Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Oveja Negra, VIA wines, Valle del Maule, Chile

The focus around Vancouver as of late has undoubtedly been Chile, at least when it comes to wine. Our recent Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (http://www.playhousewinefest.com/) was a raging success, as always, and Wines of Chile ( http://www.winesofchile.org/) has been helping to create memorable experiences throughout BC and the rest of North America.

   As many of you know, I have not been immune to the almost frenzied pull of Chilean red wines, and find the quality vs price to been some of the finest value in the world. Long gone are the days when saying "Chilean wine" was a subtle code for "table wine". These days Chilean wines are on some of the most prestigious winelists to be found, and sommeliers and wine merchants alike are clamouring for more, more, more!

   Which brings me to Ojeva Negra, the black sheep, http://www.viawines.com/. Perhaps I had a natural inclination to be fond towards the wines just because they are Chilean, or because my wife's maiden name means sheep in Italian. Perhaps that explains why I was open-minded towards wines that came in at well under $20 a bottle in BC (which has the second highest liquor tax in the world) and in general here - wines under $20 are often over-cropped, diluted and poorly balanced. Perhaps that explains my willingness to try the wines, but only the quality they deliver explains why I'm writing about the wines.
   VIA wines is a newcomer to Chile, having only been started in the late 1990's with two partners: a British wine merchant and a Chilean family with strong traditions in wines and spirits. They came along just at the time when Chile was truly making a place for itself among the great wines of the world, and had faith that they too could create brilliance in the most unique of places.

   Perhaps it is the first part of their company's mission statement that is the most telling "to craft innovative wines of the highest quality, in harmony with Nature...". Out of all of those words, perhaps the word "craft" is the most telling. Many writers will talk about the winemakers they meet, but rarely do we use the word "craftsman" (or woman) to describe that person. The truth is that even in the wine industry, there are a great many people who are just "doing their job" rather then "living their passion".

   Thankfully, the bold young team at VIA seem to have no end to their passion; passion for great wine, passion for working with their land in a respectful manner, passion for reducing their carbon-footprint in every aspect of their business, and passion for getting you the best wine for the best price. Admirable ambitions, but let's see how they measure up in the glass.

2011 Oveja Negra Sauvignon Blanc - Carmenere
$12 SPEC (BC)     88 points

blend:     85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Carmenere
vines:     10+ years, single vineyard, with excessive yield of 12 tons/HA
soil:    fine textured alluvial with loam and loamy-clay, altitude 500 feet
vinification:   all stainless steel, with earth filtering
  • visual:   clear; ultra pale core with light gold and watery rim
  • nose:   clean; moderately intense and youthful; ripe stonefruits such as apricots and peaches, blossoming summer floral notes... very inviting
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense (lemonbalm) acids, light body, moderate ABV (13%), moderately intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose with more emphasis coming from citrus notes of lemon zest and yellow grapefruit, rich undercurrant of minerality. Very good balance and structure, medium length
  • conclusion:   a crowd pleaser; for the price anyone who can get their hands on this will enjoy an overabundance of value for money. That being said I would love to try this wine when the vines mature a bit more and they reduce the yield
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   vibrant acidity wants for a bit of fat, and I would use seafood... consider a sushi experience with sea urchin or, for the less daring, try it with your butter poached crab or grilled prawns and watch it sing!

2010 Oveja Negra Cabernet Franc - Carmenere
$12 (SPEC) (BC)    89 points

blend:   72% Cabernet Franc, 28% Carmenere
vines:    10 years old, harvested at 8-10 tons per HA
soil:   same as above, single vineyard
vinification:   25% of the blend was 8-10 months in oak, also earth filtered
  • visual:   clear; moderate ruby core with light cherry rim (little bricking)
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense and developing aromas; baked earth, rich red currants, strawberry compote, background of old cigarbox, light dark floral tones
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (young raspberry and currant) acids, moderate+ (slightly grippy) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ ABV (13.5%), moderate+ intense and developing flavors mimicking the nose with the bright young red berry flavors running rampant, undercurrants of floral notes. Very good balance, a structure approaching excellence, medium+ length
  • conclusion:   the only thing holding this wine back is the youth of the vines. It shows a great deal of craftsmanship, especially for the price, and is still very young. Drinks well 2014-2018 and beyond
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   seared venison flank steak with blueberry and peppercorn compote on steamed spaghetti squash and roast wild mushrooms.... the venison will cosy up to the rich berry notes in the wines, the peppercorn with play of the almost-sweet and supple Carmenere, the spaghetti squash for a palate cleanser and the wild mushrooms will coax the earthy notes up front and show more depth in the wine

2009 Oveja Negra Carignan
$17 (SPEC) (BC)     91 points

blend:   87% Carignan, 9% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot
vines:    40 years+ from the western side of the Valle del Maule, yield of 7-9 tons/HA
soil:    marginal granitic slopes with low moisture
vinification:   100% malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels for 12 months

  • visual:   clear;  medium+ plum core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:    clean; rich bouquet of plums, berry compote, light peppercorn spice, dark florals such as irises
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ to fully intense (red  currant) acids, medium+ (rich and chewy) tannins, moderate+ boy, moderate ABV (13.5%), moderate+ intense and developing flavors mimicking the nose with richness, fluidity and nuance. Excellent balance and structure with medium+ to long length
  • conclusion:   the winemaker is finally shining by allowing his vines to express themselves. This wine is a joy to savor, and savor it I am... enjoy now (with one hour decant) 2012-2017 and possibly beyond
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   an easy one, just buy the best cut of beef you can, season it with salt and pepper, and have some potatoes and veggies for garnish.... a truly versatile wine it would also be brilliant  with a charcuterie platter; some dry aged sausage, some hard cheese and fresh bread!

   And so at the end, I'm left re-reading my notes and finding that VIA wines is living up to it's guiding principles: "Identifying the varietals that match our estates' soil characteristics, finding a balance variety and soil that express the typicity of each one". Expressing "typicity".... that just means expressing location, or terroir  as some might call it... it reminds me of what one winemaker told me. He said his job wasn't to make wine, it was to allow the wine to make itself.

   Bravo VIA, my expectations are now set on high for next years release!

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival 2012

In February of this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Media Preview of the 2012 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (http://www.playhousewinefest.com/).

   It was truly an honor to be sitting beside some of the most influential and learned people in the wine industry in Canada including: Sid Cross, DJ Kearney, Mark Shipway, Harry Hertscheg, John Schreiner and about 100 other sommeliers, writers and educators. In short, I was a tad nervous about being such a small fish in a big pool.

   I, of course, had no need to be nervous. BC's wine community is as generous as it is powerful... several hours were spent sniffing, swirling, sipping and spitting, and at the end of it we all felt as if we had come away a little the wiser. My readers must forgive me that I didn't write about this before the Wine Fest, but as many of you know I'm the proud Papa of an 8-month old oenophile. She's the apple of my eye and doesn't she just know it (especially at 3 am when she has nightmares and needs Daddy to sing to her).

   As always, I digress. Let me tell you about the wines~!

2009 Amaral Sauvignon Blanc
$17      89 points
  • from 14 year old vines in the Central Valley DOC, this wine was 100% stainless-steel aged and fermented
  • nose
      moderately intense, youthful, floral notes and young stonefruit
  • palate:   crisp acids with grassy, floral notes - not grassy like NZ gooseberry but more like actually grass/new hay. Very well balanced especially for the price
Vina Santa Carolina
2010 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc
$13     89 points
  • awarded a silver medal at the Concours de Bruxelles, this wine is stunning value for the money
  • nose:   clean, fresh and youthful, a rich and layered floral aromas with exotic fruit such as pineapple
  • palate:   clean, crisp and vibrant, minerality sings in the undercurrants of this easy drinking wine which has lovely balance

2008 Terroir Hunter-Leyda Sauvignon Blanc
$23     92 points

  • grown on alluvial soil with a loamy topsoil, this wine was fermented 100% in stainless steel allowing for maximum expression of terroir (hence the name one imagines)
  • nose:   clean and fresh, the youthful exuberance of floral notes is only matched by the elegant and determined mineral backbone
  • palate:   clean, crisp and vibrant, the palate on this wine mimicks the nose brilliantly with rich and well developed balance, structure and length

Cono Sur
2009 Ocio Pinot Noir
$65     94 Points

  • what a joy and pleasure to drink quality wine made in an environmentally respectful manner; Cono Sur has achieved the highest ratings for lowering carbon emmisions and organic practices in the vineyard
  • carbonic maceration and 14 months of aging in new French oak are two worthy items to note in this world-class Pinot Noir
  • nose:   fully intense and developing Chilean bouquet of dark berry and floral notes, old worn leather, roast beef and warm earth terroir
  • palate:   a young wine just catching it's stride; moderate+ (red currant) acids, moderate+ (slightly grippy and yet velvet smooth) tannins. Stunning structure, balance and length
Emiliana Vineyards
2007 Coyam (Bordeaux blend)
$30 http://www.bcliquorstores.com/     93 points

  • once again, a stunning example of organic practices in the vineyards translating to transparent wine showcasing it's origins, this is also 100% bio-dynamic
  • Wine Access this year gave this wine 93 points as well, and well deserved I say (I ended up sipping this for 3 days at the Festival)
  • maturation: 13 months in 80% French and 20% American barrels
  • nose:   clean, rich and fully intense with tons of Bordeaux style qualities such as sinful dark floral notes washing over tons of dark berries and a rich dark cocoa undercurrant
  • palate:   clean; moderate (raspberry/cassis) acids, moderate+(chalky fine) tannins and a moderate+intense and still developing flavors that are truly in-line with the bouquet. Brilliant structure, balance and length... a steal at $30

Vina Maipo
2008 Gran Devocion Carmenere Syrah
$19     90 Points

  • a gold medal winning wine, Carmenere of course is one of the signature grapes of Chile... not identified in Chile until 1994, the viticulturists thought it to be another varietal and now every winemaker worth their weight in salt is putting their best foot forward when it comes to this grape
  • cultivated on steep slopes of poor, gravelly soil, this wine was aged 14 months in French and American barrels
  • nose: a rich and nuanced balancing act of deep red berries, green bell peppers, dark cocoa and old leather
  • palate: as all great wines should be; the palate mimicks the nose with moderate+(raspberry)acids, moderate+(silty) tannins and a rich mineral background. Very good balance, excellent structure and very good length

2009 Gran Reserva Carmenere
$22    91 points

  • even though Carmen wines is the oldest recognized winery in all of Chile (having been started in 1850), and one of the largest, Carmen is still working diligently at minimizing it's environmental impact through a diversity of initiatives... perhaps I should have written "because they are the oldest"?
  • from the Apalta Valley in the Colchagua, these vines grow on deep red granitic clay soil at high altitude and south facing exposure
  • maturation: 10 months in 100% French oak barrels
  • nose:   clean and fully expressive of an intense minerality, dark cocoa, almost a molasses-like earthiness, sweet green bell peppers
  • palate:   truly in-line with the nose; fully intense (red currant) acids, fully intense (silty) tannins, a fully intense and youthful palate needed 4 or 5 more years to fully come into it's own; rich red berry notes dominate at present. Excellent structure, balance and length

Vina Montes
2010 Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenere
$18.50   90 points

  • a recent addition to the Chilean winemaking scene (compared to Carmen winery), this estate is a winemakers dream... when they opened in 1988 there were only 14 Chilean wineries exporting. After their first vintage Vina Montes could be said to have single-handed changed the mass mis-conception of Chilean wines: they became internationally renown for Quality.
  • in less then 25 year the winery has grown in production from 7,000 cases to almost 600,000 cases. The winery now states that they will categorically not grow anymore so that they can continue to grow quality over quantity
  • maturation:   70% of the wine was aged for 6 months in 100% American oak
  • nose:   fully intense and youthful aromas of rich red berries, fine cigar smoke, sweet green bell peppers
  • palate:   fully intense and youthful, fully intense (red currant and cranberry) acids, fully intense (silty) tannins, the palate very similar to the nose with very good to excellent balance and structure, medium+ length

 Santa Rita
2008 Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon
$20    89 Points

  • this wine comes from approximately 20 miles south of Santiago in the foothills of the Maipo region. The soil is a stony/alluvial mix with a temperature differential of about 20C between day and night in the summer (which is perfect to maintain acidity in the grape)
  • maturation:   two rackings and then 14 months in a combination of first, second and third generation oak barrels
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful aromas of red raspberries, currants, young plums, some beefy notes and an elegant light floral finish
  • palate:   clean; fully intense (young blackberry) acids, fully intense (silty and grippy) tannins, fully intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose. Very good balance, structure and length... hold until 2015 at the earliest

2008 Antiguas Reservas
$22    90 points

  • oh the humor of it all... I'm re-reading my notes from the Playhouse media preview and laughing because I wrote that this wine has "great aging potential". I had no idea. A few weeks later at the Playhouse tasting room, the broker for Cousino-Macul asked if I wanted to try something extra-ordinary... it had a huge brick rim in the glass, soft velvety notes of old cigar boxes, dried blueberries and saskatoons and dried dark florals. It was the 1995 release of this very wine, aging like Bordeaux
  • which makes me laugh again because the founder of Cousino-Macul actually went to Bordeaux (pre-phyloxera) to obtain vine-cuttings to start his vineyard. So really, this Cab Sauv is more Bordeaux (in a way) then Bordeaux is!
  • maturation:   12 months in multiple generation oak barrels after fining and filtration
  • nose:   fully intense; youthful lush red berries, gravelly mineral notes and a light spice finish
  • palate:   fully intense (red currant) acids, fully intense (grippy) tannins, fully intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose... much more dimension after 8-10 years. Excellent balance, very good structure, long length

Concha y Toro
Marques de Casa Concha 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
$20     91 points

  • Concha y Toro is another bastion of the Chilean winemaking industry. In continual operation since the 1880's, this is also a winery at the forefront of environmental responsibility. Aggressive intiatives include strategic water management among others.
  • this is also a winery that in it's origins recruited leading winemakers and viticulturists from Bordeaux to oversee the transition from New World winery to Old World finesse... that investment has been paying dividends for decades now and shows no signs of stopping
  • maturation:   18 months in French oak barrels
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and developing with rich red raspberries, currants and plums, light herbaceous notes and a stony terroir  minerality
  • palate:   fully intense (blackberry)acids, fully intense (silty) tannins, fully intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose with particular emphasis on ripening red berries and old leather in the background. Excellent balance and structure, long- length... can drink now but best 2014-2018

and last, but certainly not least...

Vina Chocalan
2009 Gran Reserva Blend
$27    93 points     buy this now~!

  • a vivid blend of 33% Cab Sauv, 29% Syrah, 15% Malbec, 10% Cab Franc, 9% Carmanere, 4% Petit Verdot... this is Bordeaux style blending at it's finest for under $30. I can honestly say that I have never had a more puissant, more stylish, more elegant Bordeaux blend for the money. Ever.
  • maturation:   100% in French oak for 16 months
  • nose:   fully intense and developing layered violets on stony earth, pencil lead in the background and and elegant warmth leading it all'
  • palate:   fully intense (blackberry and raspberry) acids, fully intense (grippy) tannins, fully intense, youthful and developing palate with layers upon layers of the aromas translated to the tongue. Brilliantly executed balance, structure and length; this wine will sing from 2016-2021 and beyond

the Maipo Valley from Santa Rita winery
And so as I stated in the beginning, I was more then a little nervous sitting with my betters at "the grown-ups" table as it were. I had no need to be... everyone was so intensely scrutinizing the brilliantly executed wines that there was no attention left for me (thank the maker). It was educational, it was exhilarating and it was an experience.

   Thank you Wines Of Chile and the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival: you have illuminated us, and we the hungry masses are grateful~!

As always, I welcome your questions and comments.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fonseca Terra Prima Porto

Someone recently asked me what the real difference between winemaking and organic winemaking is. In simplest terms, all farmers need to fertilize their crops; whether it be grapes or corn.... organic farmers won't use artificial fertilizers, they use natural fertilizers (and preferably produced on or very close to their own farm).

   And what does this do for the wine we ask? Well nothing really. Nothing you say? But that's the point I say~! Artificial fertilizers use non-organic compounds, they rely on man-made chemistry to do the work of Mother Nature. These compounds leech into the soil, and thus into the food (grapes) and thus into the wine; changing  the wine.

   Organic practices also severely limit the amount of sulphites allowed, which is of vital importance for those of you who find red wines in particular give you a bit of skin flush, headache or a sore tummy. Yes, the sulphites are still there: it's a natural part of the winemaking process. But! But it is severely limited and you should be able to consume organic wines with limited reaction or no reaction at all.

   The patriarch of the port community, Fonseca Guimaraens (http://www.fonseca.pt/) is the first winery in the Douro region of Portugal to adopt certified organic practices for it's port production from start to finish. This includes the aguardente (similar to brandy) that is used to fortify the red wine. And why would House Fonseca make this bold move, years before anyone else in the region is ready to do so?

   Because they are innovators.

David Guimaraens
   (read a recent article of mine of port production if you wish to learn more about the Douro region: http://astudentofwine.blogspot.ca/2012/01/porto-hutcheson-colheita-1999.html

   Even though Fonseca Guimaraens has been in continuous operation since 1822, 6th generation family winemaker David has launched into the unknown not just with organic principles, but also through technology. Fonseca recently showcased their newest addition to the staff, a device of their own invention: a piston-paddle vat known as "Port-Toes". It has been created with the purpose of more efficient temperature control  during fermentation thus allowing for a gentler touch with greater results.

   And the results? As always my friends... in the glass.

Fonseca Porto Terra Prima n/v
  • visual:   clear; fully intense inky purple core with slight cherry rim, no bricking
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense and developing aromas of ripe red cherries, succulent plums, blackberries, dark chocolate and warm earth
  • palate:  clean; sweet, fully intense (red and black cherry) acids, moderate+ (well integrated and soft) tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ABV(20%), fully intense and youthful flavors relying heavily on fresh red berries and light floral notes to make a heavy impact. Moderate structure and very good to excellent balance with only medium length
  • conclusion:  the youth of the vines is apparent. Whilst there are rich flavors, they are somewhat monotonous, however the finesse of the structure leads me to believe that future vintages will rival some of the truly great ports of the world. Drink now, holds to 2017.
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   with wines of this sweetness, it's a bit of folly to pair with anything even close to the same sweetness. Consider a Savory dark chocolate torte with lemon whip cream and stewed plums

the "Port-Toes"
   And so a bit of a dichotomy; House Fonseca. Almost two centuries old, they utilize state of the art facilities and "ahead-of-the-curve" techniques in the vineyard to create purist flavors with sublime structure. I can only imagine that Manuel Pedro Guimaraens, the man who bought controlling interest in the  Fonseca & Monteiro Company in 1822 and started this port house which is all about family, is looking down and watching this new generation with pride.

                As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

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

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dandelion vineyards "Lionheart of the Barossa" Shiraz

Last January I happened to be in Edmonton, Alberta to celebrate a family function; there was food, there were long talks and, of course, there was wine. For all that my family may be Irish, we drink wine as if we were Italian.

   So it was a real treat when my father took me for a drive because he said he knew a "very special" wine-shop. I told him that the shop in question would have alot to stand up against as I have virtually grown-up (as a wine-steward) in the semi-mystical http://www.marquis-wines.ca/ which is a pantheon of oenology in Vancouver, BC. I was not disappointed.

   The store in question had certified sommeliers on-hand to lead me through a list of wines I had rarely seen... for those of you not in Canada we here are in the Dark Ages: we have different liquor boards for each province and shipping between provinces prohibitive. And so the wines my father sees are rarely the ones I see and the two of us almost never see wines that make it to Ontario or Quebec. But I digress.

   One of the sommeliers pointed out the Dandelion vineyards (http://www.dandelionvineyards.com.au/) and stated that categorically it was one of the finest Shiraz he had in stock. At almost $40 CAD it was worth about $60-$70 in my own province and I was - reluctant. In the end, I trusted my father and bought the bottle. A 2008 "Lionheart of the Barossa"... something worth cellaring for years upon years I imagined.

   A few days ago I was becoming despondent with lacklustre syrahs and saw the old Lionheart on a shelf and thought: "Stelvin enclosure; it must be made to drink young. Meh, how bad could it be?"

   I've managed to lose my aerator somewhere, and because of the Stelvin enclosure (screwtop) I decided against decanting. I opened the bottle, poured out a few ounces and lifted to my nose. That was when the magic began for me.

Dandelion Vineyards, Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz
$35 CAD in Alberta, not available in BC
95 points James Halliday
94-95 points AStudentOfWine

vine age:   old vines, many over 100 years
altitude:   725 feet (220 metres)
fermentation:   25% new French oak
maturation:   18 months, then racking without fining or filtration
winemaker:   Elena Brooks, Bsc
  • visual:    clear; fully intense inky-purple core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+intense and developing bouquet of red currants, black raspberries, developing secondary notes of old worn leather and cedar, dried savory herbs and light earthen background
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ to fully intense (red currant/sour cherry acids), moderate+ (silky yet grippy) tannins, moderate body, moderate ABV (14.5%), moderate+ to fully intense youthful flavors of sour cherries, young raspberries, small strawberries and blueberries, light notes of savory herbs/light summer florals, soft background of warm earth. Stunning balance and structure, long length
  • conclusion:   a rarity; a wine that drinks so brilliantly whilst young and yet could cellar well for half a dozen years with ease. Peaks 2017-2020
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   because of the vibrant acids of course I'm going to suggest a little fat, but not as much as I normally would... the acids are so delicately integrated that I'm going with grilled rack of lamb with caramelized onion and blueberry compote on Manitoba wild rice latkes with steamed Swiss chard.

  This was an experience for me.

Barossa vines, 100++ years
   This wine drinks with the vibrancy of a Melbourne Shiraz, the lively acidity of McLaren Vale, the freshness of the Langhorne and the warm suppleness of Barossa. It is quite simply one of the finest examples of Shiraz that I've ever had and would love to sample it at 6 or 9 years old, when I imagine it will have grown into the mature grace of a Rosemount Balmoral (which is the finest kind of compliment).

   For all of my credible research skills, Dandelions vineyards in still an enigma to me. Established in 2009, Dandelion Vineyards Pty Ltd is a private company categorized under Crop Planting and Protection and located in Port Willunga, SA, Australia. That's what the records state, but the first vintage of The Lionheart is 2008...

winemaker Elena
 No matter, it seems as though a Canadian businessman/vigneron and an Australian patriarch/vigneron sought the fresh ideas of a young Adelaide graduate and created Dandelion. They only source from family estates, and the quality is self-explanatory. Not convinced?

   James Halliday may know more about Australian wines then anyone else on the planet. Period. I thought this was at least a 92-point wine after 10 seconds in my glass. Without an aerator. James Halliday agreed and gave 95 points.

   I give this, at 4 years old, 94 points and feel it can easily grow into 95 or even 96 points. It's smooth, sophisticated and layered beyond belief for the price. If you're in Alberta or Ontario, spend the money and discover new winemaking with Old-World sensibility.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments.

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