Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pascual Toso, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina


Tonight is bitterly cold (at least by Vancouver standards) with a low expected at -8C (17F) and with the windchill reaching -20C (-4F). Like I said - cold. Try smoking a cigar in that weather!

So what can a man do when he's faced with such daunting opposition? Sit inside by the fire and drink red wine says I. The bigger the red, the better.

And where does one find big, bold red wines? Certainly Argentina would be one such place, in the Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso. It is a familiar story to these parts: a young man from Piedmonte, Italy decides to chase his future all the way to Argentina in 1880, never dreaming that one day he could be the driving force behind his very own winery. Low and behold - hard work, dedication, the pursuit of excellence... the man did just that in less then 10 years. Now, generations later, the Toso family is continuing the pursuit of excellence.

But the family (and the winery of course) have more going for them then just passion and dedication; they also have terroir. The Maipu Valley in Mendoza, Argentina is home to (to quote the winemakers website
a heterogeneous terroir, an uneven piece of land going down 7 meters, where stretch soils with bare rock in which grapes stand up with all its quality, to deeper soils with green coverage. Las Barrancas possess excellent conditions for climatic agriculture, with warm days and fresh nights, low humidity relative and high heatstroke what is translated in vineyards with excellent quality of fruits and sanity. The water for irrigation comes from the snow of the Andes mountain trough the main River of the county, “Mendoza River”. Our soils are of alluvial origin.

Passion, dedication to excellence, multi-generations of accumulated knowledge, terroir, and a dizzying host of expensive winemaking tools, the Toso family seems to have it all, don't they? But it comes with the hard work - this I know. I haven't even broached the subject of how at one of their facilities, they are capable of (and actually do) producing 9 million bottles of sparkling wine per year. More sparkling wine then all of British Columbia in total.

But does all of this translate to excellence in the bottle? I leave you to judge for yourself, as I recently did.

2009 Pascual Toso Malbec
Maipu Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
14% ABV, $14 CAD, $12 USD   ** EXCELLENT VALUE **
  • visual:   clean; fully intense deep plummy garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful aromas; red cherries, red raspberries, leathery oak, slightest savory herb, deep soil/earthiness, slight peppery finish
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense red currant acids, moderate+ slightly grippy tannins, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ body, moderate+ intense youthful flavors mimicking the nose well; red currant acids are strong with lots of red berry up-front, leathery oak comes in mid-palate with the savory herbs, finish is all of the above with an underlying earthy depth. Good balance, very good structure, moderate+ length
  • conclusion:   Excellent wine for the price. Given the concentration of fruit and structure I would be inclined to age another 12 to 24 months and allow to develop
  • PAIRINGS  Big red calls for big meaty flavors. This is meant for your bbq and beef, just like the Argentians who made it like to consume it. Not a beef eater? Try venison! Even wild mushrooms have enough depth of flavor to play off this wine - if cooked properly... consider a mushroom Wellington, or an aged cheddar stuffed mushroom cap with just a hint of spice to it!
My wife recently took a trip down to Las Vegas, and this bottle was for sale for $25 in a wine store that takes itself seriously... and from my point of view, it's seriously worth a lot more then the $14 it goes for in my local store.

Pascual Toso

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

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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rocky Patel "1990" Vintage Cigar

A celebration.

No matter what sense the word is used in, whether it be to "observe a day or commemorate an event" or "to make known publicly or proclaim" or even "to praise widely...", yesterday was a celebration for me. (many thanks to )

I saw the first photos of my daughter, Clare Elizabeth, still in her momma's tummy and it - she - was beautiful. I say it because the moment itself was as beautiful as my daughter is. And both beauties (my wife and daughter) are worthy of celebration.

Rocky enjoying his handiwork

But how does a chef/sommelier-in-training celebrate? Well much like any man, I imagine: a good friend, a good cigar and a good drink. The friend was a fellow wine-geek, the cigar was Rocky Patel 1990 Vintage and the drink was a 30-year sherry. Well, perhaps I don't celebrate like every other man - but there must be one or two with good taste.

Rocky Patel 1990 Vintage cigar was also created to celebrate an event: celebration of Rocky's vision and passion for excellence as realized in the Rocky Patel label and Rocky's first cigar bearing his name. Pretty cool stuff that - a man finally having something that really is his creation, his labor of love. I realize though, that if my wife (Mrs AStudentofWine) is reading this, she will be scoffing at any notion that puts the words "man" and "labor" together .

Rocky Patel 1990 Vintage
$12 USD, $35 CAD
wrapper: Honduran broadleaf, 12 years old
binder: Nicaragua
filler:  Nicaraguan and Dominican
  • visual:   visually stunning: perfect construction with dark chestnut brown exterior. Flawless burn, absolutely even and holds firm forever
  • nose:   moderate+ to fully intense notes of chestnut, oak, light leather, toasted almonds, the usual RP coffee notes of dark espresso... definitely also developed as the cigar burnt
  • palate:   moderate+ intense and fully developed, this is one of the most beautiful cigars of my life. I still remember the first time I smoked one two years ago and remember the day (it was that good). Palate mimiks the nose - enjoy the development of flavors. Extremely well balanced, this cigar doesn't need a drink to go with it and can be enjoyed solo. Brilliant structure and incredibly long length on the palate
  • conclusion: One of the best cigars I've ever had. I will always consider the 1990 Vintage to be worthy of celebration
  • PAIRINGS:   consider a well aged Armagnac or Scotch-Whisky... the peaty-smoky characteristics will play well off the cigars' deep coffee/nutty flavors
As always I appreciate and welcome your comments!

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

Monday, February 21, 2011

Penfolds Koonunga Hill, Shiraz Cabernet

Dr. Christopher Penfold was a man who believed in the medicinal value of wine, especially fortified wine. I can relate to the story because my own father, Dr. Astudentofwine, also is a believer.

     Did you know that red wine is the most absorbable source of iron for humans? Well it is... spinach has iron you say? What about Popeye? Well unless you happen to be related to a rabbit or a cow (I not saying you are), you just don't have the proper enzymes in your stomach to breakdown that particular type of iron. Red wine however...

     And so the story goes that when Dr Penfold, youngest of 11 children, moved to Australia (the edge of the world in 1844), he brought with him not only a wife (rare commodity in Australia) but vine stock! He was going to make wine and heal the masses.

     Praise Jesus and pass the bottle I say! I find myself getting healthier by the moment!

     Dr Penfold settled just outside of present-day Adelaide, and even though the area has been called a "Super-Zone" for wine production, it remains to this day as the only winery located within the Adelaide city limits. It is a small vineyard by Australian standards, about 13 acres, and grows mostly Shiraz (Syrah).

     In time Penfolds grew, as all good things do, and began other vineyards around the Barossa Valley and South Australia in general. One of the places they found was Koonunga Hill in the Barossa Valley. Koonunga Hill isn't an easy Google search, let me tell you! Hit after hit for the wine, but it's murder to try and find the actual area... has some information, though it is limited.

     Called "One of Australia's best kept secrets", it is no secret to the fine folks at Penfolds. Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet is deliberately labeled as "South Australia" rather then being labeled as coming from somewhere within that immense region. "Why?" one may ask. It gives a certain freedom to the winemaker, you see. Every year, the winemaker can choose from the very best crops that all of South Australia has to offer. Good enough reason, but also one needs to accept that whilst wine-geeks may know what the Barossa Valley is, the average consumer may not. Why then confuse a consumer already overwhelmed with new choices every time they go to buy a bottle of wine?

     I think for such a low price-point, Penfolds knows exactly how they want to market it, and who they want to market it to... it's for the consumer who is looking for "Australian" flavors, by which they generally mean big jammy fruit berry flavors, strong alcohol and a rich body. In this, Penfolds most certainly succeeds.

2006 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet
South Australia region
$9 CAD (375ml) $16 CAD (750ml)   **Good Value**
  • visual:   clean; deep garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense youthful aromas; cherry, blackberry jam, light spiciness, sweet blueberries in the background (possible McLaren Vale sourcing), layered black floral of irises, black rose
  • palate:   clean, dry, full (black currant/cassis) acids, moderate+ (slightly chewy) tannins, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ body, moderate+ to fully intense youthful flavors mimicking the nose; cassis is strong from start to finish, oaking is minimal. Good balance, very good structure, moderate length
  • conclusion:   Definately overdelivers for an Australian wine in this price range... drink now to 2013/2014 but will not develop in bottle
  • PAIRINGS:   A simple wine calls for simple pleasures: I had mine with some grilled bread, pate and cheese. Would also make a bacon and cheddar sandwich sing! The acids can use a little fat (pate or bacon), the sharp cheddar would actually acentuate the spice of the Shiraz and a little tomato would bring out some of the natural tomato-earthy characteristics that are somewhat hidden

     While Penfolds wine may not be the same as it was in 1844 when the daring young doctor brought himself, his wife and their vine clippings across the ocean, it is still worth a visit. Always well constructed, I can honestly say that I've never had a bad bottle... it is reasonably balanced, has decent structure, and some interesting flavors of South Australia. Really, what else could anyone want for $9/375 ml and $17/bottle?

As always, I welcome your comments.

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

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rocky Patel "Decade" 10th anniversary

10 years in the business of making fine cigars... for some families that's a drop in the bucket, but everyone started somewhere. Rocky Patel started with a vision of uncompromising quality in 1993, and many industry people thought (or possibly wished) that he wouldn't make it to the 10-year mark.

     Fortunately for us, the consumers, they were wrong. Not only has Rocky Patel managed to continue making cigars in the manner they wanted, but they've broken some records for quality and created a loyal following around the world. I read on their website that Rocky visited over 600 cities in 750 days... madly passionate about his business? Either that or he's dying to reach a new level of frequent-flyer-miles.

     So there he is, Rocky has reached the decade mark in his business: does he rest on his laurels and enjoy some well-deserved rest? Why no sir-ee, he creates a celebratory brand, Decade 10th Anniversary, which proceeds to peak at a new high for quality scoring by of 95 points for the Torpedo. 95 points is one of the highest ratings for any cigar. Ever.
     I love a good cigar as much as any man, more then some I suppose, and yet I can't help but be filled with a touch of dread now. What can Rocky Patel possibly do for an encore at 20 years? I'm just joking of course, we all know that even now - Rocky is working through the night somewhere trying to figure out how to earn one more point... one more loyal follower on his quest for relentless quality. One more loyal customer.

     And that, dear friends, is how great businesses are made.

Rocky Patel "Decade" 10th Anniversary
$10 USD, $35+ CAD   **BUY THIS NOW**
Torpedo: 6.5*52
wrapper:   Sumatra
filler:         secret
binder:      secret
  • visual:   smooth and sleek; a very tight roll with no imperfections, slightly glossy, burned evenly right down to the last 1" with a thick white ash that held firm
  • nose:   moderate+ to fully intense and developed; rich dark coffee, dark cocoa, cedar notes, black pepper came in strong again at the half-way point but was creamy and balanced. Very similar notes to the Velvet Edition, just more developed and better balance
  • palate:   almost exactly the same as the nose, with the addition of a slight jalapeno spiciness in addition to black peppercorn; I would add that there was never a "hot" sensation - brilliant balance and construction
  • conclusion:   Brilliant value for the money, this is without a doubt one of the best cigars I've ever smoked. I will smoke this again, and share with only the best of my friends
  • PAIRING:   Madiera... an excellent fortified wine coming from Portugal, or Marsala coming from Sicily. Rich nuanced dried fruit flavors will play off the coffee notes, the extended sugar will balance the black peppercorn and slight jalapeno on the palate. Both also run about 20% ABV and will not aggravate the spicy qualities as a 40% spirit most definitely will (and possibly throw it out of balance)

     Rocky Patel. A man and a company with vision. My only serious question is succession: all great companies are designed so that if the leader steps down, the quality will stay the same. Who is being groomed at Rocky Patel so that Rocky can start to enjoy his well-earned rewards?
Rocky Patel enjoying life

     As always, I welcome your comments.

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

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rocky Patel Velvet Edition

"Rocky" Rakesh Patel is a great story; the man, the company and of course the cigars... and all my readers know that I love a good story.

     So the story starts with an entertainment lawyer - the most unlikely of all heroes. But hero to me he most certainly is, and for all of the same reasons that I have heroes in the wine industry and the culinary industry. Rocky is a man who is devoted to quality. He insists on it, and will accept nothing less. As I said, a hero.

     In the 1990's Rocky was an entertainment lawyer to such film giants as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gene Hackman, and as they are cigar lovers, he ended up developing an appreciation. Appreciation turned to devotion, and to a magnitude far outstripping that of most cigar devotees: he sold his law practice and spend 5 years studying the craft and trade of cigar manufacturing in Honduras. The man was willing to do anything to learn, even working the fields and in the barns (as is to be expected from any self-respecting perfectionist).

     Cut to 2002 when he re-branded his cigar company as "Rocky Patel" ( )and then in 2003 when he launched his uber-sensations the 1990 vintage and 1992 vintage. Both were immediate successes both in the media (rated 90 points for both) and in sales. Rocky Patel has declared himself and his company as standing for unwavering quality, and, he succeeded. I have smoked both cigars (reviews to follow at a later date) and they are definitely a premium product.

     And now we fast-forward to 2011, when the owner of a $25 million per year business travels over 300 days of the year to promote his products... which I can understand. He must be naturally proud of what he and his CrackerJack team have accomplished in such a relatively short period of time; there are cigars companies who have tradition running generations, and yet seem not to have found such a solid base of quality and acceptance in the marketplace. And what a different market it is now compared to only 20 years ago when Rocky first started!

     The mid-1990's were arguably the modern hay-day for cigar aficionados. Cigars were plentiful and cigar-rooms were everywhere! It seemed a man couldn't walk into a pub, bar or upscale lounge without seeing a humidor and a fine scotch/whiskey/cognac menu to pair with the local offerings. Ah yes, them was the days... I actually walked into a local cigar shop (now closed) just as Arnold Governator was walking out, and looking quite pleased with himself as I remember. He was in town filming, and made a habit of stopping for the Cuban cigars he couldn't get back in California. My how the times have changed...
     Mrs Astudentofwine and I were in California 2 years ago in October, so that I could show her the Japanese Gardens in San Francisco in the Fall... a must if you haven't already done it. We were down the coast a little, in a town called Santa Barbera, which is a little sleepy in the Fall and perfect for romance. So anyways, we were walking the deserted beach and I was smoking a cigar - no one in sight. A fellow cycling past us stopped and told me I should butt out my cigar or I would get fined. "Haha - what kind of fine?" I asked. "$2000" he responded and kept going.

     Yes indeed, a very different world then it was 20 years ago. But Rocky Patel stays on the road and on top of his business. He is most definitely the face of Rocky Patel cigars, and is a not-so-subtle reminder that he is standing behind the quality of every cigar with his name on it.
Rocky Patel "Velvet" Edition
$8/ cigar     **EXCELLENT VALUE**
Country of Origin: Nicaragua

Strength: Medium
Wrapper: Connecticut - Ecuador
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan
  • visual:   clean burn with an incredibly strong ash; I was driving at 70 km/hr and nothing was on my coat
  • nose:   medium+ to fully intense; woodsy notes, dark rich coffee and some rich cocoa
  • palate:   very smooth, rich, creamy start with moderate dark cocoa, dark espresso - then moving by mid-smoke into strong wood (cedar) some black peppercorn and that spice keeps up to the last 1" of the cigar
  • conclusion:   In the States you can find these as low as $8/cigar which to me is a steal. In British Columbia we have prohibitive taxes, and these are going to run $30 to be certain... still worth it I say! I have never smoked a poor Rocky Patel, and the Velvet Edition is smooth, rich and nuanced.
  • PAIRING:   All of the dark coffee and dark chocolate made me naturally turn to orange as a complimentary flavor: try Gran Marnier (either warm or on ice), and if you have the money and need a treat, experience the Gran Marnier Reserves (18 year, 25 year, 50 year). True, they are expensive, but they are some of the best value cognacs that you will ever find.
     A fantastic cigar, and I am finding myself quickly becoming accustomed to Rockys' devotion to quality. Other cigar companies may soon find themselves running to catch up to this new level of craftsmanship.
Rocky Patel on the factory floor
As always, I look forward to your comments!

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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cottesbrook Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand

Cottesbrook winery is in the place that winemakers call "the origin of the new Sauvignon Blanc"; Marlborough, New Zealand.

many thanks to Wikipedia!

     Sauvignon Blanc isn't native to New Zealand, but it is here, in this southern extremity, that we have found the purest expression. And it is in this wine that New Zealand, and especially Marlborough, came to find part of their identity.

     I can understand a little of what life in Marlborough must be like: the entire district only has a population of about 45,000 and that population is spread thin. A few towns, such as Havlock, and Ward (which sort of sound like names for New York cops, right?) sprout up between the rolling hills and sprawling vineyards which account for over 60% of all of the land in New Zealand growing grapes. I've lived small town life before. It has it's perks, and it has it's challenges, but there is a sense of comfort being able to walk down a street and know (at least by face) most of the people you see. Of course, that same sensation can be a little tiring somedays!
     And then there was Cottesbrook... the little winery that could.

     I'm a strong believer in environmental responsibility. As a chef, I do my utmost to source local, source seasonal, and ensure my suppliers are being minimalistic with their packaging. With gas at over $1.20/litre (that's $5/gallon for my American readers), I don't even have to ask anyone to be conscientious with their driving, right?

     And so the vineyards that produce Cottesbrook have joined with New Zealand's green-initiative which, to quote says:

     "This involves adoption of "best practice" reducing the carbon footprint and ensuring accountability and traceabiity for the long term benefit of the soil, the surrounding environment and ultimately the consumer."


     If enough people were willing to do the work necessary, then our children may still be able to enjoy...
     As for myself, I can tell you now how much I enjoyed the wine.

2009 Cottesbrook Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
12.5% ABV,    $14    **EXCELLENT VALUE**
  • visual:   clean; pale straw core with green and gold highlights, slight watery rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ youthful aromas; gooseberry, clean grass, straw, slight melon and papaya, light minerality
  • palate:   clean, dry, moderate+ (crisp apple and lime) acids, moderate ABV, moderate body, moderate+ intense youthful flavors mimicking the nose well; minerality comes in stronger, opens with minerality, pear and melon, develops into gooseberry, limes and apples. Very good balance, structure and moderate finish
  • conclusion:   drinks far above its price. Drink now but will keep 2011-2013
  • PAIRINGS:   the apple in this wine would love roast turkey... traditional turkey with bread stuffing and buttered brussel sprouts. Feel like fish? Try New Zealand's Orange Roughy with a kiwi and roast apple chutney and a sweet pea risotto!
     Marvellous deals to be found out there, if you're willing to look *(or let me look for you). You can find the Cottesbrook Sauvignon Blanc at Fox's Reach Liquor Store in Maple Ridge (and other fine spirit importers).

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

Monday, February 14, 2011

Domaine de la Provenquiere, Languedoc, France

I don't think I have the words to describe how instrumental Marquis Wine Cellars ( ) has been to my development as an aspiring sommelier. That being the case, I still feel the need to at least try, so here goes...

the tower at Domaine de la Provenquiere

     Last week, I had a catering function on Wednesday from 1pm until 9pm. Some of you know that I still attend school part-time for sommelier studies, and of course, school is on Wednesday evenings at 6pm. Earlier in the week I got a short email from Marquis Wines inviting any and all down for a little tasting with Domaine de la Provenquiere ( ), and that a representative from the winery would be present to answer questions.

     Poses a bit of a dilemma doesn't it? Conundrum is what that's called.

     And so I did what any self-respecting student would do: I worked myself into a stupor, making sure everything was set at the restaurant, ran to the tasting for an hour, then ran back to the restaurant - finished the function and closed the kitchen... I was once told that a person needed to suffer for their art .

     May I confide in you? Seriously? If Marquis Wine Cellar ever sends you an email about a free tasting (any tasting) and you have a schedule conflict, err on the side of the wine.

     I found myself in great company, have madly insightful conversations about wine (in French), laughing, and enjoying myself far too much for someone who should have been at work. But work I did! Full notes on four wines, and with such variety and skill as one could scarcely believe for the price.

the Languedoc (thank you Wikipedia)

     A note about Domaine de la Provenquiere though; tucked away in their little corner of the Languedoc-Rousillion, the brother and sister wine making team is developing quality far beyond their modest price points.

     We know that wine has been made on this estate since the fifteenth century, and much like with anything, that has it's ups-and-downs. The estate has changed hands over the centuries, and only in the past 60 years has it come to the Robert family. This, in French terms, is only yesterday. Brigitte and Claude Robert are now carrying legacy begun by their grandparents, and giving a new legacy to the next generation.

2009 Chardonnay (Les Fruits Defendus label)
13% ABV, $15   *** EXCELLENT VALUE ***
100% Chardonnay
TERROIR: planted in 1986 on clayed-calcareous slopes among which some planted in gravelly soils are trellised in order to develop a wider foliation.
VINIFICATION: This wine is made by skin contact maceration followed by a very low temperature fermentation, in order to keep all the aromas.
  • visual:   clean; pale straw with gold highlights
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful aromas of Golden Delicious apples, straw, mild honey and floral background, string presence of butterscotch oak and grilled pineapples
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense (lime) acids, full ABV, light body, moderate+ intense youthful flavors mimicking the nose quite well. Very well balanced, Excellent structure, moderate length
  • conclusion:   drink now, will not develop with cellaring
  • PAIRINGS:   use as an appero (palate opener), or salad with seared scallops, fine herbes and a chevre crostini
2009 Cuvee P White, Semillon-Vermentino blend
12.5% ABV, $15   *** EXCELLENT VALUE ***
TERROIR: calcareous soils facing north.
VINIFICATION: Must from direct pressing and extended fermentation at a very low temperature
  • visual:   clean; ultra pale straw core with an abundance of gold highlights
  • nose:   clean; light to moderate- intense youthful aromas of dry raisins, a vague solera feeling, honey, light savory herbs and a bounty of small summer wildflowers
  • palate:   clean; dry, full+ (lime) acids, moderate+ ABV, light body, moderate+ intense youthful flavors mimicking the nose. Very good balance, Excellent structure and Very good length
  • conclusion:   drink now, will not improve with cellaring
  • PAIRINGS:   either fresh asparagus or artichokes with sauce hollandaise!
2009 Rose, cuvee "P"
13% ABV,   *** Very Good Value ***
Cinsaut (Cinsault) and Cabernet Sauvignon
TERROIR: calcareous soils facing north.
VINIFICATION: Must from direct pressing and extended fermentation at a very low temperature
  • visual:   clean; pale cherry blush with watery rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate- intense youthful aromas of cherry, cherry blossoms, light dusty terroir
  • palate:   clean; dry, full+ intense (lime) acids, light (slightly grippy) tannins, moderate+ ABV, light body, moderately intense youthful flavors that mimick the nose. Good balance, fair structure, fair to good length
  • conclusion:   drink now, will not improve with cellaring
  • PAIRINGS:   because it is mild in flavor, with some soft cherry notes it pairs well with pork (prosciutto). The acids will play off fat of course, but especially as a nice twist on fish! try Grilled fish with melon, melon and prosciutto, prosciutto wrapped halibut, and even Thai food!

2009 Syrah, Les Fruits Defendus
100% Syrah with 100% Shiraz
13% ABV,   $15   *** EXCELLENT VALUE ***
TERROIRS: Clayed calcaerous and calcaerous hillside facing south.
VINIFICATION: twenty day maceration. Microbubbling before and after malolactic fermentation.
  • visual:   clean; pale ruby core with pale cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful aromas of the Languedoc; garrigue, gamey meat, red and black currants
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense (red currant) acids, fully intense (slightly grippy) tannins, full ABV, light+ body, moderate+ intense youthful flavors mimicking the nose but with the addition of savory lavender. Good balance, Very Good structure, Good length
  • conclusion:   drink now but will cellar for two or three years easily
  • PAIRINGS:   A natural for the game-meats such as venison, perhaps a flank served with a slightly sweet compound butter (cinnamon?) and some Swiss chard
     And so, a brilliant tasting of economical wines that completely and utterly overdeliver... and if you don't like my food pairing ideas? Marquis Wine Cellars has a very talented and diverse team who will be sure to inspire you as they have me.

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

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoran Estate Winery, Summerland, BC

Sonoran Estate Winery is named for the vast desert that stretches from southern California to the very northern tip of the Okanagan, of which Summerland could be considered part.

     I have had the good fortune to taste several of Sonoran's wines, and even visit the winery on two separate occasions. Life at Sonoran must be good, if one can judge such things from photos or from brief afternoon visits... and endless vista of rolling hills and warm lakeside, gentle breezes tickling one's nose with the perfume of grapes and orchardfruit heavy in the air and perhaps the merry sound of children playing nearby (or is that the winemaker having too much fun in the cellar?).

     Regardless of my "postcard" image of the serenity that must follow one's days in and around Summerland (*even the name inspires one to languish in a somewhat blissful stupor of barbeques and cold drinks by the pool), I know how hard the winemaker and all of his staff are indeed working. I know this because contrary to the images of joyous abandon, I've seen them hard at work.

     Summerland can reach day-time highs in the 30's and 40's Celsius in mid-summer, which translates to over 110F, which translates to damn hot. And yet, on they trudge and toil to bring us the fruit of an extra-ordinary terroir. Summerland's soil composition ( ) is characterized by AgriCanada as Skaha Loamy Sand, which is a coarse soil overlaying a gravelly deposit... that is to say, it drains well and allows the vine roots to dig deep for water and nutrients. This in fact will develop flavors all on it's own, even without the meddling of the benevolent winemaker. A unique terroir that winemakers the world over look at with a tinge (or more) of jealousy...

     And this is what comes from that land:

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon "Jazz Series", Sonoran Estate Winery
Summerland, Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada
13.2% ABV, $24.95     ***EXCELLENT VALUE***
Fox's Reach Liquor Store, Maple Ridge
  • visual:   clean; deep plum-violet core with light cherry-brick rim (indicative of age)
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful bouquet showing development; wild exotic black florals including black lily, black rose, irises, rich red and black fruit including cherry, raspberry, plum, heavy and yet balanced oaking, long savory spicy notes of nutmeg and allspice, sweet end notes bring back the floral with a slight vegetal tinge
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense (red currant and cranberry) acids, moderate+ intense (slightly chewy) tannins, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ body, Excellent balance, structure and length
  • conclusion:    For $25 I would be hard-pressed to think of a better expression of BC Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoran Estate had produced an excellent wine which shows incredibly well now with 2 hours decanting... this wine should still age and develop slightly in bottle until 2014 or so
  • PAIRINGS:   tonight Mrs. Astudentofwine and I enjoy this luscious wine with a prime rib roast beef, cook over a bed of savory herbs with steamed spaghetti squash and home-made onion rings.

beautiful people sampling beautiful wines at Sonoran
     It's a Sunday night, I've got my wife, a great dinner and I'm almost caught up on my studying. All is good in the world... reason enough to celebrate with a bottle from Sonoran Estate Winery!

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

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cotes du Rhone, M. Chapoutier, France

Deep in the southern Rhone, there is a closed in valley with still waters... that place is known as Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. It is from this fountain of still waters that the department of Vaucluse gets its name.
     Vaucluse is one of the many areas that Michel Chapoutier ( ) uses for the grapes for his generic Cotes-du-Rhone blend (red and white). The Chapoutier family has been vinifying in the Rhone valley since 1808, and in that time, my how they've grown.
     From what must have been a one-vineyard winery, Chapoutier has grown to literally dozens of varietals grown in a multitude of AOCs not only in France, but in Portugal and even Australia as well! One never knows where a little grape-juice may take you....

     Well for the Chapoutier family, the wine industry has taken them to this rarefied platform in the wine industry. Not only do the have such a diverse array of wineries, but also a wine and gourmet food school where one can attend such day-lectures as "wine, truffles and the lunch-meal". If school was like that here....

the still waters of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

     So a rarefied lifestyle, but what kind of wine are the family making with these seemingly limitless resources?? In Michel's own words, their wines are trying to "bring out the specific tastes provided by each local terroir and wine". Well funny, that; it seems like I keep hearing the same thing over and over again by winemakers (vignerons) from every part of the world. New World winemakers, Old World vignerons, traditionalists, experimentalists, small wineries and large conglomerates. The consensus is in folks: allow your land to express itself through the grape!
     And though Chapoutier uses grapes from Drôme,Vaucluse, Gard and Ardèche departments, what kind of a place is this Vaucluse? Tall mountains rising from impossibly steep gorges which run with the clearest water... small towns untouched from the frantic pace of the city; steeped in traditions running back to the time of the Romans. Ruins watching from the hillsides as people below gather their crops from some of the most abundantly fertile valleys in all of France. That, for some, is Vaucluse. And what of their wine?

2006 Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhone
Appellation Cotes-du-Rhone Controlee, France
mainly grenache and syrah
M. (Michel) Chapoutier
14.5% ABV, $19 CAD ( )
   Very Good Value
  • visual:   clean; moderately deep garnet core with light cherry rim and the lightest hints of orange
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful aromas showing development; bright red cherries and raspberries from the grenache, light blackberry from the age, leathery oak, slight iron-like metal and a pronounced peppery finish
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+to full (red currant) acids, moderate (slightly chewy) tannins, moderate- body, moderate+ ABV, moderately intense and youthful flavors; red currants, red cherry, black currant and black berry, leathery oak, mineral backbone, finish with currants and light pepper. Moderate+ balance. Moderate+ structure. Moderate finish.
  • conclusion:   A well made, entry-level expression of the southern Rhone. True, there may not be alot of uniqueness to the flavor, but it certainly tastes and smells like the Rhone. Enjoy this now to 2013, the fresh fruit flavors will start to diminish rapidly after that I imagine.
  • PAIRINGS:   Big bold flavors! Grilled red meat with a Provencal stew of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and fresh herbs. Grilled polenta with Sprintz, or Asiago, or Parmesano-Romano cheese. Even grilled rabbit with aioli would be good (but may not be rich enough to balance the wine). Don't do spicy food because of the alcohol, and stay away from anything too acidic... this wine wants some fat with it.

And so, a great way for someone to get acquainted with the Southern Rhone style. Not terribly flashy, but it certainly delivers for the price!

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

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pinot Noir, Inniskillin, Okanagan, BC

Pinot Noir; the heart-break grape. This is indeed one of those varietals where the winemaker and the viticulturist may do everything right, and still the wine turns out... a little wrong.
     Well, at Inniskillin Winery (Okanagan), one would be hard-pressed to say they are doing anything wrong. Winners of more then 75 awards in 2009 (wow), the company received those awards for wines from both of their wineries in Ontario and British Columbia. Two diverse terroirs for two distinctive styles of wine-production; Niagara (cooler, more humidity in summer) produces more of the aromatic whites, and Oliver (south Okanagan, more extremes of temperature between seasons and drier summer) produces richer, more robust reds.

     Well I have long been a fan of Oliver wines in general, and sentimental old me - Inniskillin was one of the first wineries to attract my attention many years ago (they started here in 1994). The wines have always been made with quality, and with an ever-increasing focus on innovation and research, to the extent that at Brock University, Inniskillin Hall is named in honor.

     And so the cycle of research is begun anew as students emerging from Brock Hall, may, return to the low hills of Oliver in the south Okanagan. There, at the northern most tip of the Sonoran desert, on fine sand and silty surface soil with gravelly subsoil, there Sandor Mayer and his cracker-jack team of wine experts are hard at work; they craft beautiful wines for today, with an eye to the future and the limitless possibilities of tomorrow.

2009 Inniskillin Okanagan, Pinot Noir
BC VQA Okanagan Valley
14.5% ABV, $19 CAD (
   Very Good Value
  • visual:   clean; light ruby core with substantial cherry rim
  • aroma:   clean; moderate+ intense youthful aromas with some development; layers of cherries and cherry-blossoms, substantial yet not overbearing oak, slight peppery spiciness, faint floral finish
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ to full (red currant) acids, moderate+ (slightly grippy and chewy) tannins, moderate (-) body, moderate+ ABV, moderately intense and youthful flavors; cherries, slightly overbearing oak, red currants, tart lemony notes, candied cherry finish. Good balance. Very good structure. Moderate length.
  • conclusion:    Well it's more then worth the $19 for a BC Pinot Noir... I must admit to not being a fan of the style though... reminiscent of Louis Jadot from Burgundy ( ) ... same notes: Decant this wine for an hour for best results. This wine is drinking well now, and will cellar until 2013 or possibly 2014. Try to drink it soon though to enjoy the expression of fresh flavors.
  • PAIRINGS:   Drink this wine with a little fat to balance the acids! Some gamey meat will play off the red cherry and red currant; duck is a natural. Don't go too spicy or the high alcohol will become even more pronounced; and keep the herbs and seasonings mild to medium as the wine is also (somewhat) delicate.
Many thanks Sandor Mayer and all of the hardworking people at !

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

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stift Goettweig, Gruner Vetliner, Austria

So many new words it's like a foreign language... well, that's because it's a foreign language! Gruner Vetliner is known primarily as the white wine of Austria (where it is over 30% of all wine production), Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

     Gruner Vetliner, or GruVe as the hip kids in Austria call it, produces a crisp white wine capable of greatness. It can be enjoyed quite young (evidenced by the 2009 I'm enjoying today) or can cellar well (as is evidenced by giving high points to the 1990 Grüner Veltliner "Vinothekfüllung" Smaragd, Knoll, Austria). It also has in interesting heritage...

     It turns out that no one really knew where the GruVe came from (for certain), and so some researchers - researched. To no avail, still they couldn't deduce both of the parent grapes until... until someone (no idea who) discovered a solitary vine in the abandoned vineyard of St. Georgen outside of Einstadt, Austria. After many years, finally the mystery father appeared! And so, work is being done now to bring it back to the point where crops can be made from St.Georgener-Rebe so that researchers can analyze it properly.

     Pretty neat, huh!?

     Almost as cool as the story of Stift Goettweig, the monastery in Austria that produces the GruVe I'm tasting: the above picture is inside the cathedral.

     Founded in 1083 (as per the label), Stift Goettweig produces a special type of GruVe called Messwein, which can only be called such when it has been produced with permission of a Benedictine Bishop, and follows strict guidelines. Having grown up Irish Catholic, I can well believe the guidelines would be strict .

     Well now the secular has moved in, and though the wine is made under the auspices of the monastery, it is not the monastery Brothers who are toiling in the fields or heading up production. The traditions have been maintained however, from the way the fields are maintained, to the methods of vinification and maturation. Some oak is used now, which certainly did not happen in 1083, but the old ways are still alive and well in the Wachau Valley.

2009 Gruner Vetliner, Messwein
from Stuft Goettweig, Wachau Valley, Austria
Very Good Value
12% ABV, $22 CAD @ Fox's Reach Wine Store, Maple Ridge
  • visual:   clean; pale straw core with gold highlights and a light watery rim
  • nose:     clean; moderately intense youthful aromas showing signs of development; layers of slate minerality, wild grasses, little summer meadow flowers, ripe stonefruit especially apricot, light honey nuances, soft oaky finish
  • palate:    clean; dry, moderate+ to fully intense crisp yellow grapefruit acids, moderate+ (supple) body, moderate+ to full alcohol (don't serve too warm), moderate+ intense youthful flavors showing signs of development; yellow grapefruit, layers of minerality, crisp stonefruit, young pears, light backbone with soft oak, pronounced peppery finish. Good balance, very good structure, short to medium finish.
  • conclusion:   Well made entry level Gruner, this wine drinks very well right now, and will continue to do so until the end of 2012. Will not improve with cellaring.
  • PAIRINGS:    As always, the wine of a region pairs well with the food of a region, but in this I'll move outside-the-box. Try this delightfully crisp wine with butter braised rabbit and fresh pasta with wild thyme; the light gameyness of the meat will play off the spice in the wine, the butter will blend with the buttery texture of the wine, but also play off the acids and the wild thyme plays off the light grass/ripe meadow flowers.
Looking forward to more from Stift-Goettweig!!!

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vinha do Monte, Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal

The cartoon to the left is simply titled "Suicide Alentejano (style)"... any winemaker or farmer will instantly see the humor.

     I am not a farmer, but am really only one generation removed, and whilst I can see the humor - I can also see the poignancy. What a struggle for that man, I think, and what passion. For what else, really, could motivate someone to work so diligently for what appears to be a "more then trying" situation? What else other then passion?

     I don't think I've ever heard anyone claim the Portuguese lacked for passion. Common sense? That may or may not be a different matter, which is also inferred from the cartoon. But then, what winemaker ever really followed sense above passion? What farmer? Common sense tells us that slaving all year to one's land is a risky endeavour at best; pests, natural disasters, drought, flood... so many things to get between the farmer and his crop. The farmer may even do everything right, in the right year, with the right weather - and it doesn't work the way he wanted it to. Just because.

     Common sense would tell me not to invest so much of myself in that endeavour.

     But farming, in any of its forms, really is about passion I believe, and that belief is re-affirmed every time I hear a winemaker speak of why he/she is in this craft: "To know that someone, somewhere, is sharing a bottle of my wine with friends or family, and smiling". Of course, I'm using my own words, but the meaning is there.

     Vinha do Monte, Vinho regional Alentejano comes from one of the largest areas of Portugal... it encompasses about 1/3 of the country though less then 8% of the population, and dwindling. It is a rural place, and having been born on the edge of rural - I understand why people  have left: people leave to find jobs. The sad part then, is many of the jobs that are there never get filled when the one person who does it for the town or county retires. And then a skill becomes forgotten. Cork production is an incredibly vital part of Alentejo's economy, and cork is harvested manually.

     Yes, by hand, and that will most likely never change. Did you know that one cork tree can produce enough bark in a harvest to create over 4000 corks? Pretty cool stuff. That was before I found out that they actually still make the axes for harvest in Alentejo as well. Makes sense-  who would know better what they need?

      The region spreads from the hills bordering Spain to the NorthEast down to the ocean... it is a vast sprawl of rolling hills with little rainfall. Summer reaches daytime highs of 40C or higher, and winters are generally mild. All in all, a wonderful place to grow crops of any kind, and wine drinkers the world over are taking notice.

2008 Vinha do Monte
Vinho Regional Alentejano, by Herdade do Peso
(a Vinho Regional is Portugal's version of the Country Wine classification)
12.5% ABV, $14   **Very Good Value**
traditional Alentejo white vine varieties -Roupeiro, Antão Vaz and Arinto
  • visual:     clean; pale yellow straw core with slight watery rim
  • nose:     clean; moderate+ intense youthful aromas of exotic fruit (pineapple, candied banana, ripe melon), wild grasses, gravelly/flinty minerality
  • palate:     clean; dry, moderate+to full (lemon and lime) acids, moderate body, moderate+ alcohol, moderately intense youthful flavors of flinty minerality, wild grasses, lemon and lime zest, slight exotic fruit undertones. Moderately well balanced, moderate structure and a quick finish.
  • conclusion:   This is a very refreshing wine, made as they say, to whet one's whistle. As an appero or a drink before the meal I think this would excel with its bright and lively acidity. Drink it now, as it will not improve with age and I don't imagine it has much more life. Enjoy 2011-2012.
  • PAIRINGS:   An excellent match for white fish and light cream sauces, Spanish ham crisps topped with goats cheese, also steamed green vegetables!

Sogrape Vinhos (the parent company) has just been distinguished by the well-known American magazine, Wine Enthusiast, with the trophy for “European Producer of the Year”. Congratulations! I look forward to sampling more of your portfolio if this is the quality one can expect for under $15!

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