Thursday, December 30, 2010

Coteaux du Languedoc

Recently I was introduced to the Coteaux du Languedoc, or the western half of the Languedoc region. Those well-informed people at were kind enough to show me the ropes (as it were) and make my acquiantance with several decent bottles in the $20 to $30 range.

     Now that I have had the opportunity to study further, I will amend my earlier comment about the Languedoc and the Coteaux du Languedoc being different... firstly the entire area is no longer known as the Languedoc, it is the Languedoc-Rousillon. As well, the Coteaux du Languedoc is now known as the Languedoc. Confusing? You betcha. Try explaining that on an exam!

     So here I am, studying for an upcoming exam, tasting many wines from the Coteaux du Languedoc (whatever) and trying my darnedest to get a sense of the place. Here is what I've tasted so far...

Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue
2008 Bronzinelle  
  • please read review dated Weds 22 Dec
  • after decanting for several hours, my review stood the same. Excellent wine for the money and drinks above its price

2008 "Les Garrigues" by Domaine Clavel
terroir de la Mejanelle
about $25    **EXCELLENT VALUE**
52% Syrah, 26% Mouvedre, 22% Grenache
  • visual:     deep ruby core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:      moderate+ intensity; youthful; somewhat layered; red berries (cherry, raspberry), oak, funky - earthy terroir (some would call this barnyard or even merde-de-poulet), spicy peppery finish
  •  palate:   0 dryness, moderate+ acids, moderate+ slightly grippy and green tannins, moderate body, moderately intense flavors; youthful; somewhat layered; leathery oak dominates (alot of new French oak I would guess), followed by red berries, the earthiness hits the palate solidly and sits there.... long length and very good balance, the alcohol is strong but balanced and not too hot
  • conclusion:   Very good wine that is already showing well, and with the strong presence of oak and fruit I would imagine that this still has some development left in it. Drinks best probably 2011-2014, and after that perhaps one runs the risk of having all that lovely baie rouges flavor die out
  • pairs with:    braised rabbit. I used to know a talented chef from Dublin who made braised rabbit with tomato & fresh thyme, then serve it over fresh farfalle pasta tossed in butter. So simple. So ridiculously good that 20 years later I can still taste it. 1+1=yum

2006 Chateau de la Negly, La Clape
La Falaise (Coteaux du Languedoc)
$43    **BUY THIS NOW**
  • visual:     fully intense inky black-purple core with slight cherry/brick rim
  • nose:     fully intense; youthful showing slight age; layered; bright fresh red berries burst on the nose with cherry & raspberry from the Grenache, followed by a spicy pepperiness which is Syrah... leathery oak is a rich background from the new French oak (50% for 12 months), darker berries come through at the end with some slight heat from the alcohol and a dustiness from the terroir
  • palate:     0 dryness, moderate- acids, moderate+ soft supple tannins, moderate+ rich creamy body, moderately intense flavors; showing some age; layered; surprisingly it is the terroir that dominates the palate: dry dusty earth still full of richness, red and black berries come in with a rush of flavor, and at the end is a beautifully balanced oak structure. Incredibly well balanced for $40, great structure and length. Drinks far above its price.
  • conclusion:   These people know their land and their grapes. A brilliant wine. I know someone who said this could easily be an $80 wine if it weren't from the Coteaux du Languedoc... I don't think he meant it as an insult. If this were from Chateauneuf du Pape.... yea. I would pay $80 for it and feel justified. Power, elegance and richness.
  • Pairs With:    venison scallopini with a fresh thyme demi-glace with the barest hint of chevre cheese in it... steamed carrots tossed in wildflower honey... the slight gamey qualities of the wine will play well against wild meats and the rich acids and tannin crave a bit of fat

Chateau Negly

     My thanks again to and for being so free and easy with their accumulated knowledge. Its said, that when a wine it made well, it ends up giving a sense not only of the land it was made on - but of the winemaker as well. I believe, after almost a year of school, after reviewing over 700 wines and writing over 100 articles, that perhaps I am starting to get the barest sense of that.

    Whether it be a $10 bottle or a $100 bottle (or higher!), the wine does tell a story, if it's made well. I feel honored, that so many people in the industry are allowing me to bumble my way through the long process that it is to understand wine. Then I feel doubly honored, when I taste a wine and truly can sense the vignerons *(winemakers) efforts. Its a beautiful thing, really, that someone on the other side of the world could have worked so hard last year or 5 years ago or 25 years ago - so that tonight I could have a special moment of peace.

     It's a kinda magic.

CIN CIN !!!   SLAINTE !!!   CHEERS !!!

Value Priced Cigars, ARGYLE

Ever want a deal? Of course you do - and so do I. I look for deals all the time; on wine, on food and of course on cigars.

     But. But I am also a firm believer that one gets what one pays for. A $10 bottle of wine will never surpass in quality what one buys for $100, even if the $10 bottle is better value for the money. Ah the duality of human nature, right? And so it was with some initial reluctance that I purchased 20 cigars online for about $30 CAD from in the USA.

     Well my daring has paid off, at least in part. I found myself with 20 cigars that I feel more then comfortable giving out as gifts to friends and colleagues, and yet have enough flavor that I am enjoying them on my drive home, or a walk through one of our local parks. Christmas is a wonderful time to take in a brisk walk with your friends and loved ones, especially if you live in a place as truly spectacular as I do.

     So what did I learn? For $30 they could have been a waste of money, but I still would have given them to my 20-something year old brothers and then "presto" not a waste of money at all. Never be completely steered by price - there are values out there in wine, food and cigars just waiting to be found.

Argyle cigar, Dominican Republic
Churchill,         $2/cigar    **Good Value**
Strength: Mild
Wrapper: Connecticut
Binder: Dominican
Filler: Dominican
  • visual:     no obvious flaws in the construction, smooth wrapper, burns fairly evenly, very light ash so try not to smoke it in the wind or you may be covered by the time you get home
  • nose:     light intensity; not much development or layering of aromas; some vanilla, coffee, cream, leather
  • palate:   light intensity; palate mimicks nose
  • conclusion:   these cigars are rolled by the youngest rollers on the line... very hit-or-miss for quality. I've has two in two days and the first was quite bitter for the first 1/4 and then was just a rough flavor. It made me want to sit in front of a campfire and drink some Jack Daniels (and not the good stuff). The second was much smoother - much more even construction - burnt evenly down to the nub and had virtually no bitterness. A lovely inexpensive cigar that smoked well above it's price!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Painted Rock winery, Okanagan, British Columbia

Painted Rock Winery

I think it interesting that nothing in the Painted Rock website ( )talks about it’s owner and founder, John Skinner. Indeed, it’s almost puzzling after meeting the man because he’s just such a character... a man with a history in the financial world, and little (he says) to do with wine earlier in his life except in it’s consumption. It must have been a long and flavorful road that lead him to the Naramata Bench. Someday, I hope to hear that story in detail. Until that day, however, let me tell you the story (as I tasted it) of some of John’s wines.

2008 Chardonnay

  • Visual: ultra pale core with golden rim and slight green highlights
  • Nose: moderate+ intense of fresh hay, summer field floweres & golden apples, with a stony soil background and a finish of slightly hot alcohol
  • Palate: 0 dryness, moderate+ crisp lemon and green apple acids, moderate+ rich, velvety body, moderate+ to fully intense flavors that mimick the nose perfectly, moderate+ to full length. Very well constructed wine that will do well for the next several years (at least)
  • Pairs with: honey bruleed duck breast, or, is rich enough in flavor to pair with grilled BC Albacore tuna marinated in savory herbs

2007 Syrah

  • Visual: moderate+ ruby center with a light cherry rim
  • Nose: moderate++(full) intense completely unique bouquet; perfumed layers of exotic flowers, black stonefruit (a diverse array of plums), rich peppery finish
  • Palate: 0 dryness, moderate+ acids, moderate, soft supple tannins with a trace of siltyness, moderate+ rich body, moderate+ intense flavors that once again mimick the nose quite well, but the oak makes it’s presence known here much more, full length and structure, this wine is already showing well and will continue to develop slightly for the next several years. Enjoy until 2015.
  • Pairs with: slightly green finish from the youth of the vines makes me want to pair something fatty with this wine. Try venison flank for the flavors and a butter- enhanced demi-glaçe to balance the green acids

2007 Merlot
14.7% ABV, $40  *BUY THIS NOW*
Winner: “Best of varietal; Merlot” 2010 Okanagan Spring Wine Festival

  • Visual: moderately intense bruised plum core with cherry rim
  • Nose: fully intense bouquet of red and black stonefruit, baie rouges (red berries), garrigue (savory wild herbs; bay leaf in this case) a slightly ferric meatiness, and slightly hot alcohol at the end
  • Palate: 0 dryness, full tight acids, moderate silty tannins, moderate+ body, once again the palate mimicks the nose impeccably with a green apple finish. Excellent structure and good balance, this wine will do best with a few more years in bottle to allow the greenness to mellow... drink 2014 to 2020.
  • Pairs with: such a variety of aromas and flavors allow for diverse food pairings; from Argentinean style grilled beef chimmichurrie, to roast prime rib with a chevre demi-glaçe, to Portobello mushroom Wellington with blue cheese!
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Visual: fully intense ruby center with slight cherry-brick rim
  • Nose: fully intense aromas of dried fruit, fruit & terrior driven wine with long lingering levels of baie rouges such as black raspberries, dark cherries, baie noir such as Saskatoons, almost a cocoa finish
  • Palate: 0 dryness, moderate++ (almost fully intense) green apple acids, fully intense fine silty tannins, moderate body, moderate+ intense flavors mimicking the nose perfectly, excellent structure and a long finish. An excellent wine with a promising future, I want to taste this wine in 6 months, 12 months, 24 months to watch the progression from slightly awkward youth into a stunningly mature wine.
  • Pairs with: at first I thought the braised unctiousness of a great bolognaise, but then I reverted to thinking like a good Frenchman and am convinced that in it’s youth, this wine pairs best with a classic Boeuf Bourguignon... the cream balancing acids, the beef and wild mushrooms against the fine tannins and the savory herbs nuancing the levels in the wine

John Skinner at Monk McQueens

All in all, a fantastic showing for the second year of a winery. In the past I may have had some reluctance at tasting product from a winery this young. The delight of this tasting, however, has swayed me in my thinking... young wineries should be approached without prejudice, as indeed all wines should be approached.

And perhaps the same is true of people. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting John Skinner, though I had little idea what I may have in common with someone from the finiancial markets. It turns out that we have a great deal in common, and more then just a passion for excellence whether it is excellence in land, or excellence in the bottle. I very much look forward to the future of Painted Rock Winery and will be one of the many savvy people who lines up for the next tasting.

Fonseca Vintage Cigar

Have you ever had a moment when a particular smell, taste or sound took you back through time immediately to someplace warm... some"time" soothing? I had that happen yesterday on the drive home.

     Many of you know that I really do enjoy a good cigar. True enough, not all cigars are created equally, but I can garner enjoyment from any well-constructed cigar made from quality tobacco. Sometimes I may prefer robusto, sometimes not, but in general I have found my best cigar experiences - to date - have been in Cuba.

the strand of Jardines Del Rey

     Cuba. Lord Above but what a beautiful place, and such wonderful people. I actually find myself missing it, though I have only been there once. I certainly miss my "Cuban Lifestyle" as well... every morning I would have breakfast with my wife, and then head over to a lounge that overlooked the ocean. I would sit in a quiet corner, sip on some vintage rum (10 years or older), a dark espresso, puff contentedly on a cigar and read my book for an hour or so. It was my peaceful way of entering the day - just as meditative as yoga (in it's own way).

     How perverse, then, that I should be transported back to those mornings in Cuba while I'm in the middle of traffic at rush-hour... heading home through the rain and wind and cold that is Vancouver in December. Utterly perverse, and yet, most welcome. I puffed contentedly for over 30 minutes, and while it may have been wet and wooly outside, on the inside, all was warm and welcome.

Fonseca Vintage Collection, Churchill
Dominican filler and binder, Ecuadorian wrapper
  • visual:     beautifully constructed, no obvious flaws, fine white ash as it burns, burns incredibly evenly
  • nose:      cedar and wood notes throughout, fully intense notes of dark coffee, dark chocolate (80%), creamy caramel, some dark berries
  • palate:    I am a novice, so forgive me if I err when I say that this felt like a Cuban cigar. A moderately intense palate that was rich, long, smooth, creamy - filled with all of the nuances on the nose... a true delight that was content just to sit on the palate and allow pleasure rather then some more forceful cigars which demand all of ones attention. Beautiful for the mid-morning, mid-afternoon, or after dinner.
  • conclusion:   I must admit to being partial to this kind of cigar; I love a cigar that I can enjoy whilst doing something else (I am a hopeless multi-tasker). The flavors are rich enough to pair with a multitude of beverages; rich dark coffee, dark rum, American whisky, etc... I would definitely prefer this with coffee and rum. A very smooth whiskey like RedBreast from Ireland would work as well.
CIN CIN!!!      SLAINTE!!!     CHEERS!!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Champagne & Sparkling Wines, a comparative

     5 days before New Years - have you bought your bubbly? By bubbles I don't mean your Michael Bubble cd (his nickname is Bubbles) - I mean your sparkling wine and/or Champagne. 'Tis the Season and all that - right?


     But first we should explain what the difference is between Champagne and Sparkling Wine: geography. Pure and simple geography. If a sparkling wine is made in the region of France known as Champagne, then it is called Champagne. If sparkling wine is made anywhere else in the world it cannot be called Champagne. Many countries have their own names, however, such as Prosecco in Italy, or Cava in Spain. Many of these other sparkling wines are just as good as those made in France, and most sell for far less money.

     So! Let's explore!

N/V Sua Lemon, Argentina
10.5% ABV, $17 **Very Good Value**
  • visual:     clean, extremely light straw core with watery rim
  • nose:      moderate+ intense; youthful; oaky, leesy, lemon drop candies!
  • palate:   1 sweetness, moderate citric acids, moderate+ bodied with very creamy textured bobbles, moderate+ intense; youthful; flavors of vibrant lemons, lees, candied lemons, moderate structure/length on the palate
  • conclusion:    great value for $17, I would want to serve this in the hot summer as a white sangria... it seems made for adding ripe peaches, oranges, cherries & sipping under a pergola
N/V Sigura Viudas Rose Brut, Spain
11.5% ABV, $19 **EXCELLENT VALUE**
  • visual:   clean, pale cherry core with watery rim
  • nose:     clean, youthful and somewhat layered; moderately intense aromas of floral, yeast, light candied red berries such as red currants, cherries and early raspberries, a finish with some barnyard-like qualities of Spanish casking
  • palate:   0 dryness, moderate+ acids, light body with light creamy bubbles, moderately intense; youthful; flavors of red berries, florality with a mineral backbone, very quick and clean finish
  • conclusion:    Brilliant Cava for any number of occasions; I have served it for evening parties, and appero to open the palate as dinner, with a sweet dessert at the end of dinner, with chocolate, and at brunch all to marvellous success. This Cava has never let me down. Consistent product.
N/V Flor Prosecco
  • visual:     clean, pale cream core with watery rim
  • nose:      clean, moderate+ intense; youthful; somewhat layered; aromas of florals, creamy peaches (think peaches&cream hot cereal), wildgrass, ripe Anjou pears
  • palate:    0 dryness, moderate very well balanced acids, moderate body with small creamy bubbles, moderate+ intense; youthful; layered flavors of ripe pears, creamy peaches, oatmeal like lees, bananas, long structure with clean finish
  • conclusion:   brilliant wine for the money! This has enough layers that I would want to serve it with a roast cornish hen with pear & cranberry compote, or roast pork loin with apricot & star anise... I'm definitely looking forward to serving this with food
N/V Sumac Ridge Brut, (Summerland)Okanagan, BC, Canada
$30 **Very Good Value**
  • visual:     clean, ultra pale rose core with slightest pink watery rim
  • nose:      clean, moderately intense; youthful; aromas of mineral terroir, straw
  • palate:    0 dryness, fully intense crabapple acids, moderate- body with small amount of tiny bubbles, fully intense; youthful; developed; flavors of crabapples, orchardfruit, cranberries, citrus undertones and stony soil, very well constructed structure and long finish
  • conclusion:   this is a very well made wine that has obvious style and technique. Personally, the flavors don't immediately appeal to me on their own, but make me want to make a spinach salad with Asian 5-spice seared duck breast - or even just duck confit on fresh bread. Either is a compliment to the winemaker (In My Humble Opinion).  Excellent Value for BC product, and truly showcases terroir.
N/V Monmousseau Brut (Tourraine) Loire Valley, France
$23 **BUY THIS NOW**
  • visual:     ultra pale cream core with watery rim
  • nose:      moderate+ intense; youthful; layered; aromas of little summer flowers, orchard fruit, limestone terroir, lees
  • palate:   0 drynes, moderate well balanced acids, light body with a slight cremant or creamy/foamy bubble to it, moderate+ intense; youthful; developed; flavors that completely and perfectly mimic the nose, excellent length and very well constructed... the flavors last for over 30 seconds and are clean, crisp
  • conclusion: if this winery were situation 5 km over (in Champagne), I don't think you could buy it for less then Veuve Cliquot. This 100% Chenin Blanc completely and utterly over delivers in every way. I have already  bought more & find it a wonderful treat that demonstrates a certain aspect of Loire viticulture with 100% assurance. Try it with toasted walnut & chevre stuffed roast pears with gooseberry coulis & walnut brittle!
2002 Cristal Champagne, France
$300 CAD, $180 USD **Very Good Value**
  • visual:     light cream/satin core with watery rim
  • nose:      moderate+ intense; youthful but showing some age; incredibly developed but tight and needs coaxing to open; straw/hay, oak, buttery lees, stony terroir, orchardfruit
  • palate:    0 dryness, moderate+ acids, moderate+ tight creamy body with a plethora of tiny bubbles, moderate intense; youthful; elegant; layered flavors which completely and utterly mimic the nose in every nuance, a superbly long finish and a true mastercraftsmans structure.. this wine stays on the palate, still evolving, for over a minute after swallowing
  • conclusion: This is the year to drink 2002 Cristal if you have the money. I don't think it will evolve much more, but will certainly live for a few more years. As soon as I tasted it - I wanted salmon gravlax, creme fraiche & caviar... simple decadance, much like this brilliant cuvee. Is it worth $300? For those who can afford $300 for a bottle of wine, I say experience something grand. And there isn't much grander then the work from this Grand Cru.

     I hope this has been of some assistance!  There are far more sparkling wines out there, many of which are deserving of your attention. If I leave you with one piece of information - I would say: Don't think of sparkling wines just as a once a year occasion... there are a multitude of value-priced and over-delivering sparkling wines, cremant, brut, prosecco & cava... enjoyable at any time of year and affordable as well.


Augusto Reyes Cigars, Epicur, Domincan Republic

     Somedays, all I want/need/crave is to smoke a good cigar on my drive home. An hour to myself with the windows rolled down, playing some Van Morrison and sipping on a rich espresso. I watch the other drivers clutch their steering wheels too tightly, beady eyes searching the crowd of traffic for a break - any break - to swerve in and steal another 5 feet of momentum.


     I do not.

     I sit in the lap of luxury; surrounded by that which brings me joy. True enough, perhaps it does take me an extra 5 minutes to get home - but I do it safely, and even manage to enjoy that hour. That hour with myself, my music, my cigar. Yesterday I was lucky enough to have a torpedo cigar from Augusto Reyes of the Dominican Republic ( ).

     The Reyes family has been on the same land, growing tobacco, for over 150 years. I live in a beautiful city by the ocean; Vancouver, British Columbia, which at that time simply didn't exist... there were some traders and that was about it. There were two native settlements, and the railway hadn't yet been able to breach the awesome Rocky Mountains. 150 years ago, the Reyes family was already doing what it did best; growing some of the finest tobacco in the country for consumption worldwide. There is indeed something to be said for that much history behind a line of cigars.

workers @ Reyes Cigar Factory, Dominican Republic
     One of the most startling experiences of smoking my first Augusto Reyes cigar was the immense depth and layering to it. The cigar was much like a wine from well-aged vines. I would be remiss if I didn't make it absolutely clear that my cigar went through several evolutions one could say; there were incredibly different flavors profiles from the first 1/3rd to the second 1/3rd and even the very end. It was a brilliant experience and I'm very much looking forward to my next!

Augusto Reyes, Epicur
Domincan Republic
$5 USD/cigar **GREAT VALUE**
  • visual:     this is a well constructed cigar, and upon looking at it this is self-evident. Well crafted, when smoked I found the cigar burnt evenly, with very thick white ash that held firm
  • aroma:     layers upon layers, as stated above. Fully intense notes of cedary-wood, followed by dark berries and cocoa, even some creamy espresso notes at the last 1/3rd (which I smoked down to the last 1")
  • palate:     if there is a short coming to this very under-valued cigar, it is in the initial stages of smoking it... I found the palate started with a sharpness that bordered on harsh and acidic. Certainly it is a taste that one needs to grow used to, as it develops then into a rich peppery-spicyness with a background of dried blueberries and 80% dark chocolate. from 1/2 to the bottom 1/5th was the best for me, when all of that flavor developed with nuances of rich dark coffee. A brilliantly developed cigar if one can get past the first 3 minutes
  • conclusion:   for $5 I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find better value. I was smoking mine with espresso, which in hindsight was a poor choice. This cigar has intense spicy characteristics, blended with dark flavors of wood, berry and coffee... perfect pairing for an American Whisky (Jack Daniels Single Barrel would be my preference). The American Whisky is aged in American oak, which lends sweetness, vanilla and caramel notes... all of which will balance the richly flavored cigar. Trust me.

One of the Reyes family enjoys his handywork


And so I enjoyed my hour to myself, and laughed a little laugh at the guys in the next car who stressed and schemed and sweat their way through traffic... I could wait. I had all the time in the world because I had that little time to share with the Reyes family and their great passion.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chateau Saint Martin (de la Garrigue), Chateau du Languedoc


Garrigue: scrubland found in Mediterranean forests, woodlands and vineyards composed of savory herbs such as rosemary, wild thyme, lavender, etc.


     Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue... pretty self explanatory what they think you will find as developed flavors and aromas in their wine! Yes - you find garrigue, or at least I certainly did... but in a way I had never truly experienced before. But then, I have never really explored wines from the Languedoc or the Coteaux du Languedoc before. Now I have a lecture coming up in 2 weeks and I need to be ready!

     Well first I suppose I should start off by stating that the Languedoc and the Coteaux du Languedoc are not the same. Languedoc has history with the AOC and commands much more respect with their wines, where-as the Coteaux is a bit of a "hodge-podge" of up-and-comers and blenders of table wine.

     And within this "hodge-podge" is a winery that can trace its roots back directly to the 8th century and the Romans that occupied the land, growing wine there. Indeed, on the grounds of Chateau Saint Martin ( )is a chapel that has been dated to this period and is still functional. As is the way with many things, this property has changed hands many times, and now a Mssr. Jean-Claude Zebalia is in charge of things. And in-charge he is! In 1990, only 20% of the vineyard was classified AC, but Zebalia challenged this and now 90% of the vineyard is under that classification (and selling price point!). Fight the battles that need fighting, right?

     So a vineyard in an AC with varying levels of respect, but little interest outside of France (or at least the Mediterranean), and a winemaker who will fight for the respect of his peers. Did I mention that with his white blend, they have reduced the yield down to under 30 HL/ha? That's low, if ya didn't know... really low. The AC only asks for a yield of 50 HL/ha. These facts in and of themselves make me want to learn more about Chateau Saint Martin, but the rest of their secrets (for now) will have to be discovered in the bottle and in the glass.

2008 Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue Bronzinelle
Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux du Languedoc, France
 (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan)
13.5% ABV, $22 CAD     **EXCELLENT VALUE**
  • Visual:      deep garnet core with light to moderate cherry rim
  • Aroma:     fully intense; youthful; layered; showing obvious herbaceousness (wild thyme, rosemary, bay leaf & savory), black currants, plum tomato, saskatoon berries and blueberries, deep layers of incense-like quality (myrrh & frankincense)
  • Palate:      0 dryness, moderate+ crisp acids, moderate- well restrained and fine tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ slightly hot alcohol, moderate+ to fully intense flavors; youthful and fresh; layered; palate is showing much of the nose with oak taking over a bit... fruit comes in second and lingers with the tomato and savory herb, long structure
  • Conclusion:     this wine drinks far beyond its price (to me). It has depth, balance, layers and an obvious willingness to showcase its terroir. I couldn't ask anything more for $20 and expect far less
  • Pairings:     a well made Bolognese, rabbit in braised with tomato and butter, even a steak tartare would do well
     And so begins my adventure to learn the Languedoc and the Coteaux du Languedoc... wish me well!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Burgundy Wine, Marquis Wine Cellars, Dec 17

     When I first found out that Marquis Wine Cellar ( ) was going to be sampling a bottle of 2006 Corton Charlemagne Bonneau du Martray, I thought to myself “Well – why not? I’m studying Burgundy anyways!”

     You see, I had no idea who or what was Corton Charlemagne, nor did I know about the magic that is Bonneau du Martray. Thank you, once again, whoever invented the Internet. First of all, Corton Charlemagne is a Grand Cru (in the Côte de Beaune sub region of Burgundy, France) meaning that the terroir has been given the highest ranking possible. Also of note, only Chardonnay wine is produced in this area, and if a Pinot Noir is made, then it must be labeled as Corton.

As for Bonneau du Martray, they are a vineyard of singular history. Not only is Jean-Charles de la Moriniere (the largest single owner of vines within Corton-Charlemagne) dedicated to evolving his land into bio-dynamic status, but he seems just as adamant about evolving his wine to something more then it was. I can’t remember the last time I heard about a winemaker who was so dedicated to lowering his yield! In some of the most expensive land in the world, Jean-Charles is concerned that the quality from the terroir alone isn’t enough, and so he decreases the yield even further to intensify the flavors of the land. Bravo! A man after my own palate.

And so we tasted. Lead by one of the stores several certified sommeliers, and all around great chap “Cole”, we sniffed, swirled and slurped a $150 bottle. “Infantacide” he called it; drinking a wine from this vineyard so young (they take on average 6 to 10 years to start to come into their own) – but he acquiesced that it was still a brilliant experience.

2006 Corton Charlemagne Bonneau du Martray
Cote du Beaune, Burgundy, France, $150 CAD

Visual: ultra pale straw core with watery rim

Nose: fully intense; youthful; layered;
   toasty oak, almondy lees, wild grasses, lime terroir,
   slightly hot alcohol

Palate: 0 dryness, fully intense lemony-grassy acids,  
   moderate creamy body,   moderate- intense youthful flavors; very tight and reluctant to open;
   palate mimicked nose admirably, hot alcohol was absent
   very long finish (30 seconds or longer)

Conclusion: a 5-year old wine that is too young to drink. This wine has all sorts of astoundingly rich qualities, however I found a general lack of cohesion which was almost annoying... I am an impatient man and can’t wait to try this wine again when it has “come into its own”

Pairing: I don’t think I would ever want food with this – I enjoyed tasting it and smelling it so much! However, if pressed, I would admit to wanting Escalopes de Veau

After this utter treat, and true experience, we moved on to the 2006 Domaine Jean Tardy Clos du Vougeot Grand Maupertuis. Because heck, I haven’t got enough to learn about – right? Well... it turns out there is always more time to learn when someone else pays $185 to open a bottle and let me taste!

Jean Tardy may not seem like a man who comes to wine naturally, when many families in Burgundy can trace their roots back through centuries of winemaking – not decades. But, to me, winemaking (much as the rest of life) is decided more by passion and commitment rather then family. And Jean-Tardy is a man of passion. Singularly obsessed with squeezing every last nuance out of his terroir, he also is a man after my own palate. He scorns fining of wines, bemoaning “There is nothing left in the wine!”. Ah Jean, I was born in Canada and you in France, and yet it seems we speak the same language.

A small winery, it produces only 2000 cases a year, and these are always in small supply. Jean is more then willing to use the most dreaded word in customer-service: “Non.”. Once again, a man I can respect. How I managed to taste one of these rarefied bottles in attributable to the dynamic relations John Clerides, owner of Marquis Wine Cellar, has forged in Burgundy. Thank you John, for showing me the beauty of the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits.

2006 Domaine Jean Tardy Clos du Vougeot Grand Maupertuis
Côte de Nuits, Burgundy, France $185 CAD

Visual: pale cherry core with brickish rim

Nose: fully intense; fresh & youthful; layered
  Burgundian leathery oak, baie rouges especially red currants,
  some blackberry making an appearance after a few seconds, 
  slightly hot with rich, sweet fruit layers

Palate: 0 dryness, full acids, moderate+ soft tannins, moderate- body
             moderate + intense; fresh & youthful; somewhat layered
            excellent matching of the palate to the nose (same notes with some cocoa)
             very long finish (30 seconds or longer)

Conclusion: an excellent young wine just starting to come into it’s own, the tannins have started to soften and the fruit/terroir balance is impeccable! I would love to have 6 bottles to sample every year and learn how it can develop. A pity that Jean Tardy and Son have lost this vineyard, but it raises high expectations for the future.

Pairing: Cassoulet. For the love of god, that would be a divine meal (pun intended).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Lifecycle of a Vineyard

The Cycle of the Vine

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? A common joke that plays well against the struggle for life of a common (or uncommon) vineyard. Which came first, the vineyard or the grape? Whether it be Castilla-La Mancha or the Napa Valley, we inevitably find that life in a vineyard begins when the grape leaves the nest in Autumn, followed by the vines slumber in Winter and returning to the growth and development of new life in Spring & Summer.

Autumn; the time to return to school & return to work. Never was that more true then in the vineyard, where our ripened grapes have left the vineyard for their long journey to your table (in bottle form). Now begins the real work of the viticulturist! These vines tend to be cleaned so that only the best six to twelve bunches of grapes will grow on this vine... the roots need to have soil and manure (fertilizer) blanketing them against the deadly frost to come. Some stakes and wires may even need to be re-jigged so that with the coming Spring, all will be able to grow to their maximum potential.

Winter; the land has been cleared of all clutter and debris from the madness that is harvest. The viticulturist has perhaps even been able to sleep fully for a week or two. Back to work ye intrepid souls! Winter is the time for pruning, pruning and more pruning. Whether it be to prepare for the vine-training of Guyot, Double-Guyot or Cordon du Royat this task will help control and regulate the production and quality of the vines. Some vines, sadly, will need to be ripped out as they may be too old, or damaged, but in a few years the land will be ready to have a new vine grow in its place.

Spring; the sap will begin to rise through the vines as gentle breezes bring warmth to vineyard and its workers. Buds will begin to appear throughout, and tiny shoots, and if we are in a colder climate, the viticulturist will have timed his pruning until late in the year (Winter) so as to delay this budding. A morning frost, common in colder climates, would easily damage these fragile beginnings. By mid-Spring these shoots will metamorph to flowers, and as soon as they are fertalized with pollen, will then turn to berries (known as berry-set).

Summer; we reach the Herbaceous period when the tiny grape is bright green, hard like a nut, and quite acidic. Great things will happen to these little berries as the sunlight hours increase and the contrasting day heat and night cool work their magic powers... Veraison has begun as the berries will soften and turn color, sugar will increase and acid will decrease. The winemaker and the viticulturist will watch avidly, taking many sugar readings with their refractometres. There has been too much work now, to let the grapes linger until the Overmaturing period... it is time to pick the fruit.

And so returns the viticulturist to the madness that is the harvest. They will try not too think too much about the upcoming labors... but will always have a corner of their minds open to what rows need the most cleaning, what vines will need to be torn out in the upcoming months. Back to work! This is harvest, and the grape must finally leave the nest.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wines of Chile ** Vancouver'10

I was fortunate enough that someone invited me to the brilliantly executed Wines of Chile TASTE CHILE Vancouver'10 in October. Not only a fantastic affair due to the level of quality chosen in the wines, but just as equally (if not more equally?) was the quality of panelists who lead the discourse throughout the two hour lecture.

     Billed as an "Organic Seminar" it was as much a back-and-forth conversation about farming methods & bottling practices, as it was a chance to sample some wines that people outside of Chile will rarely see... much less taste.

Sommelier DJ Kearney & David Scholefield
     Leading the motley throng of us was the eminent DJ  ), Vancouver based wine guru, judge and educator. I myself was lucky enough to study under DJ already, and look forward to the privilege again . DJ knows how to keep a class in check, no matter the age or skill level of her students
     As well were Mr Marco Antonio de Martino (of the infamously organic winemaking family), Phillipe Dulos (a global marketing developer and innovator for Claro Group), Giorgio Flassati (an Italian who moved to Chile to make high-altitude wine) and Jose Guilisasti Gana (who began with the mass producer Concha y Toro in the 1980's and became the General Manager and Director of Greenvic). All learned people, and we were honored to have David Scholefield as our Canadian eyes-through-the-looking-glass (as it were). I truly felt humbled by the invitation, and planned to use my time wisely... I listened, I tasted, I asked some pointed questions... I participated, on whatever level I felt I could.

     At the end of the afternoon, I was left with my head spinning, and not from blood alcohol, but from knowledge... From inspirational people opening themselves and sharing some of their passion with me - a virtual outsider to their secret world. Who knew that winemakers were so zealous about their land, their work, their love. I for one, as a chef, did not know. I thought only we chefs could be maniacal about little idiosyncrasies in our industry (that no one outside the industry really cares for or knows about). But, perhaps, all artists are like this? All artisans? For what else could a great winemaker be, other then an artisan.

ARTISAN /ˈɑrtəzən/
a person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson.
— n
1. a skilled workman; craftsman
2. obsolete; an artist

     And so I will take a moment to say my thanks, my gratitude, to the endless artisans who shared the (literal) fruits of their labors with me. 
Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery Organic Chardonnay, 2009
(San Antonio Valley)
$14.49 (general listing)      GOOD VALUE
  • nose:    moderate+ intense fresh grassy & herbaceous, light vanilla, light layered citrus
  • palate:   moderate++ acids, moderately intense palate of crisp green apples, light florality
  • PAIRS WITH:   consider fresh pork tenderloin or a roast turkey with chestnut stuffing
Emiliana Vineyards Adobe Chardonnay, 2010,
(Casablanca Valley)
$14.99 (speciality listing)     GOOD VALUE
  • nose:     moderate+ intense *(very similar to above) but with more oak, less herbs
  • palate:   moderate+ acids, light grippy tannins, moderate+ intense flavors of green and gold apple, ripe Anjou pear
  • PAIRS WITH:  yam filled agnelotti with a leek & saffron cream reduction
Geo Wines Chono San Lorenzo Rose Syrah Organic, 2009,
(Maipo Valley)
$15.99 (speciality order)      GOOD VALUE
  • nose:     moderately intense florality; red roses & orange blossom primarily
  • palate:   fully intense acids, moderate tannins, palate mimicks the nose well with the addition of a tightness to the Meyer lemon finish
  • PAIRS WITH:   Raclette. Bring on the cheesey goodness!
Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery Organic Pinot Noir, 2009
(Colchagua Valley)
$14.99 (general listing)     GOOD VALUE
  • nose:     fully intense aromas of funky game, baie noir such as blackberry & saskatoon, garrigue herbaceousness
  • palate:   moderate+ acids, full+ tannins, moderately intense palate... I find the oak interferes right now... fruit not able to show through the heavy oak but a long & developed structure, moderate body. I would want to taste this in 6months/12/18 to watch the growth
  • PAIRS WITH:   steak tartare in all it's primal glory
Vina Falernia S.A. Organic Syrah, 2008
(Limari Valley)
$14.99 (speciality order)     EXCELLENT VALUE
  • nose:     moderately intense baie rouges & noirs, minty herbs
  • palate:   moderate+ acids, full tannins, moderate+ intense flavors with loads of those red & black berries, tobacco, some dark chocolate.. tannins are still strong for my taste, and I would want to revisit in 6/12/18
  • PAIRS WITH:  a natural pairing for classic Boeuf Bourguignon
De Martino Organic Cabernet/Malbec, 2008
(Maipo Valley)
$19.99 (spec order)     GOOD VALUE
  • nose:      moderate+ funky game, baie noirs with a herbaceous finish
  • palate:   moderate acids, fully+ (chalky) tannins, moderate+ intense palate with the palate mimicking the nose impeccably... strong tannins ask for a revisit in 6/12/18
  • PAIRS WITH:   charbroiled red meats (preferably with some fat to it - bacon wrapped tenderloin?)
Nativa Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(Maipo Valley)
$unknown - completely unavailable     EXCELLENT VALUE
  • nose:     moderate+ to full- intense filled with cocoa, musk & layers of green wood
  • palate:   moderate acids, full+ tannins, moderate+ intense palate mimicking the nose.. heavy tannins and a superbly designed structure make me want to taste this in 6/12/24/36/48... moderate body... I think this wine could cellar like a charm and show well from 2015-2020 (and possibly beyond)
  • PAIRS WITH:   truffled osso bucco. This is a rich wine and deserves rich food.
Vina Caliterra Bio Sur Carmenere, 2009
(Colchagua Valley)
$14.99 (unavailable)     DECENT VALUE
  • nose:     moderately intense cigar tobacco, pencil shavings, slightly hot alcohol & baie noirs
  • palate:   moderate acids, fully intense acids, moderate+ to full bodied, decent structure (especially for the price), moderately intense flavors, but unfortunately the aggressive tannins interrupt everything else. Taste again in 6/12/18
Vina San Pedro Tarapaca 35 South Cabernet/Merlot, 2009
(Cachapoal Valley)
$13.95 (special order)     EXCELLENT VALUE
  • nose:      moderate+ intense funky Chilean"ness"; funky fungal/vegetal earthiness
  • palate:   moderate- acids, moderate+ tannins, moderate+ body, very long & developed structure (for $14), moderately intense palate already showing well & drinking easily; soft baie rouges in multi-layers & persistent oak
  • PAIRS WITH:   classic Roast of Beef with an herb-Dijon crust. The herbs will play off the red berry notes, the beef off the oak & the Dijon will give an edge to a somewhat underdeveloped wine
Errazuriz Organics Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(Aconcagua Valley)
$22.95 (speciality order)     GOOD VALUE
  • nose:     moderately intense notes of vibrant minerality, dark cocoa, tobacco & Chilean herbs
  • palate:   moderately intense acids, full++ tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ structure, moderately intense flavors completely masked by overoaking (In My Humble Opinion). I would want to revisit in 12/24/36/48... due to the richness in the structure & nose I believe it has a beautiful life to awaken to... but when?
Vina San Pedro Tarapaca Plus, 2008
(Maipo Valley)
$19.95 (speciality order)
  • nose:     fully intense and wildy exotic (to a Canadian) floral waves, combined with stonefruit & some exotic fruits
  • palate:   moderate acids, full+ tannins, moderate body, moderate structure, moderately intense flavors that followed the nose (though much more tamely) and were predominantly of red berries. I would only revisit at 3/6/12 (months) as the structure was that of a wine to be consumed in it's youth (I assume)
  • PAIRS WITH:   a simple steak & compound butter; Steak Frites
Emiliana Vineyards Coyam, 2007
(Colchagua Valley)
$34.99 (speciality order)    BUY THIS NOW.
  • nose:     almost fully intense bouquet of long floral layers, intertwined with pencil shavings & light tobacco of the finest quality
  • palate:   moderate+ acids, moderate+ tannins, full- body, brilliantly long and developed structure - this wine drank far above it's class, moderate+ intense flavors that mimicked the nose admirably. I have never tried a Coyam before, but will look for it again - this was my personal hit in a long list of truly well crafted wines
  • PAIRS WITH:   my notes say Grilled Ribeye, but even then I realized that a simple ribeye would fall short of this special wine... I would poach a free-range beef tenderloin (poaching to make it buttery soft to pair with a sinful wine and free-range has a greater depth of flavor to enrich the wine) and finish with some seared foie gras as that will play off the acids and round out the body of an already luscious wine
Vina Arboleda Sena, 2007
(Aconchagua Valley)
$99.99 (not available)     EXCELLENT VALUE
  • nose:     moderate+ intense Chilean florals, rich Burgundian leathery oak with the associated notes of game, bloody meat, roast beef, bay leaves & wild thyme
  • palate:   moderate+ acids, moderate+ chalky tannins, moderate+ to full bodied, fully developed-rich-nuanced structure, moderately intense flavors that mimick the nose with a strong undercurrant of baie noirs, the floral reminded me a great deal of the Maipo Valley wines, and a slight lime finish. Of note, this is actually a Bordeaux blend, just without the Malbec

     A wonderful treat to be allowed to sit in on this lecture, and a wonderful treat  for me to be able to write about it for all of you. Many thanks to my readers as this is officially my #100 Blog Article, and has now been read over 1800 times this year. 10 months ago I never would have guessed. I hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ramon Allones Cigars, Exclusivo Asia Pacifico

Yet again I found myself on 4th avenue, making my way from Kitsilano to my distant home of Maple Ridge... of course I knew I was going to be driving that way, so of course I brought my humidor and a few questions so I could stop by City Cigars ( ).

     A momentary interruption of my ramble to say a thing or two about customer service: thing#1, customer service is not an option. If you are in business, then it is to serve people in some way, shape or form. It then behooves you to serve in a genuine manner... but that's just like saying that common manners should be common, isn't it?

     But they aren't. And neither is customer service.

     Hence my willingness - nay - eagerness to stop at City Cigars and spend $30 on a beautiful cigar as a little treat to myself (yes, I have been treating myself alot lately, but I've been very good). The staff here are genuine. Genuinely passionate about cigars. Genuinely friendly (I can spot the fakes - so can you). Genuinely decent folks. Thanks for being a bright spot on my commute home (which in rush hour needs all the friendly influences possible).

     So yes, back to the story, these nice people fixed my humidor, answered my questions, and then steered me onto a cigar I had never tried before: the Ramon Allones Exclusivo Asia Pacifico. Brilliant cigar, it was a fun 30 minutes as the flavors developed, and made me write some notes for my next trip to Cuba.

Ramon Allones Exclusivo Asia Pacifico, CUBA
$29 CAD, Great Value
  • structure:  very well constructed, it has a very even burn with fine white ash that will fly into your face in you're driving fast and have the windows down. Plan to smoke this on your porch.
  • aromas:   I almost thought I was smoking a pipe - it was so fragrant. Even my wife would have approved (or so I tell myself)
  • flavors:    a fully intense cigar, I found myself thinking of what the consultant at the cigar shop said "A great coffee cigar". Sir, I choose to disagree! Or rather, let me agree in part - but later. This cigar has an immediate spiciness that is distinct. I've read other reviews and many point to a particular "pepperiness", but I would rather characterize it as "spicy pepper". Anyone who has tried the Lindt dark chocolate with spicy peppers knows what I mean. As well, I found a great backbone of dried berries like blueberries, blackberries and a touch of Saskatoons (for those who know what I mean). End of palate notes definitely included wood, though I admit to not knowing what kind it is... cedar certainly, but I think a little something else as well.
  • PAIRS WITH:  Coffee, yes, I agree. But that's only part of the picture. This is a richly nuanced cigar with a fully intense flavor, and a dark espresso will play off the wood notes and the dark chocolate flavors (*and aromas) that abounded. But what about the spice? Heavy alcohol will make that spice overwhelm the palate, but a little sugar? Consider then a good port and espresso. Then you play off the berry notes, the dark chocolate, the wood, the spice... I would also consider an aged Gran Marnier Cognac (18 years or older) which will accomplish many of the same things but in a different manner.
     A truly well made, very well made, cigar for which I am grateful to City Cigar for recommending. A caveat though... the roll I found to be much looser then I'm used to. Take a gentle approach to smoking this, as it requires very little effort after some of the incredibly tightly rolled cigars out there. I smoked mine down to the last 1" and savored every moment, as indeed, we should savor every moment.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kirkland 10-year Tawny Port. No, really.

Fonseca Guimaraens ( ), one of the oldest and most prestigious producers of Vinho do Porto (Port  wine) in the world.

COSTCO, one of the biggest producers of inexpensive bulk items in the world.

How, one may ask, could the two of these meet in the middle? The answer lies within a bottle of 10-year Tawny Port made by the former, and sold by the latter. And what exactly is Tawny Port?

     It is fortified wine, made in the Douro region of Portugal, fortified by the addition of a spirit known as aguardente which is a native product of Portugal. Tawny Port is also aged in wooden barrels using the Solera system, just as in Sherry production in Spain. For this, I am at this moment eternally grateful, as I believe it gives much to the wine that may otherwise be somewhat lacklustre.

     I realize that many of you are still shaking your heads at the notion of COSTCO brand Port, but read on dear friends and colleagues. This is the same company we buy our eggs and cheese from, our tissue paper and short-sleeve shirts, even our gas. They've always done a solid job with everything else, right? Right. Otherwise we would have taken our hard-earned money elsewhere by now. So why not put away the snobby-hat and give COSTCO brand Port a chance?

Kirkland 10-year Tawny Port, NV  Douro Region, Portugal
$17 USD, 20% ABV, Very Good Value
  • visual:    moderately intense caramel centre, light cherry/brick rim
  • nose:     moderately intense aromas, mostly sugary sweetness, some stonefruit especially cherry, old raisins, light leathery notes, vanilla, touch of cedar
  • palate:   moderate+ acids, moderate tannins, moderate+ intense flavors once again focused mainly on sugar. That being said, there are layers under the sugar that mimik the nose well. Moderate+ body from the sugar levels, decent structure with a slightly bitter aftertaste & noticeable alcohol.
  • PAIRS WITH:   this, to me, is a beginners Port. If you have never tried Port before, this will go down quite smoothly and will leave a fairly nice aftertaste, especially for the price. Try it with Gorgonzola cheese, spicy candied walnuts & toasted anise bread & I think you'll find it more then adequate after a meal.
     Please understand, I'm not trying to subjugate anyone to the will of Mass Business. Quite the opposite. However, I feel it only right and proper to try and display the facts as I see them and not be swayed in either direction from a label. We can find greatness in the most unexpected places!

     This is not a great Port, but for a Canadian, it is a very reasonable product for the price. I would, and will, purchase this again, and feel very comfortable having a sip any old time... as opposed to a Colheita 1951  from Fonseca, which I would horde and feel a little guilty every time I walked past the dreadfully expensive bottle, but that's another story!