Sunday, January 30, 2011

Riesling, Crowsnest Vineyards, BC

Winemaking is rarely a solitary affair. Indeed, it is the rare exception when a winemaker claims sole credit (or responsibility) for the creation of a wine. Winemaking, in it's essence, is about family.

     This is certainly true in the winemaking at Crowsnest Vineyards (also known as Barcello Canyon) in the Similkameen Valley (designated viticulture area), British Columbia. This vineyard was planted in 1995, in an area long known for it's quality fruit and vegetables since the 1920's. The Heinecke family bought said vineyard 3 years later in 1998 and have been growing it ever since.

     Originally from Germany, the Heinecke family certainly bring a strong German style to their winemaking with such cuvee as the Stahltank Chardonnay (Steeltank) which is a brilliant wine. The winery also boasts a year-round restaurant, little inn (auberge for the French audience) and even a bakery that has gluten-free products available!

     Ann Heinecke is the winemaker, trained at the Weinsberg Weins Schule and emigrated with her family to Canada in 1994. Ann's philosophy towards her wine, in her own words, is "To showcase the immense fruit and acidity balance that this valley has to offer... using only Similkameen valley fruit is out priority."

2007 Crowsnest family reserve Riesling
BC VQA, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada
14% ABV, $20 CAD     **Decent Value**
  • visual:     clean; pale lemony gold core with slightest watery rim
  • nose:     clean; moderately intense youthful aromas of lemon zest and lemon grass, pale meadow flowers, gravelly terroir, butter notes
  • palate:     clean, off-dry, moderate+ (lemon and crabapple) acids, moderate+ to full body, moderate+ intense and youthful flavors of lemon grass, apricots, crabapples, light vanilla, gravelly terroir and minerality strong backbone, sweet-sour lemon and floral finish. Very good balance, good structure, moderate length.
  • conclusion:   This wine is drinking well now, and unfortunately, I don't believe it will develop at all or last more then a few more years. Please understand that I find this to be a competent wine in all respects, however for $20, in a global market, this is only decent value. I have, and will continue to, drunk this as it is something unique in it's flavor and aromas. For that reason alone, it is more then worth purchasing at least once. I compare this to a slightly sweet Kabinett Riesling, or an Auslese Riesling.
  • PAIRINGS:   This could certainly pair with mild white fishes, light cream sauces, etc... but when I started thinking a little German, it all made sense! Braised cabbage, speck or German bacon, some bratwurst and spicy mustard - this wine would sing!

the Heinecke family in their dining room
So some interesting things coming from the Similkameen Valley these days, and I for one couldn't be any happier. Two years ago, it seemed that no one really knew what or where it was, or believed that any decent wines were coming from there.


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

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Vinha do Alqueve, Vinho Regional Ribatejano, Portugal

Well, I've always said that I'm just a "student-of-wine" and so then it is to be expected that I have a great many questions.

Pinhal da Torre, Portugal
     Today I am studying the wines of Portugal, and not the fortified type. Not that I don't love a great fortified wine (as many know I do), but because there is so much more to the wine-story of Portugal now and I want to learn!

     Touriga Nacional must be the first grape I learned about from Portugal: a grape that people have compared to Cabernet Sauvignon in that it has depth, tannin and structure, but usually needs something else to sort of "fill-out" the flavor profile. I've seen it married with Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and many others (Portuguese varietals of course). Here is where the question comes in...

     The wine in question today is the Vinha do Alqueve from Pinhal da Torre in the region of Ribetejano, Portugal ( ). This winery does all sorts of things to maximise quality; they hand-pick their grapes, pick their grapes early in the morning before the heat has a chance to diminish the quality of the picked fruit, etc. Why then, do you imagine, they would leave the stems on the grapes whilst in primary fermentation? To increase tannins I would naturally answer, but then, why do that for a grape that is already high in tannins? Unless that's just because that is how they enjoy that wine in that region. Could be.

     In any case, I was at my local BCLDB (BC Liquor Store) and inquired about Portuguese wines and this was what I got steered onto.

2006 Vinha do Alqueve, Pinhal da Torre
Ribatejano, Portugal
13% ABV, $10.99    **EXCELLENT VALUE**
varietalsTrincadeira, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Franca

  • visual:     clean; deep garnet core with slight cherry rim
  • nose:     clean; moderate+ intense and developed aromas; leathery oak, deep bruised plums, slightly jammy blackberries, mineral terroir, white pepper spice, cherry blossoms throughout
  • palate:     clean; dry, moderate++ (red currant) acids, moderate+ (soft, slightly grippy) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ ABV, moderately intense and developed flavors mimicking the nose; French oak comes out first, followed by red currants, red and black raspberries, slightly jammy blackberries, backbone of meatiness. Moderate body, moderate+ to fully developed structure, full length on the palate (for the price)
  • conclusion:   This wine completely over-delivers. For $11 in BC I get a wine and I just hope its balanced - nothing else. This wine has length, balance, structure, nuances... if I was charged $20 I would still say that it was a Very Good Value. However, drink now - this wine doesn't have long left in it.
  • PAIRINGS:   Strong acids mean it can be paired with some fattier foods like cheese, richer sausages, pate... strong tannins mean fuller flavored cuts of meat. I would pair this with cured meats and cheese, fresh bread. The alcohol is in check so feel free to use a bit of spice as well, and the spice will enhance many notes in the wine

     Great wines being produced on the other side of the world for $11... simply marvellous! It makes me more then a little curious to taste their $40 wines. Colleagues tell me that the value-for-money never changes, and that Portugal is really out-doing itself these days... reshaping how we view their wine making skills.

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

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vina Albali, Gran Reserva, Valdepenas DO, Spain

First of all, many thanks to Tom Cannavan ( ) for his detailed research on Vina Albali and its owner, Felix Solis ( ).

     This would not be the first time I've written about a winery owner wanted to pursue the finest quality possible in the vineyard. It may in fact be the first time I've written about someone trying to do that with a production of 180 million litres of wine per vintage... not to be dull, but I know wineries that produce 2000 cases a year and worry about quality control, and Vina Albali can produce 120,000 bottles per hour (about 10,000 cases). Quality control? One of the most important parts of being a winemaker.

     Of course, one can easily make the argument that everything is an important part of being a winemaker; it's much like someone once said "many things are half the battle... losing is half the battle! We're interested in what is all the battle."

     And what is the battle in Valdepenas? High on the plain of La Macha (from which comes the name for the mighty wind that blows from there), moisture is low and rot and coloure are flights of the imagination from other places. Even the lack of moisture hardly seems to be a problem as people have been growing grapes here for centuries without end, and only about 30% of the winecrop is grown with the use of irrigation.

     So what then could be the challenge? Extreme continental climate would be the answer: cold as a witch's teat in the winter and up to 40C in the summer (100F+ I believe). Extremes like this are tough on any living thing, and the grapevine is no exception. Temperanillo is grown here, but in a clone known locally as Cencibel. It is this clones hardiness that makes it possible to grow grapes; grapes that will survive an average of 2 days of rainfall in July when sunlight hits 12 hours per day but also endure January with 1C average low, 6 days of rain (only) and 5 hours of sunshine per day.

     But the vineyards of Felix Solis are growing more then just Temperanillo (no matter what clonal name one gives). There is Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah, even Gewurztraminer and many many more. Felix Solis is dedicated to researching just what really is possible on this high plateau. As I said earlier, I've met many winemakers who talk about the pursuit of excellence, but never before one who was willing to do the work on so large a scale.

     Bravo Felix Solis.

2002 Vina Albali, Gran Reserva, Valdepenas DO, Spain
13% ABV, $23 CAD   **Excellent Value**
Temperanillo (Cencibel) based blend
ViƱa Albali Gran Reserva 2002

- Challenge International du Vin 2010. Bronze Medal.
- The best Spanish Wines in Asia 2009. Silver medal
- USA Wine Enthusiast- October 2009- 83 points. “Suitable for everyday consumption. Often Good value”
- International Wine Challenge 2009. Bronze medal.
- International Wine and Spirit Competitions 2009. Silver Medal (Best in Class).
- Premium select wine “Challenge Wein in Prowein 2009”. Silver Medal.
- AWC VIENNA 2009. Silver medal.

  • visual:     clean with slight sediment; deep garnet core with obvious cherry rim
  • nose:     clean; fully intense developed aromas; red and black berries (currants, raspberries prevail), caramel-vanilla of American oak, baked earth (sometimes noticed as terracotta), modest wild flowers, distinct spicy edge
  • palate:   clean, dry, moderate+ to fully intense (raspberry) acids, moderate+ (soft, chalky) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ to fully intense developed flavors of baked earth, dark berries, vanilla - American oaking, some savory herbs and once again a spiciness of pink peppercorns and mild peppers. Very well balanced, fully developed structure (for the price) and full length on the palate.
  • conclusions:   drink this now, as this wine has peaked. It will last a few years longer, but will shortly start to lose all the things that make it a wonder for the price
  • PAIRINGS:   big rich flavors! Anything your heart could desire really; from grilled beef to a classic bourguignon or Stroganoff... even a Calabrese styled stewed tuna or Portuguese stewed octopus (in tomato) would be lovely... wild red meat will play well off the mixed berry notes and fatty food will balance the acids

     Quality is possible on any level, if people are willing to do the work. I have seen chefs mess up a soup for 2 people, and have seen flawless execution of a 7-course meal for 1100. Do they require different skill-sets? Of course, but the one thing they share in common is that in both instances there must be a complete and total adherence to flawless quality. Because really, what would be the point if one didn't?

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

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Glorioso Crianza, Rioja DOCa, Spain

How does one begin to speak of Rioja, Spain? Does one begin at the beginning, with wine production conservatively estimated at 2000 years old? Does one begin with the first recorded wine production in the 8th century? Or the earliest recognition that these wines were unique in 1102? Where does one begin?

     In 1894, the Bodegas Palacio was built in Rioja Alavesa, Spain. It was the hub for a newly formed winery that surrounded it on 170 acres; a winery that was formed around the concept that all wines needed to express their own "signature" or personality. It is a concept embraced by quality craftsmen the world over.

Bodegas Palacio (today)

     Now, the winery is no longer owned by the original family, but seems to be guided by the original dedication to quality over quantity. Rioja has gone through much change in the relatively short period of recent time.... since the 1980's, the entire world of wine has changed and Rioja has changed right alongside it. Outdated fermentation and maturation methods have been discarded, or rather - invigorated with new technology.

     Of course, one hopes that the new technology will never blind people to age-old techniques that have worked for centuries and always will work in the right hands.One hopes, that the vision of Don Cosme Palacio y Bermejillo (the founder of the Glorioso line in 1928) will continue to hold firm: to allow wines to express their signature or personality.

2006 Glorioso Crianza, Rioja DOCa, Spain
13% ABV, $17 CAD **Very Good Value**
100% Temeranillo grape
12 months in French oak
  • visual:     clean; dark garnet core with light cherry rim
  • nose:     clean; moderate+ intense aromas showing development; dark and red berries especially black cherry, blackberry, old leather, baked earth, slight jammy roasted strawberry, light florals
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+to full- (cranberry) acids, moderate (slightly chewy) tannins, moderate- ABV, moderate- to light body, moderate- intense developed flavors of baked earth, leathery French oak, baked or dried black berries, slightly peppery finish. Strong balance, moderate+ structure and moderate in length
  • conclusion:   For $18 it's hard to do better in the BC market... well balanced acids and relatively soft tannins - it can certainly be enjoyed on its own. Some rich flavors and aromas mean it can be paired with food as well. Drink now though as it has peaked
  • PAIRINGS:   Strong enough acids and light enough flavors mean this is a beautiful wine for duck! Duck carpaccio, duck roulade stuffed with arugula, duck confit on fresh bread... instead of duck? Pasta with chevre and Parma ham (and fresh peas)
     Good wine is everywhere, if one knows where to look. Thank you for letting me look for you, and hopefully find a few deals out there. This isn't the best wine I've ever had, or even the best under $20, but I am impressed with it.... because as the Burghound would say "It is the duty of all wine to express terroir". This wine, I believe, accomplishes that and is a nice way to become acquainted with Rioja.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Nero D'Avola, the black juice of Sicily

Literally, Nero D'Avola means "the black of (the town of) Avola". We are supposed to infer that one is speaking of the black juice, or wine, although it could be equally possible to be talking about the color Sicilians turn in the summer. That's not meant as a racist remark, but more of a slightly jealous observation on my extended family.

     I come from an Irish family, and can get a sunburn sitting in my living-room. My wife on the other hand, can get a suntan taking out the garbage. Am I jealous? Ok - perhaps a little.

     Sicily is the little island (little by Canadian  standards) just to the west of Calabria in southern Italy. Indeed, it is almost impossible to be any further south and still be in Italy.

     The Sicilians do consider themselves a different breed of Italian; dramatically different dialect, different cuisine... one gets the idea. And so, no less different do they consider their wine! The most well recognized of these is arguably the Nero D'Avola.

      Nero D'Avola was once a fantastically alcohol-driven wine, rivaling the mighty Zinfandel of California. Yes, back in the 1980's and earlier, one would see Nero with ABV of 17% or even 18%, the same as a light Porto or Madiera. These days, I am hard-pressed to find any stock in BC that has a higher ABV then 14.5%, which is strong, but no stronger then many Cab-Sauvs, Syrahs, and many other wines.

     Originally, as Nero D'Avola was native to Sicily, it was the primary varietal used. Now in the global marketplace that is the wine industry, Cabernet Sauvignon has become an important part of many Nero blends. There are other grapes as well that are grown in Sicily, but Cab-Sauv seems to be the most popular. I wanted to try 100% Nero to try and get a sense of the terroir.

2008 Cusumano Nero D'Avola, Sicilia, Italy
14.5% ABV, $20 CAD  **Decent Value**
100% Nero D'Avola grapes
  • visual:     clean; fully intense black-purple core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:     clean; moderate- intense youthful aromas of blackberries, dark florals, cherries, cassis jam
  • palate:     clean; dry, moderate (raspberry/red currant) acids, moderate+ slightly chewy tannins, full bodied, full ABV, moderate+ intense youthful flavors mimicking the nose with lots of red and black berries, slight jamminess, strong oak presence, end notes of baked earth. Well balanced, moderate structure and moderate length (the wine gets mono dimensional quickly)
  • conclusion:   Even as this was my first Nero, I quickly concluded that it was either a marginal example of what the grape can be, or I just wasn't going to like Nero. After speaking with some colleagues, I'm going with the former. It's a decent wine if you want to sit and have an unassuming glass of wine... there is some action in the glass, but not so much that it would distract anyone from conversation
  • PAIRINGS:     Tough to pair this, because there isn't alot there. Use cuts of beef that are low in fat and subtle in flavor such a tenderloin. Also consider a bolognese with a touch of ground lamb in it!

       And so, after this somewhat lacklustre performance, I was encouraged to re-visit the BCLDB (BC Liquor Store) and seek a greater vintage... something that really spoke about Nero D'Avola and Sicilia.

2008 Sedara Nero D'Avola, Sicilia, Italy
by DonnaFugata
13% ABV, $22 CAD **Decent Value**

Winemakers Notes
With the new vintage Sedara continues its evolution from mono-varietal to a wine expressing and synthesizing the territory. To Nero d'Avola ( a grape that still prevails in the blend,with a bit more than 50%) are added some of international grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah) grown on the winery's Estates .Additions that give the wine pleasant complexity and intensity.Refinement for 9 months in cement vats
  • visual:     clean; deep garnet core with light cherry rim
  • nose:     clean; moderate+ intense youthful aromas of red berries (cherries, raspberries, red currants), saskatoons, garrigue savory herbs, slight peppery spiciness, hot alcohol finish
  • palate:    clean; dry, moderate+to full (red currant) acids, moderate+ to full (chewy and a bit gritty) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ ABV, moderately intense youthful flavors of red berries, wood notes, tart pomegranate finish. Moderately well balance, moderate structure, short to moderate finish
  • conclusion:    Although it is an interesting wine, it isn't an especially well-crafted wine. It has more layers (and thus perhaps shows more of Sicily) then the Cusumano, but the layers themselves are perhaps not as well made. Drink now, will not improve with age.
  • PAIRINGS:   Drink this with big flavors! Wild meat would work especially well... braised venision osso bucco (which in Northern Canada is poor man's food)

Favanghina, Sicily

     So I learned a little about Sicilian Nero D'Avola today. It is capable of being a soft and well rounded wine, easy drinking and respectable - or it's more then capable of coming across like a red-head (fiery and tempestuous). I look forward to learning more, though I spend more time now that I'm almost 40 in quiet contemplation and much less time with red-heads!

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

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Falanghina, ancient white wine from Campania, Italy

Some of you may know that Mrs Astudentofwine is of Italian descent. Her father was the first to be born here in Canada, of Calabrese parents, and so she was raised  surrounded by Italian speaking aunts, uncles and grandparents. Very cool for me then to be learning about wines from just up the coast from where her family lived for generations.

     Campania is actually a Latin word, and literally means "the Countryside". There may in fact be somewhat of a stigma against winemaking (not without justification) from "the Countryside" but - just as with most regions of the world - here as well great strides in quality are being made. And what better place to start then this magnificent anicent grape Falanghina, native to Campania, and capable of rich aromatic white wines that pair as well with seafood as they do with a crisp pizza topped with buffalo mozzarella? Both pairings, by-the-way, are in fact regional. Did you know that the pizza (as we know it now) was first made in Napoli, capital city of Campania?

     Well anyways, Falanghina has 15 pseudonyms (which I will not bore you with) which makes it a horror for any student to try to learn about. It also has a plethora of rich possibilities in the bottle, which makes it an absolute pleasure to drink. Did I mention that it's also reasonably priced?

2009 Falanghina, by Terredora
Campania, Italy (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)
13% ABV, $20   **EXCELLENT VALUE **
2008: Decanter Awards 2009 – silver
         The International Wine Challenge 2009 - bronze
2007: Decanter Awards 2008 – bronze
         The International Wine Challenge 2008 – bronze
         Vinitaly 2008, Concorso Enologico Internazionale – commended
2006: Decanter World Wine Awards 2007 – bronze
         The International Wine Challenge 2007 – commended

  • visual:     clean; moderately intense golden lemon core paling to watery rim
  • nose:     clean; moderately intense young and vibrant aromas of minerality, wild grasses, mild exotic fruit such as pineapple, almondy lees
  • palate:    clean; 0 dryness, moderate+ Amalfi lemony acids, moderate- body, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ intense youthful and somewhat layered flavors comparable to the nose; Amalfi lemons, wild flowers, strong minerality throughout the palate, lemon finish with a hint of peppery arugula. Very good balance, good structure and moderate+ finish
  • conclusion:   A wonderfully crafted "table" wine that is drinking superbly now (through 2012)
  • PAIRINGS:   Seafood (as they do in Campania). Scallops in a buerre blanc are a natural, as would be butter poached lobster, fresh pan seared trout.... just about anything that is white from the ocean will love this. Herbs would be dill, tarragon, basil (but be sparing and try Thai basil). I personally would stay away from spice as it may throw the wine out of balance
     If anything, this small taste of Campania and the Amalfi Coast has made me more eager then before to take some time to visit Italy. Until then, I'll just have to try different varietals from the region, and from Terredora wines.

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

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Folonari, Valpolicella D.O.C.

the Dolomites

One could easily be confused if one thought this view was the view from somewhere in BC; Whistler perhaps? Pemberton? In fact it is from the northern part of Italy in the area known as Veneto. We here in North America are most familiar with Venetos most famous city: Venice.

     Well I'm not going to talk about Venice, but I am going to talk about something soft, lush, and faintly romanticfrom that same region: the Valpolicella D.O.C.

     Well Valpolicella is capable of greatness... just ask anyone who has ever has a beautifully aged Amarone. But just because it is capable, that doesn's mean that it always achieves.

      Unfortunately for wine-lovers (in some respects), there are few regulations in Valpolicella that do anything to minimize the yields in the vineyard. Quite the opposite, the lands to the North and West of Venice are composed of incredibly fertile volcanic soil and this is the regions cash-cow. Thus, regulations in the area in fact do their utmost to maximize yields from the vineyards. While this does indeed achieve the short-term goal of creating income and taxes, it does little in the long term to set this beautiful land apart from other parts of the world working towards the same goal.

     One would think, in the light of the emergence of the South American wine market, that winemakers in Europe would be working their utmost towards trying to make a wine that spoke more about its terroir rather then less. Why make a wine that could (almost) be from anywhere? What's the incentive for the purchaser? But I digress...

     Folonari vineyards has been in operation under the Folonari family since 1825. The guiding principle (according to the website) seems to be one of "making wine approachable; both in price and in drinkability". Well - it certainly seems as though they have succeeded.

2008 Folonari Valpolicella D.O.C.
Veneto, Italy
65% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 10% Molinara
12.5% ABV, $19 CAD    **Decent Value**
  • visual:   clean; deep ruby core paling to cherry rim
  • nose:     clean; moderately intense youthful and monotone aromas of bright red berries such as cherry, strawberry, some rhubarb and red candy
  • palate:   clean, 0 dryness, moderate+ to full crabapple acids, moderate slightly green and grippy tannins, moderate body, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ intense youthful, fresh, vibrant flavors mimicking the nose; cherry, raspberry, red candy. Fairly well balanced, average quality structure, average finish
  • conclusion:   If you buy this - drink it now because aging won't do a thing to improve it. Want to improve it? Serve it with food.
  • PAIRS WITH:   Cheap table wine pairs with cheap table food... home-made burgers, pizza, pasta bolognese... perhaps it would be more fair to say that simple table wines pair best with simple table food
     So not a wine to learn anything really about Veneto, but a decent example of Veneto styled table wine. Inexpensive - it will pair with almost any food you're serving - just pair it with something... the acids really do start to punch out of the bottle after awhile.

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

Chateau La Gorce, Medoc, Bordeaux, France

Once upon a time, the Medoc in France was divided into the Bas-Medoc and the Haut-Medoc, meaning the Lower Medoc and the Upper Medoc. Well, one can easily see why wine-makers in the Bas-Medoc might perceive it as a mild insult to say that their wines come from a Lower place. And so, now we don't say Bas-Medoc, we just say the region is Medoc.

     Amazing that people who make wines with such deliberate structure and integrity could be off-set by such a simple thing.

     Regardless, the Medoc region is still considered as the "little-brother" to the Haut-Medoc region. This can easily be explained by the difference in soils betwixt regions: Haut-Medoc has a higher proportion of gravel, which as we all know drains better. Medoc has a higher proportion of clay. Clay is better for growing Merlot and gravel is better for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, and hence we find wines made in the Haut-Medoc which are capable of greater aging potential.

     Now this doesn't mean in and of itself that the wines from the Medoc are inferior. Not in and of itself. That being said, the Haut-Medoc has the highest number of Premier Cru wineries in all of Bordeaux. Medoc is known as the place to buy wines that are, by their very nature, a bit more supple in the body and definitely more approachable in their youth.

     Chateau La Gorce is situated in the Medoc, in the Blaignan commune which is almost dead centre in the region. The winery was first established in 1821 and has gone through much in its relatively short life (relatively short for Europe). It had money poured into in during its early life by the Gorce family, who built a beautiful monastery. By the 1930's however, the Medoc red had fallen out of favor and was a hard-sell. This after the ravages of the mildew outbreak of 1915 and just before the devastation that was World War II.

     In 1980 Rauol Fabre and his family came to the winery to revive it, and revive it they did... injecting it with their enthusiasm, vigor, and dedication to quality. Chateau La Gorce earned the title of Cru Bourgeois in 1932, and with the hard work of the Fabre family, are earning that title with each successive years release.

2004 Cru Bourgeois, Chateau La Gorce
Blaignan, Medoc, Bordeaux, France
13.5% ABV, $15 (375ml) CAD  **EXCELLENT VALUE**
  • visual:     clean, trace amounts of stem, deep garnet core with slight cherry rim
  • nose:     clean, fully intense showing some age and development with baie rouges such as cherry, raspberry, some deeper notes of blackberry, some rich blueberry, vanilla, oak, old leather, purple flowers like irises
  • palate:   clean, 0 dryness, moderate tart raspberry acids, moderate slightly grippy tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ intense flavors still showing a hint of youth, but mostly developed; cherry, cherry blossoms, raspberry, blackberry, slight oak and leather, slight vanilla, end palate rich in wild blackberries and dark floral notes. Very good balance, very good structure and excellent length
  • conclusion:    Drink this wine now and drink it often. An inexpensive way to learn about the Medoc, this wine reflects terroir and skilled winemaking. Drink 2011-2013, after that I would worry about the fresh red berry flavors dulling
  • PAIRS WITH:   I read someone in France say they drank this with a carpaccio of duck... beautiful. Finish that with some roasted shallot crostini and a salsa of balsamic marinated strawberries. Prepare to be amazed!
     One last note: the winemakers do not fine or filter their wine. In a nod to great winemakers everywhere, the Fabre family choose to decant their wines; first in stainless steel tanks, and then in used oak barriques for 12 to 18 months. I remember a winemaker who said "Filter the wine and one filters the flavor". Bravo.

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

ISG Level 2, Tuscany, Froscobaldi vs Dievole

I've been writing for almost one year, and still I haven't really explained what ISG school is like.

     Well, level 1 was much harder then I expected it to be. Some of you may remember that I had the great honor of studying under DJ Kearney ( ). Well that was an honor and a challenge! She knew we were a small class of motivated sommeliers-to-be and so she pushed and prodded us to find greater depths within (the glass). We succeeded, and I have her to thank.

     Most people walk out of Level 1 and walk straight into Level 2. I did not. I took 6 months to study, sip, take notes, and drink some more... I am extremely glad that I did. Every class (one per week) is a lecture of 3.5 hours that could easily become 8 hours or longer. In my next class we will talk about Piedmonte, Veneto, Tuscany & all of Southern Italy.
      Are you serious?

     Oh yes... they're serious. All of that in 3 hour with 6 blind tastings at the end. And so, one is forced to study about a couple of hours a day to keep up, and stay ahead, of the lectures. I have been miserable at staying ahead, but am working my utmost. Hence the Tuscan wine tonight and a glimpse into what ISG is like; it most assuredly is alot of work, but if one has the motivation, it is also an incredible opportunity to open one's eyes to the wide world of wine.

     If one talks about Tuscany, one talks about the wine region of Chianti... please forgive me as I try my best to explain tonight's studying. Chianti was not always Chianti... it was the Grand Duke of Tuscany (Cosimo III de Medici) who created one of the first wine regions in the world in 1716. Though the wines then were praised for their easy-drinking and rich flavors, less then 100 years ago Chianti was known for insipid red wines that "showed aggressive acidity".

     It was the owners of Sassicaia vineyard ( ) who turned everything upside-down. From an area outside of the DOC or DOCG, they started producing a wine in the 1960s that showed greatness was still in the soil of Tuscany. They were the forefathers of the "Super Tuscan". A resurgence to the area followed, and now we are the ones to reap the rewards as we tipple into our glasses for yet some more fruity goodness.

2008 Remole, Tuscano
12.5% ABV, $18 CAD **Very Good Value**
central Tuscany, 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon blend
soil type: sand and clay
  • visual:     clean; light garnet core with slight pale cherry rim
  • nose:      clean; moderate+ intense youthful and somewhat layered aromas of cherry blossoms, raspberry, red currants, funky barnyard oak, vanilla, slightly hot alcohol
  • palate:     clean; 0 dryness, moderate+ crisp acids, moderate slightly grippy tannins, moderate body, moderately intense fresh and youthful flavors; cherry blossoms, raspberries, red currants dominate with a solid oak backbone and a light floral finish. Good balance, good structure, medium length of finish.
  • conclusion:   an easy drinking wine to drink now (2011 to 2013). Decant for one hour for best results - I found it tight to start and needed time to relax.
  • PAIRS WITH:   charcuterie. Don't let the French name fool you - it's all Italian (as well); plates loaded with sausages, hunks of cheese, fresh bread and fruit compotes or mustard. Bon Appetito!

2006 Nipozzano Riserva, Chianti Rufina DOCG
13.5% ABV, $28 CAD **Very Good Value**
Soil type: Dry and stony, with clay, limestone
90% Sangiovese with complementary grapes (Malvasia nera, Colorino, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • visual:     clean; moderately intense garnet core with light cherry rim
  • nose:     clean; moderately intense youthful bouquet showing some age and layering; ripe cherries, raspberry, red currant, blackberry, spicy edges of white pepper, funky barnyard oak, vanilla florals, slightly hot alcohol
  • palate:      clean, 0 dryness, moderate+ red currant acids, moderate+ green grippy tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ intense flavors showing some age and development; red currant and raspberry dominate followed closely by solid oak presence, limestone terroir, end palate of blackberry lightly touched by vanilla and florals. Good balance, very good structure, long length on the palate
  • conclusion:   This wine is just coming into its own. Drink 2011 to 2015 and possibly further... I would love to see the crisp red berries turn to dark berries and tar notes
  • PAIRS WITH:   crisp acids call for fats. I would use a wine like this with foie gras (au torchon), truffle and fresh bread. The acids in the wine will play off the fat in the foie gras, the earthy truffle will play up notes in the wine's terroir and barrique aging and the bread is just good.

2004 Dievole Chianti Classico DOCG
13.5% ABV, N/A in Canada, $25 USD **Very Good Value**
Soil: marl, alberese, and calcareous
  • visual:     clean; deep ruby core with defined cherry rim
  • nose:    clean; moderate+ intense aromas showing age and development; rich coffee, plums, cherry, raspberry, vanilla, tar
  • palate:   clean, 0 dryness, moderate red currant acids, moderate+ to full chewy tannins, moderate body, moderate+ intense palate showing age and development; bright cherry, raspberry and especially red currant initially, followed by vanilla oak, bruised irises, cherry blossoms at the end. Good balance, wonderful structure and a long finish.
  • conclusion:   Drink now. This wine is coming to the end of a beautiful life; drink 2011-2012. Fresh fruit flavors are already dying out and will not last another 2 years (I imagine)
  • PAIRS WITH:   Sundried tomato and smoked chicken farfalle with browned butter sauce and fresh peas. Yum.

     If 4 hours of research has taught me anything, it is that Tuscany (and Chianti of course) is capable of a great many things... this is why some call it the Bordeaux of Italy! Crisp vibrant and acidic wines to drink young in the heat and some more mature blends worthy of cellaring for 10 years or more. How do you know which is which? Unless you have alot of time to Google, you'll just have to try a few!

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

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sauternes, Chateau de Veyres 1986

What would you consider decadence? What would you consider a treat, a real something special?

     For New Years Eve, my wife and I decided to spend the money to fly from Vancouver to Edmonton to visit my family. My father is here, my step-mother of 25 years, my brothers, my little sister... in short, a large part of my heart is permanently fixed to Edmonton, Alberta. This fact in and of itself is not a bad thing, but in the middle of winter when the mercury hits -30C (and lower) it may in fact seem a bad thing.

     But I digress.

     What is a treat? To me, spending time with my family is a genuine treat; it is something to savor and enjoy. Being with my family is a rarity that begs to be swirled in the glass and pondered over like a fine glass of wine.

     Speaking of which, this was the wine we had at the end of dinner tonight:

1986 Chateau de Veyres (de Preignac)
appelation Sauternes controlee, Bordeaux, France
13.5% ABV, $200++ CAD (approximate value)    **EXCELLENT VALUE**
  • visual:     clean; moderate+ intense solid gold core with the slightest watery rim
  • nose:     clean; moderate+ to fully intense developed bouquet showing signs of age; levels and nuances from the rich apricot jam, almondy lees, alfalfa and wildflower honey, raisins and grapes, still a surprising amount of youthful green grasses, hay and summer flowers... only slightly hot alcohol (barely perceptible as heat)
  • palate:    clean; sweet; moderate+ acids (pink grapefruit), full bodied, moderately intense flavors; showing age and development; rich terroir comes through with the grapefruit acidity initially... long sweet honeyed flowers follow with almondy lees and a more crisp apricot then felt in the bouquet. Finish is most complex with all of the above, swirling in the glass and on the palate for what seems like ages. Incredibly developed structure, very good balance.
  • conclusion:    I didn't think I would ever say this, but this wine has not peaked yet. 25 years old, and it is barely coming into it's own... there are so many layers on the palate, the acids and sugars are so strong, that I feel in all honesty that it would be best to sit on this vintage for another 10 years (or longer). I may be willing to taste in 2016 should I have enough bottles cellared. Time will allow the alcohol to soften further and the flavored nuances to coalesce into a more cohesive form.
  • PAIRS WITH:     we paired with Anjou pears poached in port, finished with a strawberry-rhubarb gelato and toasted pecans... any soft flavored toasted nut (almonds, pecans) will play off of the lees, the faint florality of rhubarb will play off the sauternes natural soft floral, ripe pears a nice contrast to sharp apricot
     Whilst it may be true that I can converse with some adeptness in Le Francais, I am by no means bi-lingual. So then, when my research on Chateau de Veyres came up in French (what little I could find) - it was a trifle dismaying. Mostly I learned that the Chateau is a small vineyard of only 21 HA (small by New World standards). Their soil is calcareous with some clay, limestone and silicate. What I can garner from my learned French colleagues (such as the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux) is that they would prefer to serve this with seared foie gras and prunes. Well, far be it for little old me to argue with my betters - or at least elders. I can completely understand the desire to drink this with foie gras au torchon, or something similar.  

     Instead I had this with something much more decadent. Something rare and precious to me; my family. I would hope for you reading this, that one day you are as lucky as I was tonight, and can share a fine bottle with the ones you love.

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