Louis Ferreira, who runs the Ewine.co.za site, provides important insight and authority -- especially for anyone like me who really has little exposure to the breadth of today South African wines.


Out of the blue, two whites sitting in the red: Argyros 2005 and Rocca Delle Macie 2006

Buried under two months' worth of unopened bills I find some old scribbled notes on the two white wines shown above. (Don't you hate it when that happens!) In any case, neither one should actually put your bookkeeping in the red -- they're both fine values on some exotic, nay, ancient wines from deep down in parts of the Old World that you are not likely exposed to everyday.

The Greek bottle (Argyros) outshone the Italian (Rocca Delle Macie) in virtually every way. But the two bottles were more similar they I had expected they'd be. And personally I found them both to be quite pleasant wines that you could sip with practically any summer dinner you might have in mind.

Argyros Estate Santorini 2005

Eyes: This is a pale straw colour, faintly hued yet more pigmented than the Tuscan Vernaccia.

Nose: A lovely mix of minerality and lightly perfumed flowers emanate from this wine. A twist of banana is thrown in there too but it's slight as I am sensitive to too much of it, if anyone is.

Mouth: Nice acid and quite dry. Fruit mostly limited to citrus tones. I am surprised because before this was poured I thought it would be similar to a fat Southern Rhône. Like on the nose, on the palate this wine proves to be a more aromatic grape blend, with cleaner lines than say Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. In fact, these Greek grapes -- Asyrtiko, Aidáni Aspro and Athíri -- combine to make a delightfully deft and refreshing aperitif type wine. Some wood noted, pleasing.

Stomach: A hit with Joe's cheese pretzel bites.

J. M. Argyros, Episkopi, Santorini, Ellas (Greece). 13%.

Rocca Delle Macie Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2006

Eyes: Very light, almost white and totally transparent.

Nose: Musky notes. Sweetish aromas. Not complex.

Mouth: A bitter acidity punctuates this wine. It is rasping and offers just the kind of sincerity I look for in an aperitif wine. Yet it is not as successful as the previous bottle. It is too simple to present any real interest you could linger over. A fuller nutty character on the finish and little more complexity would put it on par with other better Vernaccias I have tried recently.

Stomach: This is not the best Vernaccia I have tasted but try it with mixed nuts to lure out the nutty flavours that are bit too suppressed in this vintage.

Castellina in Chianti, Italia. 12.5%.

Yes indeed, this white wine head-to-head was conducted at Joe's place of Joe's Wine fame, way back in January. It was just the opening bout of an evening card that featured the heavyweights you see at his post titled: Bordeaux-Inspired Wines.

Joe and his family were great hosts that night and served up an amazing raclette dinner for the tasting of reds. A raclette machine is like a personal Hibachi in front of your place setting but better! I was so into the proceedings that I let my pen and paper sit inactively beside me while I seared steak, melted cheese and crisped ham with the raclette, all while sipping a selection of three substantial wines. Thankfully, Joe was more mindful of the task at hand and has already written up his notes on them. They were reds that sported Bordelais grapes without the accompanying Bordeaux appellation.

They were from Tuscany, Friuli, and British Columbia: The 2000 Ghiaie Della Furba, the 2001 Dorigo Montsclapade, and the 2002 Osoyoos Larose. Check them out at the link above and thanks to Joe for hosting!


WBW #42 Just Seven Words: Marchesi Alfieri La Tota 2005

"Better than 2004's -- now I taste oak!"

San Martino, Alfieri, Italia. 13.5% <-- half a percent less alcohol than the 2004.

(Thanks to Andrew at Spittoon for this great great idea. I haven't participated in the last few events for WBW and hadn't really planned on contributing -- until I realized this could be my shortest post of all time and a little brevity always has its place . . . except in War and Peace.)


Don't get hit with cupid's arrow at Perfect Pairs Valentine's Day sale across Quebec

Because in Montreal this week, he's aiming for your pocket, not your wine-loving heart

Thinking about uncorking a Roederer Anderson Valley Brut mousseux this week? Think about this: The sale of American wines in Quebec are at prices that have silently snuck back up to earlier almost prohibitive amounts. And this is barely six months after all the hoopla about sticker prices being lowered to reflect the strong Canadian dollar.

Once upon a time, this $20 bottle of California sparkling wine was sold at $27.10 in Quebec. Then in 2007, the SAQ, Quebec's state-run agency controlling the sale of wine and spirits, moderated the price at $25.95, and by late spring 2007, many media organizations trumpeted the new advantageously set prices coming into affect in June and July. So by Fall 2007, when the Roederer site started indicating that the Anderson Valley Brut NV would sale for $22 US, it was down to $24.70 CDN in Quebec. Combine that with a general sales tax reduction that the Canadian Conservative government announced to ring in 2008, and presto! the SAQ was selling this bottle for an all time low of $24.45.

And to think it was three bucks more only a year earlier. But wait. Earlier this month, the prices were silently raised on this product. It's all the way back up to $25.95. Almost all price decreases have been erased. What happened?

Mum's the word, apparently. I asked an otherwise-informative agent at an SAQ shop why prices are going back up. She did not know, but she was aware that they had been raised a few days ago. She couldn't say why the prices went back up when the Canadian loonie has regained parity with the American dollar and when it took so bloody long to lower prices in the first place.

The bigger question is what happened to the tax cut since Quebec buyers, one month into their GST reduction are already losing their 25 cents.

Shoppers need to beware because the price hikes are coinciding with a large Valentine's Day sale (how crafty!). You'll see signage on SAQ shelves announcing "$1.50 off!" but they are mostly false. Those signs were printed before the prices went up. In many cases, this means you are buying a sale item that is in all actuality marked down by only pennies once you get to the cash.


Since SAQ.com does not reveal price fluctuations over time, only those in the know will tell you what's what. To track the price hikes, I thought Doktor Weingolb should let you in on a few via this cheat sheet.

  • Finca Flichman Malbec $7.90 > $8.20

  • Herdade das Albernoas Alentejano $9.30 > $9.75

  • Duque de Viseu Dao $14.95 ($12.65 in at the LCBO in Ontario) > $14.80

  • Sauvignon Blanc Domaine Guy Allion Touraine $13 > $14.35

  • Furmint Tokaji Château Pajzos $12.80 > $13.05

  • Cabernet-sauvignon Kenwood Yulupa Sonoma $16.40 > $17.15

  • Château Calabre Montravel $13.05 > $13.80

  • St-Jean-de-Gineste Corbières $14.95 > $15.80

  • Domaine de Cantarelles Costières de Nîmes $10.35 > $10.90


Not my favourite, but perhaps the perfect wine for you: Domaine de Ribonnet Clément Ader 2001

No substituting a Gamay for a Malbec in today's post -- although I will say I'm going to pretty much offer a bonafide endorsement as this bottle was darned close to making it into my fave top five last year.

I thought I was the owner of all remaining bottles in Montreal back in November. And I think I was until the SAQ went and restocked the warehouse with more. Now there's enough for everyone who reads this website. Which is a good thing. Plus, not only is it back on shelves, it's still appearing as the great 2001 vintage (click on the label image for vendor product info). And because it's a typical Bordeaux blend, this wine is just starting to show off its stuff.


But you know, I guess I put all these things it had going for it aside. Because in the end -- after all the bottle hunting, schlepping them home and the copious note-taking -- I didn't think this was among my personal favourite wines. I'm down to two bottles of it and I'm not even planning on getting more of the new stock that's been released. Why? Maybe Eric Asimov's current discussion at The Pour on why people increasingly "hate" Bordeaux (or Cabernet-based wines that approximate Bordeaux) has something to do with it.

(For the record, to "hate" Bordeaux is to value taste over judgment, which, for so many reasons, is fine in wine criticism as long as you know you're doing it... Lyle Fass seems to be aware of this and I think Eric Asimov is too.)

Without further ado, here's what to hate:

This is a classically styled wine blending the big Bordeaux grapes -- 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc -- so no dangerous change-up from blackened Cahors to light-bodied Beaujolais on tap here.

It's actually classic Bordeaux grapes in the form of a vin de pays or French country wine. The vdp region is Comté Tolosan, which lays outside the doorstep of the Gironde, nestled in the Pyrenees that approach the Midi of the South of France. The location means it can only ask for a fraction of what you'd expect to pay: $18.75, or a total of exactly $225 for a case.

So this, folks, is where your bargain wine is at.

Domaine de Ribonnet Clément Ader Vin de pays du Comté Tolosan 2001 (Note: Clément Ader is not a winemaker, but rather a French aviator to whom this cuvée is dedicated.)

Eyes: Deep purple with dulled edges.

Nose: Rich red fruits, grenadine and lots of berries, stewing, with hints of licorice and leather and maybe animal, and over time, a crystal clear impression of muddled strawberries with white pepper. Yummy.

Mouth: Decanted for about two hours to open it up, the Ribonnet Clément Ader possesses dusty tannins and a gauzy minerality. It works against the fruit at first pour but after three hours in a carafe, the earthiness begins to balance fruitiness. After longer than that black fruit and licorice start to dominate the flavour profile. A solid wine that combines both the austerity of a fine Bordeaux and the sunniness of a Midi wine.

Stomach: Wraps itself around food quite well at this point. It leans on it and perhaps needs it when first opened, a half-dozen years into its life (with at least another half dozen to go).

Christian Gerber, Beaumont, Lèze, France. 13%. Certified organic wine.


When good advice goes bad

Or, why do some recommendations make a great wine go sour? Plus other wine criticism that leaves a bad taste in your mouth . . .

In January, a lean month with only three posts and no tasting notes at all, I received one piece of fanmail. With fanmail like this you don't need hatemail.

"After trying the two Cahors that you recommended on your blog, I thought that perhaps my enjoyment of wine had left me."

Cahors, which I wrote about last December, is sometimes known as the black wine. I didn't mention that at the time. Black mark!

Futhermore, when I had correspondence with the writer above, I realized that he happens to be really fond of Beaujolais and Canadian Gamays, but is adventurous enough to try out new wine regions. Again here I should have better prepared him for the dramatic change my advice carried. My bad.

Could I have really turned someone off wine entirely by making the suggestion I did? Could I actually be encouraging the disenjoyment of wine?

I guess I should've known not to go recommending Cahors to just anyone, though I think a lot of these South American bargain wine aficionados could make the switch easily if they adhere to a simple commitment to drink less vanilla-ed oak. But still I have learned an important lesson about foisting new wines on people.

I haven't given up on wine myself -- far from it. Of course, I'm still into exploring it, noting it and sharing great bottles with like-minded friends. But I think I might take step back from making recommendations on it. At least for a while. I have a bunch of notes from the last couple of months; I expect I'll eventually get to them sometime. But I might be putting them out differently or on a different schedule.

In the meantime, everything about this blog is soaking up most of my time.