Monday, July 19, 2010

Benjamin Malbec, Argentina

At this time I will quote directly from another website; the Argentina Wine Guide which says "There isn't anything very complicated happening in this malbec".

Wow. That's about the size of it.

I just spent another hour researching what Argentinian ex-pats think of the wine they get here, and what wine they bring back to Canada or the US when they go home. Categorically it's not Benjamin ( ). A decent enough wine, it certainly doesn't offend, but really it's just a "middle of the afternoon sipping wine" - but with my 20 year old brother, not one of my wine-friends.

2009 Benjamin Nieto Senetiner Malbec
13.5%, $17 (at speciality wines stores - $15 at ) **hamburger wine**
  • moderate nose of ripe red berries and oak
  • moderate- acids, moderate+ tannins (a little gravelly), moderate intense palate - with red berries, oak, leather, touch of dark chocolate
  • moderate- body, moderate+ alcohol (its a bit hot), light structure
Well, not much else to say. If I bought it for $12 I would think it was decent value, but since I paid $17 I feel like I got ripped off a little. Do yourself a favor, if you want a cheap wine buy Copper Moon or Finca Los Primos, and if you want a decent bottle for under $20, choose any number of other wines.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Argentinian Malbec

Every week, or so, I try to get out there and buy a new wine solely on impulse. No previous knowledge - just a blind leap of faith, hoping Baachus and the gods of hedonism will catch my fall.

Sometimes I'm lucky! Argentina, Chile have always been good guesses for me... never mattered if I knew the winery or not, whether I was spending $10 or $20 or more... I just look for a label that catches my eye. And I buy.

Sometimes I am not so lucky.

There is a great family in Argentina, the Gascon family ( ), originally from Spain in the 1880's. They now make copious amounts of wine in Mendoza, and by copious I mean almost 10,000,000 Litres annually. That is roughly comparable to the wine consumption at the last WBC (Wine Bloggers Conference) in the great state of Washington in June of this year. Seriously. Alot of wine.

But they have managed, under the guidance of Gustavo Marin, to produce quality. Serious quality.

Take their Don Miguel Gascon which I reviewed: over-the-top value for the price. Their 1884 Reservado is of similar quality; much more depth then anyone could reasonably expect for $20.

Alas today I bought their CIRCUS Malbec 2009. I say alas because less then a year ago the BCLDB ( ) had it on sale for $12.

CIRCUS 2009 Malbec
13.5%, $17 (Specialty wine stores only) **Decent Value**
  • moderate garnet coloring with little or no rim
  • after open for an hour; moderate nose of gamey meat, leathery oak, slightly hot alcohol, dark red berries, slight herbaceousness (garrigue)
  • moderate++ acids, full gravelly tannins, moderately intense flavors of dark berries, dark chocolate, terroir showing through in that gamey-ness, and the over-the-top oaking finishes the palate
  • moderate body, decent structure for a hamburger wine
A shame. A $12 wine selling for $17. If I was sold this for $12, I would think: "Wow! Great hamburger wine!" As it is, it only has a mediocre structure, unbalanced by overactive acids and tannins that haven't had the time to settle. If they ever settle. A buddy of mine in the industry says: "Some wines just need time. Time to pour down the drain and buy a different bottle." As it is, I have to say I would NOT buy this wine (for the price) or recommend it. Pity, the family makes great wines.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chateauneuf du Pape, France

Oh what joy it is: a long summer evening, a reason to celebrate, and good friends to celebrate with. Last night was such a night.

 Mrs Astudentofwine & I went to the St Street Grill in Port Moody with friends and family for an impromptu birthday dinner. It was divine. True enough, perhaps we did wait a bit longer then usual for our orders to be taken, perhaps we did wait a bit for our drinks, but the service was warm and informed and the food was cooked with skill and attention to detail.

 Seeing as how it was a special occasion (more or less), I decided to splurge on a very nice bottle of wine. Both of the special women that evening have a penchant for Chateauneuf-du-Pape and so I made my way down to Marquis Wine Cellars ( ) to see what they could do for me. I had been fortunate enough to have the 1999 Chateau de Beaucastel just a few months ago & wanted something in the same vein, if not the same price-point. This was what we savored last night:

2004 Domaine La Roquete, Chateauneuf-du-Pape
by Frederic & Daniel Brunier     ( )
14.5%, $50 @ **EXCELLENT VALUE**
  • soft brickish rim with a deep plum centre
  • fully intense bouquet of garrigue (savory herbs, especially in this instance wild thyme), baie rouges  (little red berries especially in this case red currants and cherries), chalky terroir and old leathery oak barrels
  • full acids, full tannins, fully intense flavors that completely mimicked the nose; the red currants were very sharp on the palate, the garrigue opened the palate and then returned for a very very long finish which was immensely pleasurable to savor. The end of the palate also came with a strong presence of old fashioned black licorice
  • moderate body, full alcohol was still a touch hot on the nose (don't serve with spicy food), and an incredibly strong and developed structure
     What a delight to share with friends and family, especially as they all truly appreciated it so much, and especially for me as I came to sense that this wine still has not peaked. Lots of room left for this wine to grow and develop still into more: huge structure, long acids and tannins - brilliant balance... I look forward to more of this winery in the future.

PAIR WITH: traditional cassoulet, steak with a compound butter (the wine needs the fat still) such as a foie gras butter or truffle butter, consider also duck!

2007 Domaine La Roquete
13.5% ABV, $47 CAD ( ) **Good Value**

label courtesy
tasted: 08 January 2011

visual:     clean; fully intense garnet core with slight cherry rim
  • nose:      clean; moderate+ to fully intense; showing age and development; of leathery oak, red currants, black currants, blackberries, black and red raspberries, some baked earth notes and light floral-vanilla-lavender at the finish
  • palate:    clean, 0 dryness, fully intense red currant acids, moderate+ tannins, moderate+ body, moderate++ alcohol *(it tastes hotter then the 13.5%), moderate+ intense flavors; showing signs of age and development; palate mimicks the nose well - with the addition of a significant white pepper finish from the 20% Syrah
  • conclusion:   very good balance, excellent structure, very good length. This wine is really coming into its own right now - but buyer beware! Decant this a minimum of one-hour; I tried it after 20 or 30 minutes and found it far too tight to really enjoy and savor. Drink now to 2014
  • pairs with:     bright red currant acids make me want to pair this with cream, cheese and/or poultry. I've considered a smoked chicken agnelotti with a mild sun-dried tomato & leek cream reduction
      So, in addition to the tasting notes, let me say a bit about AOC Chateauneuf du Pape.

     Chateauneuf du Pape is arguable one of the most popular and well known wine making regions in the world. There are multiple reasons for this; (1) when the Popes lived in Avignon (1308-1378), this was the region that produced wine for them and continued to do so for centuries (2) it became the role-model for the AOC system under the guidance of Baron Pierre Le Roy (1923) and thus came under scrutiny by wine drinkers the world over (3) there is a history of wine making here for 2000 years.

     The popes came into a region that had a reputation for mediocrity in its wine making. The popes gave it love, attention and massive amounts of hard work (by others). Because of this, the wines grew in depth and complexity - eventually being called "du Pape" under Pope John XXII. Obviously, with their immeasurable resources, the papacy would not have lent their name to something of mediocre quality.

      Then in the early 1900's there was a "wild west" feel to the wine industry... anyone could call a wine by any name and no one was around to tell them not to. People would mix beet juice with cheap wine from Algeria or Bulgaria and call it Chateauneuf du Pape. Well, the winemakers who had been in the area around Chateauneuf (in the Southern Rhone) for in some cases centuries - were understandably miffed. They almost literally begged Baron Pierre le Roy to help them systematically organize their region to enforce and regulate quality. After the passing of these regulations, people the world over knew they could count on consistent quality from the winemakers of Chateauneuf. Ask MacDonalds or Starbucks how important consistency is to business.

     And then there is the little matter of over two millennium of wine making in the region. Even if, at times, it was less then perfect wine making, it created a culture. In this region, people celebrate the vineyard; they design food around it, they build "siesta" into the afternoon so they can relax in it, they feel it in their bones because it is a part of their day-to-day life. Any culture that lives like this will naturally produce excellence over time.     

     Out of the three reasons listed above, none is more (or less) responsible for the quality produced within. True enough the prices are somewhat steep in comparison with for instance the Languedoc, but still reasonable compared to Burgundy. I digress. Chateauneuf reds are perfumed from the wild thyme and lavender that grow along the roads, baked by the long hot summers and sharp from the currant and raspberry flavored Grenache that abounds in the region. Explore. Enjoy.

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

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Desert Hills Unoaked Chardonnay

Hot, hot, hot.

Finally Summer is here with a vengeance and the temperature has gone from 12C to 30C in 2 days. Feels good.

But what to serve Mrs Astudentofwine in such heat for dinner? Why a little sweet Thai chili marinated pork loin, stir-fry vegetables with ginger & cilantro, and a fine bottle of Desert Hills Unoaked Chardonnay.

I must admit that Chardonnay hasn't always been my favorite varietal, but recently I seem to be growing into it. Producers like are certainly part of that influence with their round flavors, well balanced acids, and versatile pairing with a host of Summer foods.

2008 Unoaked Chardonnay
**bronze medal - Grand Harvest International**
14%, $17 **very good value**
  • pale gold straw color
  • moderate+ intense nose of chrysanthemums, orchard fruit, lilies, honey, dandelions
  • moderate++ crisp, slightly biting acids, moderate intense flavors same as the nose, with more emphasis on the orchard fruit and very distant floral flavors - finish is lime zest (from the terroir I believe)
  • an invigorating wine that opens the palate and loves Summer food: grilled pork with mushrooms, chicken scallopini with lemon chevre sauce, poached prawns with a sambal orange dipping sauce... the list goes on and on

Sunday, July 4, 2010

English Harbor Aged Rum, Antigua

Well it's not often that I review rum, but as Fall turns to Winter and masks itself as Summer, I find myself sitting by a roaring fireplace more and more.

We had good friends over to the house just last night in fact! One of them, Jay, is as much of a cigar fan as I am and we both had Cuban Cohiba Esplendidos. Of course, that was when the rum came out and the conversation became even more relaxed.

English Harbor Rum is quite new to the rum scene; whereas some Cuban distilleries can trace their history back several centuries, EHR created it's first dark rum in the 1950's, and only started importing to North America in 2004.

And praise has fallen upon them! Two double-gold awards at the San Francisco Spirits Competition in 2004 and 2005 and, IMHO, worthy of those honors.

English Harbor, 5 year aged rum, Antigua
40%, $31 (BCLCB), **very good value**
  • pale caramel/amber color
  • moderately intense nose of caramel, heather, oak, vanilla, apples
  • moderate+ intense flavors that mimic the nose... palate starts with the caramel apples, oak/vanilla/heather and slight peaty-acidic finish
This rum almost drinks like an Irish whiskey: think Tullimore Dew rather then a Bushmills. That touch of sweetness isn't overpowering, but rather compliments the slight orchard fruit and herbaceous floral notes. A wonderful pairing for a medium cigar, it may pale beside a robusto or even slightly overpower a mild cigar such as a Davidoff.

Pair it with Cohiba or Macanudo. With food you ask? Try any slightly sweet dessert with nuts; Arabic desserts such as Halva with cheese, pistachio biscotti, almond gelato, etc...

Cin-cin! Slainte!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Desert Hills, Black Sage Bench

Desert Hills Estate Winery ( ) was kind enough to send me some of their recent award winning wines. Wow, what a treat! True enough, Canada (and BC) are producing some excellent wines these days... truly artisan craftsmanship all across the country. But - but these really were lovely wines.

Starting with the Viognier, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I don't have alot of experience with them, and what little I do have is most recently because of John Clerides @ Marquis Wine Cellar ( ) and his passion for Alban estates ( ). John Alban makes wines in the Rhone style, and I will have to take everyones word for that because I really can't remember the last time I had a Rhone Viognier... but I know I like John Alban's Viogniers. Rich stonefruit flavors and a bouquet of flowers, that is how I know this varietal. Desert Hills version is quite different:

2009 Viognier
*winner gold @ The All Canadian Wine Championship 2010
13.3%, $20 approximately *Very Good Value
  • pale gold straw color
  • moderately intense nose of waxy-petroleum, orchard fruit especially rich pear, hints of chamomile, austere terroir
  • moderate+ acids, palate is a match for the nose, with intense flavors of lime & grapefruit showing throughout
  • very long structure, good balance and light to medium body - this wine does best when served at cellar temperature or just below
Loved the wine; a completely new style of Viognier for me! Austere acids and light-medium body made me think this could be an instant Summer hit. Absolute perfect pairing with salmon, we ended up having it with braised chicken with fresh herbs & loved every drop.

Next was the Pinot Gris that we've had before, and enjoyed every time. We had friends over for dinner last night, and one friend is a vegetarian... thus I made a roast acorn squash stuffed with wild rice pilaf mixed with BC chevre (goat's cheese). On the side was a compote of cranberry, orange and caramelized onions, and grilled asparagus with grilled field tomatoes tossed in olive oil and balsamic reduction. Ah - to savor fine food in the company of good people (or is that good food in fine company?)... we had a fire in the outside fireplace and loved the balance of wine & food.

2008 Pinot Gris
*award winner in 3 competitions 2010
14%, $20, *Very Good Value*
  • moderate- intense nose of pineapple, citrus & candied fruit
  • moderate++ acids, balanced by moderate intense palate of green apples, bright lemony citrus and a minerality reminiscent of Muscadet or Alvarino
  • light to medium body, very long structure, very good balance - once again I would (and do) serve at or just below cellar temperature
This wine adores chevre! Anything goat cheese will be an instant success with this wine.

2007 Small lots Cabernet-Merlot
*gold medal @ Tasters Guild International 2010
14%, $25, **EXCELLENT Value**
  • deepest plum color, minimal brick rim
  • fully intense bouquet of leather, gamey meat, blackberries, hot alcohol, dark chocolate
  • moderate acids, moderate++ tannins, moderate+ intense flavors that match the nose: dark chocolate shows through especially well with a herbaceous finish
  • moderate+ body, great structure and great balance
In My Humble Opinion, a brilliantly crafted Rhone-styled blend. It has everything you could want in a $40 for $25... need I say more? Try it with a free-range beef tenderloin or even grilled merguez sausage.

2009 Gamay Noir
**Best of Class, gold, Los Angeles Wine & Spirit Competition 2010
14%, $20, **great value**
  • moderate garnet centre
  • moderate+ intense nose of heirloom tomatoes, old fashioned black licorice, leather & garrigue (savory herbs)
  • moderate++ acids, moderate+ tannins, moderately intense flavors that mimic the nose. Emphasis is tomatoes in all their glory & savory herbs
Great wine, much improved by serving it as my friend and colleague Sebastian LeGoff does: slightly chilled, it tames the acids down a shade to allow the fruit to show through. And what wonderful acids - and what wonderful fruit... a pleasure to drink on it's own: try it as we did with a roasted pepper & roma tomato pasta, or sitting on the deck with a little charcuterie of sausages, cheeses & olives!