Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ron Matusalem, 15-year Gran Reserva

The tale of a family can almost always be counted on to be filled with mystery, intrigue and a litany of interesting characters. Rare is the family for whom this is more true then the family Alvarez who own, and have successfully run, the Matusalem & Co. distillery ( ).

     Dr. Claudio Alvarez, current owner, can trace his roots directly to his great-grandfather who started the company in 1872 with his brother and one other partner after they emigrated from Spain to Santiago, Cuba. Some internet research says that Matusalem was first distilled in Cuba as far back as 1792 but that is not verified by the company website. Dr Alvarez has now brought his son on board with the company, to continue a family tradition that they have worked zealously for through war, dictatorship and over a century of economic flux. Did you know that at one point (the 1940's), Matusalem was over 50% of the Cuban rum market?

     Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva is made using the solera system which is used primarily for the production of Sherry, and is made (much like cognac) by rules which state that in the 12-year label, 12 year old rums are the youngest age of rum in your bottle... the casks will be stacked on top of each other (on their side) 4 layers high. Every three years, a portion of the bottom cask is bottled and sold. At that point, a portion of the cask (barrique in French) above it is syphoned off and added to the cask below it (to thus refill it to its original level). The top-most cask is topped with new rum, and the process continues.

     Sounds like alot of work? It is, and there are even mathematical formulas to calculate rate of loss from casks per year, average age of rum per cask, etc. The result? Layers upon layers of flavor and bouquet. But I digress.

Ron Matusalem, 12-year Gran Reserva,
Dominican Republic
$60 CAN (BC), $35 US, 30 Euro (Western Europe)
Best of Class & Double-Gold at 2008 San Fransisco Spirit Competition
  • very light caramel colors, hardly any orange/amber
  • fully intense nose; oak is hitting me immediately... none of the aromas I usually associate with rums. I like a sweeter style of rum (Pyrat for example) and this has only the softest whispers of vanilla and caramel in the background. Front and center I find the oak, yes, and a myriad of citrus and florals (Meyer lemon, some thyme or Bay leaf, red currants also come into play for me) - but it is the nuances of oak that dominate for me
  • an interesting palate: full flavored, the oak comes in with an easy drinking robust toasted almond flavor... lightly charred barrels I am assuming. Citrus is still there as well, and that slightly tart currant-like backdrop. Smooth finish, I'm drinking this sans ice or water, and feel the rum isn't suffering from any lack

     I feel like this is a Scotch drinkers rum; by which I mean, it is very well crafted, with alot of nuance that begs to be discovered (not hidden in cola and ice). I have just finished my first bottle of Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, and never once did I feel the need to "water it down a little". It has marvellous balance on its own, and at room temperature, which I feel is a mark of master distilling. Well worth the money!


ZAYA Gran Reserva, 12 year rum, Trinidad

Autumn, for me, is a man's time in the world and I mean that in the most sincere and genuine way!

     The weather turns to a bit of chill, and the last amber sunshine burns brightly in the background as crisp winds rip across English Bay and put a nip in the air. It's a perfect time to pull the old Clan Aran knit, take a cigar and the hip-flask and go for a stroll down by the water. It's a time for a man to reconnect with old friends before the hecticness of Christmas, or some much deserved "me" time after too many barbeques and family vacations during the summer. Hiking boots, a well worn sweater, a good cigar and a few hours of peaceful solitude.

     What better pairing then a good rum? And what better rum then Zaya 12-year Gran Reserva from Trinidad? Zaya is distilled by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala, the same company that distills Ron Zacapa and Ron Botran, and is owned by . The company has an impressive array of boutique spirits, and Zaya won gold at the Ministry of Rum competition in 2009 and double-gold at the San Francisco Spirit Competition of 2007. Impressive awards for a more then worthy contender.

Zaya 12-year Gran Reserva, Trinidad
$90 CAN (Alberta, not available in BC)
$30 US (California, up to $40 on the East Coast)

  • pale orange-gold color with caramel

  • fully intense bouquet starting with cedar and butterscotch/caramels, pure vanilla, exotic florals, hints almost of grilled pineapple

  • fully intense palate, mimicking well the nose; molasses notes certainly dominate the early and mid-palate... turns to more of the vanilla, caramel, toasted almond & exotic florals still there at the end

     A beautiful rum to think about life with, this will evolve on your palate depending on what you're doing... sit by a fire and the smoky/peaty notes will come forward. Smoke a Cohiba and the 12 years in oak (after being distilled 5 times) will be well showcased. Walk along English Bay and the seasalt spray will make you glad you've a flask full of warmth!

     Make time to smell the rum.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CUBAY 10 year rum, Cuba

A good rum is a beautiful thing to savor... different then wine, which can (at times) be consumed with great zeal and gusto, rum (especially of a certain age) demands to be taken seriously.

Aged rums will tantalize with their layered and nuanced bouquets, enticing with sharp pungent earthy fragrances and swirling in your glass with a mildly mystical etheralness.

Rum, is good.

The Cubans will tell you, as soon as your plane has landed, that now it's time to start taking your Vitamin "R"(um). Upset stomach? Vitamin "R". A little jet-lag? Vitamin "R". Too drunk?! VITAMIN "R"! You can see, easily, how much I love the Cuban people and their sensibilities. Imagine if "Sense & Sensibility" had been set in Cuba... that would have been a great movie! **grin**

But seriously, aged rums have as much capacity towards elegance, style and structure as any fine cognac, scotch or brandy I've ever tried. Should you ever have the chance, I invite you to compare on your own.

10 Year Ron Cubay, CUBA
$30 CUC (Cuban Tourist Currency),
Available in Great Britain (15 GBP), Spain (20 Euro), Chile
Not available in North America
  • pale amber color with orangish-gold hues in the center, very strong legs indicative of high alcohol, high sugars
  • Ron Cumay has a particular nose which is most often characterized by the licorice notes that dominate; followed by orange zest, cedar-like woodsy notes, honeyed apricot finish
  • big mouth feel without flabbiness, this rum (ron) sits well and allows one the luxury of wanting to swirl a little to savor the nuances; orange and licorice certainly hit the palate with a moderate++ to full intensity, leaving little room for the other layers to come in until after 10 seconds or so... wood notes, minimal sugary finish
     IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), this is a grown-ups rum. Don't drink this with cola (and if you must - try it with 2 parts rum to 1 part cola, or better yet 1 part ginger ale), drink this on it's own and at least taste the hard work someone has put into this... that being said, this would make a deadly "Dark & Stormy". I have enjoyed this many times with a cigar, from mild cigars to maduro, and have enjoyed its layers being pulled in different directions from the different cigars. It certainly has enough structure to handle a maduro, but not so much as to decimate a Macanudo or a Davidoff.

     I much prefer this rum with (1) singular ice-cube to tone down the hot alcohol & allow some of the finer aromas a chance to really present themselves. Be warned though - just as with a fine wine, too much ice will numb the aromas almost completely, and thus, the flavors as well.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Xavier, Cotes du Rhone (France)

As any Google search will tell you, Xavier Vignon ( ) is a consulting oenologist for several notable wineries in the Cotes du Rhone... what they don't tell you, is who those wineries are. I don't know who they are either (sorry I can't solve the puzzle like Rick Castle would).

What I can tell you is that Xavier is a man very intimately connected with the local industry, and in a rare position to know who is doing the best of what in any given year. He now uses this long accumulation of knowledge to create his own, reasonably priced, blends.

The Cotes du Rhone blend is a traditional Chateauneuf du Pape blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah & 20% Mouvedre. I think it's become such a stand-by and classic style of blend because those percentages (in general - any given year may change it) reflect a true sense of balance in the wine. This blend certainly achieves those goals.

2007 Xavier, Cotes du Rhone blend
$20 CAN (BC), 14.5%

  • deep bruised plum center colors with light cherry rim
  • full- intense nose primarily of black raspberries, black cherries, ripe plums, leathery oak (and a whiff of slightly hot alcohol)
  • moderate acids, moderate+ slightly gravelly tannins, moderately intense palate that mimics the nose well, but is slightly less developed and tapers off quickly. Think more green cherries rather then black.
  • moderate+ body, moderate+ structure
pair with: something with a bit of fat to it, to balance the acids. Steak with a compound butter? There's enough structure that it can handle lamb as well (once again playing off the acids)... I have it! Try a grilled veal cutlet (bone in) with a wild mushroom cream demi-glace... serve with creamed spinach, parsnip & apple puree & roast bell peppers.

This is a good wine for the money, and as those of you in the States can buy this for $15 instead of $20 - an even better buy. It certainly outperforms its very reasonable cost!


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Louis Jadot Pinot Noir, Bourgogne (Burgundy)

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good Pinot Noir.

But! That begs the question: "What makes a good Pinot Noir - good?"

     If we have learned anything ( learnt for my English colleagues) we have learnt that good Pinot Noir (*or any other varietal for that matter) expressed the terroir. Good wine talks to you about where it comes from and tells a little story about the way the chalky soil feels between your toes when you walk the vineyards in the mid-day sun. Good wine tells you how much someone labored, out of love, to show you the morning dew in May as it hangs a little too long on the spiderwebs and makes you believe in magic.Good wine transcends the limits of the grape and lets us feel another place (and sometimes another time).

2007 Louis Jadot Pinot Noir, Bourgogne (Burgundy)
12.5%, $22 CAN (BC)
  • moderate cherry centre fades to orangish brownish brickishness quickly
  • nose is moderate++ intense with notes of aged leather, venison & aged beef, deep baie rouges and black berries as well; think black raspberries with a hint of sugary thyme as the end. **NOTE** this wine was much improved from being open for 24 hours++ and I would suggest the same or at least a one hour decant before serving
  • moderate+ acids, moderate+ tannins, moderately intense flavors much in line with the nose; a noteable exception being a dominant flavor of red currants immediately and persistantly. This flavor dominates the palate, leaving little room for anything else except as an afterthought
  • moderate- to light body, decent structure

I would suggest (IMHO) that this is a Pinot Noir in the style that my colleagues would want to serve slightly chilled in the summer. This is not, to my taste at least, a Fall Pinot crying out for bourguignon or cote du boeuf.

If you enjoy a lighter style of Pinot Noir, then try this at a party where everyone is going to be inside and you know its going to be a touch too warm... chill the wine to about 14C (fridge for 15 minutes) and serve with country-style terrine and a simple loaf of bread (preferably something light - not pumpernickel). Don't serve French cornichons because the acids in this are already at the uppermost level they can be without unbalancing the structure - try some candied almonds instead and watch the crowd go wild for more!

That's the feeling I got from the particular wine anyhow; sitting at a little boulangerie in the summer, a little too hot to eat a proper meal and so having some chilled Pinot and a small plate of food.... watching the lazy afternoon and procrastinating my inevitable return to work. What does this wine say to you?


La Foret Pinot Noir, Bourgogne (Burgundy)

So all of you may know that the infamous Burghund or "Burghound" ( ) was in Vancouver, BC this weekend. Lucky me - I was invited to a private tasting and lecture that was held in his honor and with the infamous Allen Meadows presiding.

    The notes of that tasting will follow a bit later when I catch up, but for now I would like to talk about La Foret Pinot Noir from Burgundy in the aftermath of the encyclopedic knowledge I was allowed access to just yesterday. 
     Pinot Noir  is capable of greatness. Pinot Noir  is capable of depth and vivaciousness.

     The was once a man who said "The first duty of all wine is to be Red". Some would say "The first duty of all wine is to be Pinot Noir". I would say that what I took from the 2 hour lecture was that "The first duty of all wine is to express terroir". Express the place from whence the grapes come; tell me what it feels like when the sun comes up on the hills of the vineyard or when the breeze wraps itself in the cool of the evening. Tell me about the terroir.

2006 La Foret, Pinot Noir, Bourgogne (Burgundy)
12.5%, $22 CAN (BC)

  • visually moderate cherry color with slight ruby centre and slight orangish-brick rim

  • nose= moderate++ to full- intense leathery oaky notes, followed by the gamey-bloody meatiness, slightly hot alcohol with candied plum finish

  • moderate++ acids, moderate+ tannins, moderately intense palate the mimicks the nose but is muted by the overbearing acids & lacking in nuance

  • good body, slightly unbalanced structure
To me, this is a decent wine in-so-much as it actually has some character, which is not something I would normally associate with a $22 wine (from just about anywhere). But to me, this is also a flawed wine as the acids really do overpower the fruit & nuanced oak palate which could be excellent (for the price). I would serve this with the classic food of Burgundy; boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin. The acids would love a bit of beefy fattiness to balance them, but the unctuousness of the chicken would also pair well. Either way - serve this lean but well meaning wine with a bit of fat and enjoy an inexpensive introduction to Burgundy.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Style

My good friends at Marquis Wine Cellar ( ) have work diligently to bring the Burghund here to Vancouver for a series of tastings and seminars this coming month. In an effort not to be completely blank when people start talking about the great wines of Burgundy, I have opened a decent bottle of Pinot Noir, Bourgogne-style.

Bouchard Pere & Fils is an interesting wine story, as most stories that revolve around wine are. It turns out that the family can trace it's wine roots back  to the wine routes of the early 1700's and an ancestor who dealt with the trading of cloth, and subsequently wine. "Why wine?" you ask. "Why not!" I retort.

The photo (courtesy of the Burghund) tells the whole story. Really, who wouldn't want to be involved in this? But seriously there must be a good family story in there somewhere, and maybe one day I'll have the chance to learn it.

What I do know is that this dedicated family now has over 150 hectares of planted vineyard & is producing note-worthy wines (the notes are everywhere on the Net). One of the most predominant notes (for me) was the Burgundy report of 2009 ( ) which says that the main problem for Bouchard's 2007 vintage isn't the wine itself, but rather the export market! That is to say, French winemakers are finding the same challenge faced by our own winemakers here in the New World: A Depressed Economy.

Fortunately, Bouchard makes wines for every budget, and the Reserve Pinot Noir comes in at a modest $22 CAN in BC and around $15-$17 in the US... good value, very good value indeed, when I look at the sadly small number of New World wines of quality that are sold for a similar price.

2007 Reserve Pinot Noir
12.5%, $22 CAN (BC)
  • visually a light ruby color with slight brickish rim
  • after being opened and vacu-sealed for 2 days:: pronounced fully intense aromas of Burgundian terroir (leathery gamey meat) I swear to god I smell calves liver and venison - please don't judge me - it's really what I smell. Fruit in the background - black and red berries
  • moderate+ acids, moderate+ chalky tannins, moderately intense palate similar to the nose but milder... soft leathery oak, a presence of gamey meat with the red berries coming through with more vigor, especially red currants and a dash of blackberry

  • moderate- body, good structure (flavors last 10 seconds+) and a good to very good balance - I would agree with some sommeliers who say they like to serve this in the Summer, slightly chilled
  • Serves with terrine. My mind naturally goes to little French boulangeries and a fat wedge of terrine forrestierre (with wild mushrooms & thyme), some cornichons (little sour pickles) and baguette. Vive le France! Vive le Bourgogne!!

Cin-Cin! Slainte!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Luigi Bosca Reserva Syrah, Argentina

What is Rhone style wine? I tell you honestly, until only a week ago I really had no idea what it was.

     Today is a different story. Upon tasting the Gigondas, and comparing it to my recent excursions into Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, I am rapidly coming up to speed on the flavor profile of Rhone style reds.

     Imagine my utter surprise then upon opening a bottle of Argentinian Syrah and smelling leathery oak, bloody gamey meat, deep black & red baie rouges (especially red and black raspberry) and a lingering hint of garrigue (bay leaves & wild thyme). It is the first time I've ever had such depth from an Argentinian Syrah and all I can say is: "I want more."

2007 Reserva Syrah from Luigi Bosca, Argentina
14.5%, $25 approximately in Alberta - not available in BC **EXCELLENT VALUE**
  • deep plumy garnet center with marked brickish rim
  • moderate++ to fully intense nose; notes above
  • moderate+acids, moderate+(+) tannins, moderate+ intense flavors very in-line with the nose with the marked appearance of lilies and irises; a distinct floral hit on the palate
  • moderate body, moderate+ hot alcohol, very good structure and good balance
A great find, even if it was my father who found it and gave me a bottle (*grin*). If it was available in BC, it would be about $32-$35 and even at that price, still (IMHO) a great value. This to me immediately brings to mind the fines vintages of Gigondas (most likely as I was drinking it only yesterday)... rich and full of flavor and punch, perhaps it lacks a little in finesse, especially at the end of the palate - this wine is also only 3-4 years old and could easily age another 4-6 years I believe.

Drink with pasta bolognaise (as I'm doing right now to marvellous success), braised lamb shank or beef short ribs.

Cin-Cin! Slainte!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Domaine Brusset, Gigondas

Those who are "in the know" (Robert Parker for one, and Mike - my product consultant at the local BCLB Speciality Store for two) say that Domaine Brusset ( ) is the premier winery of the Gigondas.

     Who am I to argue?

     My wife (Mrs AStudentOfWine) and I were to have a somewhat celebratory dinner & those who know my wife know she loves, nay, adores the classic Chateauneuf du Pape blend of Grenache, Syrah & Mouvedre. Those who know me, know that I rarely can afford said classic blend (starting at $60 CAN in BC, but really costing $90+++ for a decent wine.

     And so I stopped by my local BCLB spec store & told my woes to Mike, who recommended the Domaine Brusset "Tradition Le Grand Montmirail". We drank it with a beouf bourguignon with crimini mushrooms & roast elephant garlic & loved every drop!

2007 Domaine Brusset, Gigondas,
Tradition Le Grand Montmirail
  • visual deep ruby centre with slightest brick rim
  • deep moderate++ intense nose starting off with lots of black and red fruit (baies rouges, etc); black & red raspberry, leathery oak (only new French oak is used for this blend & it shows), levels of bloody, gamey meatiness (in the best of all possible ways)
  • moderate+ acids, moderate++ tannins, moderate++ intense palate: the palate mimics the nose impeccably
  • moderate body, very good structure and balance, slightly hot alcohol
All in all a $60 wine for $30. Easy decision next time I need a g-s-m blend, right? However! It is said that these wines can age easily for another 10 years and given the acid/tannin/structure, I would agree. I would also say I can't wait to try this wine as a 7 year or 12 year cuvee.

Love Chateauneuf-du-Pape? You will adore this.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Silk Scarf Winery, Summerland, BC

My wife has the patience of Job (a biblical reference for the non-religious audience members)... at the end of last August (2009) we ended up pulling into Silk Scarf Winery in Summerland, BC.

     It wasn't much to look at, a small rancher-style home with a short gravel driveway. There was a sign leading us towards what looked like the patio of the home, but waiting on the other side of the patio glass doors was another world. A tastefully minimalist decorated sitting room with truly artisan wines - and I mean world class. The winemakers wife was pouring small samples for us, and everything we tried that day was well worthy of comment.

      And comment I did! "Oh the Pinot Noir!" I exclaimed!

     "Well why don't you buy a bottle?" Mrs Astudentofwine asked.

     "I couldn't," I said. "I just couldn't."

     You see, we had already bought over a case of wine, and it was only day 3 of our mini-vacation. I had to show restaint. I had to show that I wasn't going to be a slave to my senses... I persevered and stubbornly refused to buy the $22 bottle of Pinot Noir that I was yearning for. It was my wife who paid for that stubborness.

     For almost a year to the day - she listened to me endlessly as I extolled the many virtues of Silk Scarf and their mighty Pinot... "truly one of the great Pinots of BC!"I would say.

     My wife detests Pinot Noir.

     And so this year was more then a vacation for me: it was the fullfillment of a year's anticipation. And it was also a test for myself, in a very real and genuine sense...

     Last summer I was a neophyte; completely unschooled in Wine. This year I had the ISG Level 1 under my belt, tasting notes on over 500 wines; a new outlook... would I taste the Silk Scarf wines the same way?

2009 Viognier
13%, $22 **EXCELLENT VALUE**
  • fully intense bouquet; intense summer floral, ripe stonefruit & orchardfruit. I give this wine th ehighest compliment I can give any Viognier... it tastes and smells like it came from John Albans vineyards in California.
  • full acids, the moderately intense palate does not live up to the nose in intensity, but perfectly mimicks the qualities. Slight dusty finish and layers of the stonefruit; first peach, then honeyed apricot
  • brilliant wine. Brilliant value! This wines smells like a $60 wine and drinks like a $40(+) wine. Any way you look at this, it's great value for you (and me). Serve with terrine, cold smoked chicken sandwiches, smoked duck carpaccio (etc)
2009 Riesling Muscat

  • moderate+ intense nose filled with German style Riesling notes: plastic, petrol - slightly hot alcohol and then the  Muscat at the end with soft exotic floral and fruit

  • moderate+ acids, long dry chalky finish, moderate+ intense palate of cherries in all their gloray, honeyed apricot, Anjou pear finishes

  • Brilliant. I know I'm repeating myself -but wonderful wine. This is my ideal match for a slow roast of pork loin with roast apples & Calvados pan jus.
2009 Rose

  • moderate- intense nose of cherry blossoms, vanilla & orange zest

  • moderate+ (lemony) acids, long long citrus finish with a minor appearance from the cherry notes

  • I thought this would be a lovely pairing with dessert! Try it with a black forst cake and watch how the acids balance out the richness of the cake. Other ideas>? How about with a terrine of foie gras and once again, the acids will balance the decadent richness
2007 Merlot
(13 months french oak)

  • visually rich ruby, showing a slight brickish rim

  • nose is moderate intense; some hot alcohol off the top, followed by red berries fruit (baie rouges) especially red and black currants, slight dusty finish

  • moderate++ acids, moderate++ tannins, moderately intense palate with the flavors matching the nose impeccably

  • I would say to give this wine another year or so in bottle to allow the tannins to soften, allowing the fruit fuller expression. Then I would serve it with a simple beef carpaccio or preferably steak tartare.
2006 Pinot Noir
(not available any longer)

  • moderately intense nose of dusty chalky cherries in all their splendor

  • moderate acids, moderate tannins, moderate body with the palate mimicking the nose impeccably

  • lovely wine to sip on it's own - or serve it with a lightly seasoned roast beef
2007 Pinot Noir
$32 **Very Good Value**

  • brickish rim with moderate ruby centre

  • same nose but with just a hint of pepperiness (milder then a shiraz)

  • moderate++ to full- acids, moderate+ tannins, thinner body then usual - one hopes that another year in bottle may balance it out
2007 Shiraz Reserve
$60 **World Class Wine**
(18 months French oak)

  • here they are using marvellous technique and laying the wine with Viognier skins - dazzling what it does to the dimensions and levels of flavor

  • Fully intense unique bouquet: floral notes from the Viognier and garrigue from the Shiraz - layers upon layers

  • moderate+ acids, full+ acids, fully intense flavors that mimick the nose but include 85% dark chocolate, and dark berries like blackberries and perhaps mild saskatoons

  • If you have the money - BUY THIS WINE. Seriously. I could open this with any of my wine-geek friends and they would all drool.... serve with duck confit and a smoked onion & cherry compote on toasted brioche.
A world class winery in a sleepy town in Summerland, BC. There are very few restaurants carrying these wines right now - but they are all places I know and respect: John Bishop's, Blue Water Cafe, Cin Cin, etc... come and discover for yourself what a few of us lucky people have been hoarding to ourselves!