Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Xumek Reserve, San Juan, Argentina

There is a hot, dry wind blowing through the San Juan province of Argentina. It blows down from the arid mountains; blasting the poor soil and taming the vegetation into subjugation.

   It is the Zonda.

   Zonda is the name for both the wind that blows relentlessly from May through November and also the valley that it lives in. It is this place, the Zonda Valley, that some of the most exciting viticulture in Argentina is taking place today.

  Looking at San Juan province, it is located about 200 miles north of Mendoza province, which wine-lovers the world over have been falling in love with for the past decade or more. Mendoza is home to over 1100 wineries and is the largest wine production area in the country. San Juan is the second largest producer of wine not only in the country, but in all of South America... an area known recently more for it's oil and mineral exploration then for it's viticulture, San Juan is now a hotbed for winemaking activity .

   And in that valley named Zonda, in the southern part of San Juan resting against the mighty Andes mountains, in the very upper reaches lies the relatively new winery known as Santa Sylvia. It was started by the Ezkanazi family who, in Argentina, are better known once again for mineral exploration then they are for winemaking... at least that used to be the case.

   When Eziquiel Ezkanazi decided to build a winery, he used all of his families' experience in mineral exploration, banking, engineering.... what he did he did well and he only hired the best people. Among those persons-of-interest is none other then Mr Paul Hobbs~! Paul Hobbs was the wunderkinder who crafted Catena wines into one of the absolute crown jewels of the Argentinian wine industry, starting with them in the late 1980's when Malbec  was a foreign word.

   Now Paul has found himself on the edge of a new frontier; the outer edges of San Juan and a winery that boasts almost 500 acres of vines and almost the same in olives (I'm told the olive oil is extraordinary). Where Paul and Eziquiel can take us with this new adventure I can only guess. My educated guess however, is that this wine will quickly become a fixture in our Malbec oriented firmament.

2006 Xumek Malbec-Syrah
    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
running mid-$30 range in BC, speciality wine stores only

100% estate grown, manually harvested
vines planted in 1995
  • visual:  clear; ultra deep (full+ intense) garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense developing bouquet of red and black cherries, blackberries, blueberries, black floral notes like irises, dark cocoa background, light Asian peppercorn finish
  • palate: clean, dry, moderate+ (currant/cassis) acids, moderate+ (smooth, silty) tannins, moderate+ to fully intense and developing flavors that mimick well the nose; emphasis on cinnamon/peppery finish (what I call Asian pepper) and deep earthy undercurrant. Extremely well balanced, excellent structure and long length
  • conclusion:   showing much better then I would ever guess from 11-year vines.. drink now and enjoy this wine is peaking and will last another 18 months to possibly 3 years. Will NOT improve with further aging
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   all Argentians love barbeque; it's a fact. Well anyone would love a barbeque if it was paired with this wine~! Consider applewood smoked boneless beef rib on fried onion buns with celeriac remoulade and Xumek poached plum tomato

   Worthy of note? Not only did Wine Access magazine (http://www.wineaccess.ca/) vote the Xumek Malbec as the "Champion Malbec of 2011", but the Argentinian Sommelier Association has voted the Xumek Syrah as one of the top 50 wines of the country~! As for the LittlestStudentofWine, she was was so moved by the wine she started yoga a little early.

As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Heartland wines by Ben Glaetzer

Have you ever gotten together with your friends and done something exciting? Driven to Las Vegas, kayaked to SaltSpring Island, gone windsurfing in Mexico, started a winery...
   Started a winery?!
   Well that's Ben Glaetzer's idea of fun and he managed to wrangle together a posse of like-minded vinophiles such as Geoff Hardy, Grant Tillbrook and Scott Collett. These men are all leaders in their industry in Australia and their names inspire confidence.

   Geoff Hardy is a fifth generation winemaker in South Australia and his children are even now being groomed to take a more pivotal role in his operations. Grant Tillbrook is a number-crunching wizard whose list of consulting jobs in Australian wineries is staggering... wine-making may be an art-form, but without the right numbers to support it, wineries are incredibly expensive propositions. That leaves Scott Collett whose family has been working with wine in the McLaren Vale for 50 years and show no signs of stopping.
   An inspired group of individuals, but I've often heard it said that "too many chefs spoil the soup". In this instance, nothing could be further from the truth, and it must be due in part to it's captain: Ben Glaetzer.
    Ben literally grew up in the wine industry; Ben's uncle John Glaetzer was the second employee at Wolf Blass Winery (see my article on Wolf Blass at http://astudentofwine.blogspot.com/2011/09/wolf-blass-gold-series-shiraz-viognier.html). Ben's father Colin is a renown winemaker who won the prestigious Winemaker of the Year award in Australia. Even Ben's two brothers are winemakers. One could say that genetics came into play when Ben's received the Quantas award for young winemaker of the year in 2004 and was called a "brilliant winemaker" by Robert Parker Jr.
   So what does the award-winning winemaker do? He gathers a team of like-minded individuals and creates the Heartland brand of wines from South Australia (http://www.heartlandwines.com.au/) which still focus on quality, but with value being a high priority and not afraid to take a few risks in the vineyard.
   Great pricing, great quality, and all from one of the most innovative winemakers in Australia today! What else do you want? Well I for one want to be able to drink the wine right away - as opposed to Ben's ultra-premium Amon-Ra which deserves ample cellaring. Done. All of these wines drink superbly right away and right from the bottle - I didn't even need to decant.
   So what's the magical key to making wines like this: is it only due to the efforts of the massively gifted confederates? Much as some might like to say "yes", the truth is that terroir plays into the equation just as much (if not more) then anything else.
vineyards in Langhorne
   Heartland wines are grown on two distinct properties; in the Langhorne Creek and on the Limestone Coast. The Langhorne Creek is about 70km, or an hour's drive, south-east of Adelaide in South Australia... it's a beautiful place that has been producing wine longer then almost anywhere in this country. Settlers came here in the early 1800's and by the 1850's a wine industry was already bustling. The area is known for the cooling effects that the local lake Alexandrina has on climate, and has been recognized as a "cool-climate" viticulture region.

a stickleback tree on the Limestone Coast
   The Limestone Coast is almost 300km south-east from Adelaide and shares more in common with it's famous neighbour to the east: Coonawarra. The Limestone Coast soil has a high amount of oxidized iron in it's soil, creating what is known a terra rosa or red-soil. The region is also known as having very dry (even by Australian standards) summers which leads to stress on the vines... this stress is good stress, not like when your boss tells you that he's fired someone else in your department and left all of their work for you. This stress leads to reduced yields from the vines which means that there will be a greater concentration of flavors.
   So Ben, Geoff, Grant and Scott decide that they want to use their powers of oenology for good in the world and create unique, well-crafted wines for a reasonable price. How to accomplish this? They source out regions which don't have aren't as well-known yet so they can afford to sell the yields for modest fees. The results speak for themselves.
2009 Heartland Stickleback Red
 $18   *** Very Good Value ***

Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon 45%, Shiraz 38%, Dolcetto 9%, Lagrein 8%
Region:    Langhorne Creek 67%, Limestone Coast 33%
Vinification: fermented on skins for 5 days before pressing.
                      Malolactic fermentation in 2 and 3 year old oak barrels
Maturation: 12 months in 2 to 3 year old; French and American oak
  • visual:   clear; fully intense plum/garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense developing aromas of red and black currant, red and black raspberry, blueberries, slightly spicy earthy terroir
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (red raspberry) acids, moderate+ (soft chalky) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ alcohol (14.5% ABV), moderate+ intense youthful flavors that mimick well all the red and under ripe berry notes.... the Shiraz makes its presence known with the spicy finish and the Langrein helps with the fresh acids. Very good balance, and structure, medium+ to long length
  • conclusion:   drinks well now but can cellar easily for until 2014. Will not develop appreciably
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   crisp red wines need a bit of fat; pair this wine with a Grilled ribeye steak with kosher seasalt and smoked paprika rub

2009 Heartland Shiraz
$25   **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
Varietal: 100% Shiraz
Region: Langhorne Creek 95%, Limestone Coast 5%
Soil: Langhorne Creek: Sandy Loam, Limestone Coast: Grey marl over deep limestone
Age of vines: 16-18 years
Vinification: crushed, then pumped over twice a day. Ten days skin contact. Extended maceration
Maturation:  14 months in new to 4 year old; 70% French, 30% American oak hogshead barrels
  • visual:   clear; moderate+ bruised plum/garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense and developing aromas of red berries, spicy black licorice (no, really, that's what it smells like to me), dark espresso and chocolate notes
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (raspberry/currant) acids, moderate (soft, silky) tannins, moderate+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking well the nose with emphasis on red currant, red raspberry with the spicy finish known for Shiraz. Very good balance, excellent structure with long length
  • conclusion:   drinking well now, this wine will certainly reward cellaring for the next several years. Drink 2014-2018
  • FOOD PAIRINGS: a natural for lamb with it's lively acids, consider braised lamb shank with prosciutto-tomato and fresh sage reduction over parnsip and Yukon Gold potato mash

2009 Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon
$25    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
Varietal:  100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: Langhorne Creek 73%, Limestone Coast 27%
Soil: Langhorne Creek: Sandy Loam, Limestone Coast: Grey marl over deep limestone
Age of vines: 12-15 years
Vinification: crushed into 10 tonne open fermenters, and left on skins to cold macerate for three days prior to yeast inoculation. The wine was pressed to oak for malolactic fermentation, then racked and returned to oak
Maturation:   12 months 2 to 4 year old; 80% French 20% American oak
  • visual:   clear; fully intense garnet core with cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense developing aromas of blackberry, warm winter spice, light tobacco and cigar box, light eucalyptus or menthol notes
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (red raspberry) acids, moderate+ to fully intense (soft, chalky) tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ alcohol (14.5% ABV), moderate+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose once again with emphasis on the red berry notes and a lingering earthy background... the terra rosa shows through. Excellent balance and structure, long length
  • conclusion:   drinking well now, this wine also benefits from cellaring. Drink 2014 to 2018
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   rich red wine with a bit of zippy acids? Consider a Butter poached beef tenderloin with slightly spicy roast garlic compound butter

Heartland wineries on the map

   And so I'm left at the end of a truly wonderful tasting asking the exact same question I did at the beginning. Which is mightier in winemaking: the winemaker or the terroir? Obviously the answer is more complicated then just black or white.. it's neither one nor the other. The truest joy in winemaking comes for the consumer when winemaker and terroir are working in unison as evidenced by the above.

   My joy these days is measured by the LittlestStudentOfWine, who gave her smiles of approval when she smelled each and every one of these wines. My smiles were not far behind...

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Chateau de Montfaucon, Cotes du Rhone

I've spoken alot in recent months about building something new; being "brave" as it were and pushing out on one's own to create a future.

   What then would be my adjective for someone who is re-building their family history and creating a new family legacy?

   This is the story with Rudolphe de Pins, current owner and winemaker at Chateau de Montfaucon (http://www.chateaumontfaucon.com/) in the Cotes-de-Rhone, southern France. A graduate of UC Davis in California, and then a part of the winemaking team at the prestigious Henschke vineyard in Barossa and Vieux Telegraphe in Châteauneuf du Pape, Rudolphe had a mountain of work when he took over Montfaucon in 1995. Luckily for him, a recent ancestor (Baron Louis) was the one who had begun the massive undertaking in the 1800's; renovating the facade of the massive keep and developing the vineyards.

   It fell to Rudolphe, however, to develop the vines to the point where no longer did the family feel they needed to sell their grapes of Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise to other wineries. Rudolphe was determined, and had the training behind him to make his dreams reality. In 1995 Chateau de Montfaucon released it's first vintage in over a century and it was under Rudolphe's leadership.

   Now the original 18 HA of vineyard have grown to over 45, with some vines over 90 years of age. Montfaucon is careful to keep low yields to ensure quality flavor concentration, and the variety of soils and over 15 varietals grown ensure great depth of flavor and layering. If there is one thing that really sets Montfaucon apart from many other wineries however, it is their technique of co-fermentation.

   Co-incidentally, I read today about a winemaker in BC who applies the same techniques and has developed a cult following for the depth of flavor and layering in his wines. Sounds familiar~! Many winemakers when blending different varietals will ferment each one separately and then blend post-fermentation, even after aging. Rudolphe disagrees with this practice:

Rudolphe in the 15th century cellar

 "In order to enhance the balance of the wine, we co-ferment up to five varieties in the same tank. This increases the exchange and integration of different grapes during the important fermentation time. By controlling temperature and time on skins, typically 8 to 14 days, I am looking to extract only soft and silky tannins."

Montfaucon on the map
   What does all of this mean for the wine-drinker: for you the consumer? Rich flavors with approachable tannins and all for a reasonable price. These vineyards are literally across the river from Chateauneuf-du-Pape where the same blend triples in cost, and Rudolphe has the pedigree to charge those kind of prices. But he doesn't.

   He's building something these days. He's building brand recognition. He's building a loyal following of consumers throughout the world. He's building, in other words, a future for his family.

2008 Cotes-du-Rhone, Chateau de Montfaucon
 blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvedre and Counoise
$22  CAD    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

vine age:   average 40 years with some to 90 years
soil type: varied with mainly calcareous pebbelstone on silty sandy soil, soil with clay and sandy soil
fermentation: co-fermentation typically 8 to 14 days
maturation:   18 months in concrete and French oak
  • visual:   clear; dark plum core with slight cherry rim (faintest tint of brick)
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense developing aromas of blackberry, red and black raspberry, rich earthy background, lifted dark florals from the Mourvedre, bruised plums
  • palate:    clean; dry, moderate (very well balanced raspberry/cranberry) acids, moderate+ (well integrated and velvety) tannins, moderate+ alcohol (13.5%), moderate body, moderate+ intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with emphasis on rich berry notes and warm earthy background. Excellent balance and structure with long length
  • conclusion:   whilst drinking well now, this wine can age gracefully for several years yet will not develop appreciably
  • FOOD PAIRING:   rich Cotes-de-Rhone pairs well with duck and game meats; always has and always will. This wine is no exception. Consider bergamot smoked duck breast over chorizo fried "dirty" rice with sweet pea-spinach emulsion and candied cranberries

   This wine is a wonderful way to become acquainted with Cotes-de-Rhone flavors and aromas. Indeed, if it were up to me this would be required tasting for all aspiring wine stewards. It's not a terribly complicated wine but, in fact, that works in favor of the new wine-drinker. What a deliciously easy-drinking way to be introduced to this regions flavors. This is a typical blend made with a-typical care and attention to detail for the price. Are you more experienced with the region and the flavors? Then enjoy something that is Chateauneuf-du-pape quality and uses the same varietals but for one-third the price~!

   This is the entry level wine for Rudolphe de Pins and Chateau de Montfaucon. The world of wine should be taking notice.

As always I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Three Saints Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, California

I'm at that point in my life where hard-work and dedication are goals everyday: every time I read about someone who dared to break off on their own and build something that was theirs I am reminded that the only thing standing between myself and my success is me.

   I'm in awe of people who seem to instinctually know this and live their lives accordingly; they dream of something and they make it happen. Kudos to people like you. You are inspirational.
Three Saints, Santa Ynez

   Jim Dierberg is one of those inspirational people. Jim was born in a small town in Missouri and after college went to work at the local bank. The local bank went out of control and turned into a chain of 150 units across several states and Jim's salary increased accordingly, and so Jim did what every kid in Missouri dreams of (joking); he opened a winery.

   Not content with just the Hermannhof winery, which became one of the best known wineries in the state... Jim and his wife Mary began scouring California for their new home and adventure. They ended up in the Santa Barbara AVA and why they chose to settle there I can well understand. Santa Barbara is comfortable; rolling hills meet the ocean and un-ending beaches... there's great farmland, cattle raising (*especially lamb), fishing. In fact, one of the only things I don't like about Santa Barbara is that there is a county-wide $2000 fine for smoking on the beach. Fairly draconian measures in my mind - but then again - I smoke cigars, don't I?

   So Jim and Mary found Santa Barbara County appellation in the inland corner known as Santa Ynez Valley and there they started the Three Saints Vineyard (www.ThreeSaintsVineyard.com ). Many winemakers will argue that the area along the coastline is more prestigious,  as it gets a heavy amount of fog and is eminently suitable to the growing of Pinot Noir. Santa Ynez however retains it's heat, and when Jim and Mary wanted to work with Southern Rhone varietals - they know they had the right spot.

   The wineries' website gives the fullest explanation of their individual terroirs and I fear I wouldn't do them justice by plagiarizing and so I'll say: visit the website. It's a brief read full of useful information. One thing I don't think they give enough attention to is the vast amount of work that is done by hand in the vineyards. There are a staggering number of wineries in California who automate their viticulture work in order to reduce costs and (theoretically) increase quality... in some instances I've seen quality increase. Some.

2007 Three Saints Syrah
$20    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

time on skins:   20 days
aging:      15 months in neutral oak; 2 months on-the-lees
fining/filtration:   light fining/ light filtration
production:   650 cases
  • visual:   clear; dark inky-purple core with slight cherry rim (light bricking)
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and developing aromas of bright red cherry, red raspberry, light cassis, blackberry and huge blueberry notes, savory baked earth
  • palate:   clean; moderate (red currant) acids, moderate+ (chalky, silty) tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ alcohol (14.2% ABV), moderate+ intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with nuances of leather, red meat, hints of dark coffee. Very good balance and structure, long length
  • conclusion:   drink now to 2014, will not develop further in bottle
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   all of the berry notes and the bright, vibrant acidity make me want to pair this with duck~! Consider a Chinese 5-spice crispy skin duck breast on wild rice latkes with steamed Swiss chard...

 2007 Three Saints "Steakhouse Red"
 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Malbec, 18% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc
$23     **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
  • visual:   clear; moderate+ to fully intense garnet core with substantial cherry/brick rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate intense and developing aromas of baked earth, casis, red and black raspberry, worn leather, light savory herbs, a little spice on the finish (a good Bordeaux blend)
  • palate:   clean; moderately intense red currant/cassis acids, moderate+ (chalky/silty) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ alcohol (14.7% ABV), moderately intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with the richness of the berries and the earth showcasing. Very good to excellent balance, excellent structure and long length.
  • conclusion:   drinking very well now and until 2014/15. Will not improve with further aging.
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:  I wouldn't expect this with a $23 Bordeaux blend, but this has the balanced acids and finesse in it's structure to pair with beef tenderloin. Consider  butter poached venison tenderloin "al rossini" with shaved black truffle on foie gras, potato rosti and apple puree
the view at Santa Ynez

   A great showing of reasonably priced wines. I look forward to sampling more of their products in the near future~!

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Merlot

So I heard a story recently about an award-winning winemaker from South Africa who used to be a chartered accountant...

I waited patiently for the punchline.

There isn't one. It's a true story and Gyles Webb from Thelema Mountain Vineyards (www.Thelema.co.za) really used to be an accountant, but more then that he was (and is) a man with a passion: excellence in wine.
Thelema vineyards (arial view)

   Gyles and his wife Barbara had dreamt of finding themselves the right spot in Stellenbosch to make the wine they knew they could make. It was a long search, but an abandoned fruit farm of approximately 157 ha became their new home. The farm had been long abandoned, and though grapes had once been grown there - there were none when the Webbs moved onto the property.

   The amount of work that went into developing the land from fruit orchard to working winery was staggering and the Webbs aren't done yet~! In 2000 Thelema bought a 45 ha apple orchard in the Elgin Valley and began to convert it to cool-climate varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
Thelema vineyards (tasting room)

   But it was the 2006 Merlot that really caught my attention; deep, dark and delicious it's a uniquely rich version of the grape. Merlot of course is capable of many faces; from a soft and fruit-driven single varietal to a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon to a fully tannic and an intense dark berry and chocolate flavor profile. This showing from Thelema would certainly fall under the latter category and is brilliantly executed.

2006 Thelema Mountain Vineyards Merlot
$36    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

altitude:    approximately 500 m
soil:          Hutton: high proportion of decomposed granite
vines:        planted 1988
maturation:   20 months oak (40% new)
  • visual:   clear; fully intense bruised plum core with slightest cherry/brick rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense and developed aromas of blackberry, black cassis, black raspberry, light savory herbs and eucalyptus notes
  • palate: clean, dry, moderately intense (red and black currant) acids, moderate+ (soft, smooth, silty) tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ alcohol (14.5%), moderate+ intense and developed flavors similar to the nose with a distinct peppery finish. Very good to excellent balance and structure with long length
  • conclusion:  I agree with the winemaker's notes that this wine is peaking now and should be enjoyed over the next 24 months. Will not improve with further aging.
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   a soft and smooth red wine with rich tannin structure screams red meat to me... I was thinking butter poached beef tenderloin with wild thyme roast BC mushrooms and crispy parnip chips but hey, that's just my style :)


 I like hearing stories that end on a positive note; an accountant and his wife have a burning passion for wine. They search for their place in the world and work their a$$es off to make the land work and work with the land. Many of you know that I have a new light in my life; Clare Elizabeth (the LittlestStudentofWine). I understand the value of hard work and have a new-found comprehension  for how and why people are willing to dedicate themselves to building something bigger then themselves.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wolf Blass gold series Shiraz-Viognier

I remember first seeing the name "Wolf Blass" on an Australian wine and thinking "That's a silly name for a winery." I had no idea that there really was a man named Wolf.

   Well there really is a Wolf, and he's been making wine for longer then I've been alive... a long story made short; Wolf Blass was born in what was Eastern Germany in the 1930's and became the youngest person to ever earn the Kellermeister Diploma, or Master's degree in Eonology. He was just past twenty years of age.

   Some might think that he had been born with the grapevine in hand... not so. In fact, Wolfgang fell into the wine industry quite by accident~! Wolf ran away from school as a teenager and was given an ultimatum by his parents: return to school or apprentice under a winemaker. Well, school wasn't really Wolf's thing you see - so there wasn't much of a choice for him, and the world of wine has changed as a result of that ultimatum.

   Wolf Blass winery (http://www.wolfblass.com.au/) was one of the first wineries in Australia to start commercial production of Shiraz-Viognier. Shiraz, or Syrah as you may know it, has been grown to great success in South Australia for decades but what of Viognier?

   Viognier is a relative newcomer to the Australian wine-scene and the blend of the two is really more then just a blend. Viognier is a white grape varietal that in it's youth has an abundance of floral aromas, and depending on where it's grown - will give rich fruit and floral palate with crisp acids. Aging the wine is a risk though as the floral notes tend to die quite quickly (sometimes under 5 years).

   And then there is the blend which is more-then-a-blend; it's a co-fermentation. Anywhere from 2% to 8% of the grapes used in total production will be Viognier and it is this varietal which ends up preserving the blend's lively colors as well as fundamentally altering the flavor compounds and phenolics.

   It was a risk when it was first conceived, and even today there are winemakers and sommeliers alike who will contest it's merits. To me, there are obvious joys to the co-fermentation and downfalls: a joy would be the lightness that Viognier brings and "tones-down" the South Australia Shiraz' natural inclination to big, bold, jammy characteristics. There are more floral notes of course, and to my palate a richer, more developed fruit profile. On the downside however, there is that tendency for the palate to diminish more quickly than normal... a well made Shiraz can easily last 10 years or more, but I find many Shiraz-Viognier will have lost their flavors in approximately 5.

2005 Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz-Viognier
Adelaide Hills, South Australia
$38   *** Very Good Value ***

varietals:   95% Shiraz, 5% Viognier
maturation:   15 months in oak (18% new oak) with a small amount unoaked to retain freshness
  • visual:   clear; fully intense bruised plum core with slightest brick rim
  • nose:   clean; medium intensity and developed aromas of lifted dark florals (irises, lilies), dark berries (blackberries, black raspberry), light cigar tobacco, savory winter spices (allspice, clove, pepper), background of baked earth
  • palate:   clean, dry, medium+ (red currant) acids, medium- (soft, velvety), tannins, medium body, medium- ABV (surprising considering it's 15%), medium intense and developed flavors mimicking the nose with particular emphasis on crisp red berries (red currant, red raspberry)... light florals mix well with restrained oaking and light spice notes. Very good balance, excellent structure and long length
  • conclusion:   this wine has peaked, and if you still have a bottle - drink it now~! Enjoy 2009-2012
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   crisp, vibrant acids in a red wine with light floral notes and moderate tannins? I can certainly understand people who want to pair it with venison~! consider a Maple glazed venison flank steak (medium-rare) with pure Kentucky bourbon demi-glace, steamed spaghetti squash and wild mushroom ravioli... just a thought :)

  To be honest, this was the first Wolf Blass wine that I've tried in years (and years). I can still remember the 1990's when they absolutely dominated the Canadian wine market and were simply the wine to drink. There was a reason for that: they were great wines for the price. I stopped to show myself that I'd grown beyond the "old favorites"... well maybe I've grown up enough to come back to those old favorites. After all, they became our favorites for a reason:


As always I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saint Cosme, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

"Terroir" is a term, originally French, in winemaking that has come to mean all of the environmental impacts on the making of a wine; the land, the wind, the rain... even the winemaker is considered by many to be part of the terroir.

   So my apologies, firstly, for not writing for the past few weeks. Many of you know that my wife and I have a new addition to the family: TheLittlestStudentOfWine. Absolute truth; she smells every wine I taste at home and has her own list of wrinkly noses to explain how much (or how little) she likes a wine. For instance the Hainle (http://www.hainle.com/) icewine Riesling or the Summerhill (http://www.summerhill.bc.ca/) late harvest Erenfelser gets a big smile each and every time. Overly cropped Shiraz? Usually a big wrinkly face.

   But I digress.

  Today I was reading the latest Decanter Magazine (http://www.decanter.com/) and lo-and-behold, most of the articles on California were about a movement in winemaking back to the concept of terroir... winemakers who are not afraid anymore to allow the land and the grape to express themselves. This may sound like common-sense, but sadly is not the case.

   Many winemakers feel compelled by critics and points to make a wine "that-the-people-will-like", instead of a wine that they themselves will be proud of. There is chemical control, the addition of compounds, and many other "tricks" to manipulate a wine into being something other then what it wants to be. Think of it as plastic surgery for wine.

   But there is that movement that Decanter is talking about, and the movement is growing.

   And where did this concept come from again? France.

   Arguably some of the most devote students to the concept to terroir are Louis and Cherry Barruol of Saint Cosme winery in Gigondas (http://www.saintcosme.com/). Louis is the inheritor of 14 generations of dedication to allowing the southern Rhone terroir express itself through his wines. In fact, his family home has an archaeological site with the oldest wine fermentation tank in southern France, dated at 2000 years old. Serious winemaking on this land~!

   And serious about quality. Louis refutes the use of artificial yeasts during fermentation and is as sparse as can be with SO2 during production/bottling. I personally have seen poor results with winemakers who abhorred SO2 and then ended up with prematurely oxidized wines, but I am a new believer after tasting this vintage from Saint Cosme.

2007 Saint Cosme Chateauneuf-du-Pape
$65   **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

vines:   average age approximately 60 years
climate:   cool and late-ripening
  • visual:   clear; medium+ bruised plum core with slight cherry/brick rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense; youthful and developing aromas; red and black cherries with definite candied notes, rich, savory winter spice background with lifted floral notes and hints of white pepper
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (young cherry/red currant) acids, moderate+ (fine, silty) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ to fully intense and youthful flavors that mimick the nose; heavy emphasis on the young berry notes throughout. Excellent balance and structure with a long finish
  • conclusion:   already starting to show exceptional promise, this wine will blossom into a superstar given a few more years; enjoy 2015-2028+
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   with the exciting acids and rich complexion, this wine would sing if paired with foie gras and beef... consider an oven roast tenderloin of beef with seared foie gras on Alsatian potato and leek croquette
Louis Barruol in his cellar

   In Louis' own words:

               "At Saint Cosme we usually work “à la main”. I want to make wines which express their terroir with purity and personality"

   And he succeeds. A winery that has very little following outside of France (so far) is becoming known to industry insiders as one of the value wineries in the Southern Rhone. Do they have expensive wines... of course. Are they worth the money? You better believe it.


As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!      SLAINTE~!!!      CHEERS~!!!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Cabernet Franc

Many of you know the immense respect I have for organic farmers (of all varieties). Organic farming is a real and genuine commitment to the land (and the consumers) to treat it with respect and approach it with some level of understanding.

   How much more then, can I say for bio-dynamic viticulture? Or wineries who adopt zero-carbon emission standards, or make efforts to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint? The obvious answer is that I have the utmost respect for any business person who makes the effort, who takes the time to address our immediate and growing concern of limited resources on this planet and too few people grabbing at what there is.

   I had thought that our government in British Columbia was forward thinking enough to share these sentiments.

   Perhaps I was wrong.

Ezra Cipes, general manager
   Summerhill Pyramid winery (www.summerhill.bc.ca) is a true destination-location in the south Okanagan Valley DVA. Stephen Cipes first came to this region in 1986 and felt that he had found the place to call home for himself and his family. 35 years later, the family has bound itself to the land and says categorically that they are lucky to be able to do so. Ezra Cipes, Stephen's son says:

   "At Summerhill we have so much to celebrate. The quality of wine, food, and service that we are known for, and the good conscience we share knowing the care that goes into our products, truly brings us together as a family. I spend a lot of my life at work, and the love and friendship I share with the team at Summerhill helps me feel whole and like my life is well lived."

   So knowing these sentiments from the Cipes family, knowing that they have worked diligently on their organic certification for all of the farms who provide the winery with it's grapes and also work towards bio-dynamic certification... knowing all of this and knowing the vast array of awards that have been earned by these craftsmen I was well and truly stunned to learn this month (August 2011) that the winery will be losing it's VQA status on one of their wines.

   Why? What terrible thing could Summerhill have done?

   They created a 3-Litre box for their wine.

   Oh the (mock) horror of it all~! It's clearly stated in the province's Agricultural Food Choice and Quality Act, only bottled wine can be VQA. Never mind that Summerhill is using the exact same wine that goes into their bottles, or that there is a 76% reduction in the carbon footprinting vs bottles and corks for that same volume.

Stephen Cipes, owner
   Just never mind.


   Well actually I do mind. And so should you.

   When business-people make the time and take the effort to be environmentally responsible, without encouragement from the government, we the people should be cheering them on~! The government should make a point of recognizing forward-thinking rather then castigating it.

   But I imagine that Stephen Cipes and his family will continue to do what they do, and do it in their responsible and conscientious manner. They will continue to be the most-visited winery in Canada, and will continue to take their wines around the world garnering recognition from winemakers and sommeliers where-ever they go. They will continue to do business as they see fit, though without the support of the body that has the most reason to be supportive: when a single BC winery is this pro-active and produces this level of quality, it is the entire BC wine industry that gains standing in the global arena.

2007 Summerhill Pyramid winery small lot Cabernet Franc
Okanagan Valley DVA, British Columbia
$28.95 @ the winery

92+ points

93 points - Best of Class, Gold Medal - Los Angeles International Wine and Spirit Awards 2011
450 cases produced
  • visual:   clear with trace sediment; medium+ to fully intense bruised plum core with slight cherry and slightly brick rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense developing bouquet of red and black raspberries, red and black currants, old worn leather, slight savory herbs such as thyme, traces of drying summer flowers and pink peppercorn
  • palate:   clean; medium+ (lively red currant) acids, medium+ (slightly chalky and well integrated) tannin, medium body, medium ABV, medium+ to fully intense and developing flavors mimicking the nose with emphasis on the red berry flavors opening the palate; dark berries are still developing; excellent balance and structure with long length
  • conclusion: an excellent display of Okanagan terroir and the Cabernet-Franc varietal; drinking well now this wine will cellar for years and develop slightly in bottle over the next 24 months. Enjoy 2011-2016+
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   the acids on this are very, very well balanced and as such have no need of excess fats. Consider a butter glazed beef tenderloin with grilled leeks and sweet-pea risotto

   The plantings of Cabernet Franc come from Knollvine farms in the Okanagan Falls region. Summerhill was instrumental in many vineyards achieving their organic certification and after this beautiful showing, I look forward to sampling more of the honest work behind Canada's most-visited winery.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Moon Curser, Border Vines "Bordeaux Blend", BC

Bordeaux blends; a wine by any other name would smell as sweet? Well call the wine a Bordeaux blend, a "Meritage", "Mirage", "Occulus" or "Border Vines"... we're all talking about the same thing (more or less).

   Bordeaux (France) is a winemaking region with a long history of craftsmanship going back to the 2nd century and the Romans. Today the region is perhaps best known for it's blended wines (which comprise more then 80% of all it's production). The red wines, which I'm focusing on today, are divided into two broad categories (which sommeliers will divide further): Right Bank and Left Bank.
   Right Bank blends are generally more supple, drink younger, and can be enjoyed on their own or with food. These blends are always driven by a large portion of Merlot which will be 70% of the blend or more, with a smattering of Cabernet Franc and perhaps a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon.
   Left Bank blends are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon driven blends, also with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but also Petit Verdot and Malbec. These are the "Bordeaux Blends" that are most common in British Columbia, especially the Okanagan Valley DVA. An almost obscure varietal;  Carménère has been virtually fazed out of the vineyards of Bordeaux and has taken root (forgive the pun) in the Central Valley of Chile to great success.

   And then along comes a Moon Curser. A what? A winery from the Okanagan Valley (www.MoonCurser.com ) which started as Twisted Tree in 2005 and went through a true  renaissance in 2010; it was reborn. The winery's parents Beata and Chris Tolley, who emigrated to our fair valley from the other side of the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, hired Vancouver designer and brand-specialist extraordinaire Bernie Hadley-Beauregard who's pedigree is as impressive as his multi-syllable name (just joking - some of the finest BC wineries to open or re-open in recent years including Blasted Church Vineyards, Dirty Laundry Winery, 8th Generation Winery and more have hired his expertise).

   And what does Moon Curser have that warrants all this conversation?
the view from Moon Curser

   A true Bordeaux blend, the Border Vines:  Cabernet Sauvignon (29%), Carmenere (23%), Malbec (23%), Merlot (20%), Cabernet Franc (4%) and Petit Verdot (1%). The wine is grown in five Osoyoos East Bench vineyards, all within tractor-driving distance from one another.

   We here in BC have many wineries producing Bordeaux blends, yet this is the only one including the rare Carménère . And why would this be? Carménère simply requires a longer summer season for ripening then most wineries have, with the exception of those at the southern end of the province at the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert: Moon Curser (with a few other notable exceptions).

2009 Border Vines bordeaux blend
$25 at the winery
$27 http://tagliquorstores.com/fox-reach/   **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
  • visual:   clear; fully intense royal purple or slightly inky core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense and developing aromas of red raspberry and currant, light cranberry notes, pink peppercorn spice, light star anise and black currants
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (well integrated red currant) acids, moderate+ (soft and supple) tannins, moderate body, moderate ABV, moderate+ intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with emphasis on the berry flavors throughout, soft finish of savory herbs with a slightly spicy finish. Excellent balance and structure, medium+ to long length on the palate
  • conclusion:   this wine drinks very well now, and very well for the price~! Enjoy 2011-2014/15 but will not develop appreciably in bottle
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:  great Bordeaux style wine calls for great beef (in my opinion). Serve this with a great grilled ribeye steak with kosher seasalt and extra-virgin olive oil, steamed swiss chard and new potatoes... not the most original food pairing ever, but sometimes we just need to get back to the classics
Moon Curser workers at night

   If you haven't tried these wines before (in either incarnation) you will quickly be listing this as one of your classics... a "go-to" wine that easily expresses BC quality and BC terroir. Well done Moon Curser, and my thanks to John Schreiner (www.johnschreiner.blogspot.com) for his inspired and ever-diligent research.

As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Rosemount Estate Balmoral Syrah

In the 1860's a young man from Germany came to the unknown; he came to Australia. Landing in the new seaport of Sydney (which had functioned as a port for the Aboriginal people for 30,000 years) Carl Brecht was determined to set his own future, and followed a little known road to the outer edges of the Hunter Valley. There, at the junction of the Wybong Creek and the Goulburn River he planted his vineyard and settled the savage land.

    Fast-forward 100 years and another entrepreneur comes along in the Australian world of wine. In 1968, a visionary by the name of Bob Oatley purchased the long-standing vineyard of Rosemount Estate (www.RosemountEstate.com.au). Rosemount had enjoyed a lengthy position as one of the fine wine producers of Australia, but Bob wanted to take it further: he wanted to be the best. A worthy dream, but necessitating a rather huge amount of work, n'est-pas? Bob was up to the task of fulfilling his vision.

   In 1975 Rosemount released their first wines; a 1974 Hunter Valley Semillion and Hermitage. They garnered a total 69 awards throughout Australia. Enough to qualify as being the best? In 1982 they took their 1980 Chardonnay and became the first Australians to ever with double-gold at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. Enough yet to feel like the best? In 1999, Rosemount became the first non-American winery to ever win winery of the year at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition.

   One would think that perhaps Bob would rest on his laurels.

   One would be wrong.

   In 2004 the 2002 Diamond Merlot wins the Merlot Trophy at the International Wine and Spirit Competition; one of the most highly recognized trophies for a varietal.

   Bob Oatley has taken one property in 1966 and turned it into several properties ranging the width and breadth of the winemaking spectrum in both South Australia and New South Wales. One of the jewels in this crown would be the Balmoral Syrah produced in the McLaren Vale. Anyone who wants information on the discovery and formation of this part of South Australia, approximately 45 minutes drive north of Adelaide should read some of my earlier articles ( http://astudentofwine.blogspot.com/2011/02/penfolds-koonunga-hill-shiraz-cabernet.html ).

   The winery in the McLaren in situated on three distinct areas that yield fruit of sufficient quality - the sandy loam soils near Blewitt Springs; the darker soils in McLaren Flat itself; and the red soils with underlying limestone found in the Seaview area (my thanks to www.TheWineDoctor.com ). The vines are generally between 50 and 100 years old, although sources say that there are still some patches over 100. By comparison, most vines in British Columbia are between 10 and 20 years old... the older the vines - the less they produce, but, the more concentrated the flavors. Most wineries will tear out vines before they reach 100 years old as they simply don't produce enough juice to be fiscal responsible. Bravo to the Bob Oatleys and (chief winemaker) Matt Kochs of the world~!

2002 Rosemount Estate "Balmoral" Syrah
$75 CAD  ***** BUY THIS IF YOU CAN *****
14.5% ABV

vineyard:    50 to 100 year old vines (small percentage over 100 years)
maturation:   24 months, American oak
  • visual:   clear; fully intense violet-crimson core with slightest brick rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense and developed bouquet of drying red berries (red and black cherries, red and black raspberries, blackberries), rich white and slightly floral pink peppercorn, soft background of drying summer flowers, light savory herbaceousness, finish reminiscent of decadently rich dark cocoa
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (lively and brilliantly integrated red raspberry) acids, moderate (velvet soft and slightly chalky) tannins, moderate body, moderate alcohol, moderate+ intense and developed flavors that mimick the nose perfectly; the red berries burst on the palate with dark cocoa and peppercorn dominating the mid-palate and a ridiculously long finish of the American oak light vanilla notes and soft florals. EXCELLENT balance, structure and long long long length
  • conclusion:   if you have cellared this properly, it is still drinking stupendously and will continue to do so for several years; enjoy this special wine present to 2015/17
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   I may be a heathen for this, but the depth of this wine's expression of terroir and varietal made me think to South Australian cuisine and culture, and I came up with braised lamb shank on caramelized shallot yam pave with olive oil fried arugula... the reasons for this are long and varied, but based upon drawing similarities from the food to the wine and vice-versa

   As this was my first foray into Rosemount wines, I was duly impressed. I have nothing else to say other then that I can't wait  to try more from the whole winemaking team.

As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!