Thursday, May 26, 2011

Report from ... Portugal G7 - May 2, 2011

It seems like forever since the G7 blew into town, but I bet if I looked it up its only been a couple of years at most (for the curious it was October 2009).  A lot seems to have happened to this consortium in the interim - they no longer represent 7 wineries, due to attrition (some left some were bought out) only 5 wineries remain ... but they do represent 7 of Portugal's main regions: Douro, Vinho Verde, Bairrada, Dao, Lisbon, Alentejo and Terras do Sado.  Five winery principals joined us for a presentation of the 7 regions, their wines, lunch and more wine - so let's get right down to it.
Teaching an old dog new tricks - Domingos Soares Franco (L) & Pedro da Costa (R)

The Regions ...
1) Vinho Verde - comprises 10% of Portugal's land under vine (21,000 hectares), average holding is only about 0.8 hectares.

2) Douro - Portugal's most famous region, known for Port wines, there are three major crops here: almonds, olives and grapes.

3) Dao - "not big wines but elegant wines", due to the diurnal temperatures of the region: warm during the day and cooler nights.

4) Bairrade - very wet region: September to May is the rainy season, average holding per property is about 2 acres.  Have been growing international varieties like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot for only the past 15 years.

5) Alentejo - very flat area, hottest region of Portugal where temps can hit 40+ degrees in June and remain at 30+ at night, so little relief from the heat.

6) Lisboa - region is known for its foggy, windy and cooler conditions.

7) Setubal - I must have fallen asleep at this point cause I have no notes about the regions ... I find this peculiar, but ...

The P5 (Portugal Five Wineries) of the G7...
Alianca (est. 1927) - 800 acres of vineyard spread thru 5 regions.
Aveleda (est. 1947) - annual production is 14 million bottles, exported to over 40 countries.
Bacalhoa (est. 1922) - originally Joao Pires & Filhos, have wineries in 3 regions, production capacity tops out at 12 million litres and they can age wine in up to 6000 barrels.
Jose Maria da Fonseca (Est. an elegant lady never reveals her age) - one of the oldest and most prestigious wineries in Portugal, own over 600 hectares of land and possess on their properties a collection of over 560 different grape varieties.
Caves Messias (est. 1926) - wines are exported to more than 50 countries, they make wine in a wide range of styles from Champagne method sparklers to rich flavourful Ports.

Seminar Wines of Note ...
Aveleda 2010 Qunita da Aveleda (Vinho Verde) - lovely nose that's floral and tropical with good minerality ... good mouth watering acidity makes this very food friendly and summery.

Messias 2007 Quinta do Valdoeiro (Barrada) - a mix of indigenous (Baga, Touriga Nacional) and international (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon); fresh and fruity nose with a palate of dark berry, chocolate and a hint of chalky minerality yet very approachable.

Alianca 2005 Quinta da Garrida Touriga Nacional (Dao) - aged in a mix of French and Russian oak; smooth with blackberries, blueberries and cocoa.

Jose Maria da Fonseca 2007 Jose de Sousa Mayor (Alentejo) - top end wine of the winery which is made in clay pots; made form indigenous grapes (Aragones, Trincadeira) and one known as Grand Noir (brought in by Napoleon, a cross made in the 1850's from Petit Bouchet and Aramon).  Lovely wine with elegance and finesse - really well structured: chocolate, blackberry and silky tannins.
Stunning ... Messias LBV 2005 Port

The Main Tasting - one standout from each winery ...
Alianca 2007 Quinta da Terrugem (Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouchet) - *** 1/2+
Aveleda 2007 Follies Touriga Nacional (Touriga Nacional) - *** 1/2
Bacalhoa 2007 Quinta do Carmo (Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouchet, Cabernet Sauvignon) - ****
Liquid caramel
Jose Maria da Fonseca 2006 Moscatel de Setubal JMF (Moscatel de Setubal) - fortified wine that tasted like liquid caramel - ****+
Messias 2005 Porto LBV (Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca) - stunning 2005 LBV worthy of having on hand for those cold winter nights - **** 1/2

Lunch - the two best wines ...
Aveleda 2009 Grande Follies (90% Chardonnay and an indigenous blend of 4 other grapes) - vanilla. toast, baked apple - fruity up front with a good wood character that does not try to add too much.

Jose Maria da Fonseca 2008 Periquita Superyor (Castelao 92.6%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%, Tinta Francisca 2.4%) - plum and blackberry aromas lead to blackberry, cassis, and a touch of licorice on the finish, lots of fruit with a gentle kick of spice.

Lunch provided by the Chef's House of George Brown College (pictures below)
House cured salmon, brioche toast, spring mixed greens, horseradish creme fraiche
Red wine braised beef short-ribs, ginger scented carrot puree, potato pave, green pea foam
Canolli filled with candied citrus ricotta mousse, maple & raisin caramel sauce, roasted hazelnuts

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Report from ... Austrian Wine Summit - April 21, 2011

I've tasted quite a bit of Austrian wine, but never in a lunch setting (there are a number of reasons for that - which I will not get into here - but the availability (or lack thereof) of Austrian wines is probably number one on my reason-hit parade).  But lunch pairing seems to be exactly what the Austrian's wanted to prove: their wines are a perfect match to some of your favourite dishes.  Sure they can talk about "food friendly", "great acidity", "lovely wines for all seasons" - but when you get the food on the table and the glass is sitting there waiting to see if the pairing works, that's when the truth comes out.

The day started with a 9-wine seminar about a variety of Austrian wines:

Tilt your head to the right to see the best Savvy B of the day

Hannes Sabathi 2010 Sauvignon Blanc led it off ... I would have to say that I am rightfully impressed with Austrian Sauvignon Blanc.  This one had a lovely fruit nose with a steely mineral finish (****).  This was followed by a Riesling that seemed run of the mill and vaguely uninteresting.  Wines 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 were all made from Austria's signature grape Gruner Veltliner: all six were from different regions - Niederosterreich, Wagram, Kamptal (x2) Kremstal, Wachau - and all showed the differences in style that can come from this grape, proving that Gruner is not a one trick pony.  Wine 3 (from Nigl) showed lentils and lime; Wine 4 (Leth) showed an array of melon, citrus and mineral; while Wine 5 (Rabl) was kind of a light Chardonnay in its stylings: chalky, buttery, vanilla, green apple skin with a medium finish.  Wine 6 (Schloss Gobelsburg) was an oak aged number that still felt fresh, lively and really was delicious, especially for its age (2007) and knowing that oak had been part of its treatment made it seem doubly so.  Wine 7 (Salomon Undhof) was a little older (2006) and was starting to shows signs of oxidation on the finish; the final Gruner, Wine 8 (Schmelz) was minerally throughout. 

Leaving camp Gruner, the 9th and last wine of the seminar was a Blaufrankisch from Burgenland, which was a dusty display of oak on the palate but a real delight of dark fruit and spices on  the nose ... this one needs some time to integrate.

Best of the Wine Seminar ...

While I was very impressed with the Hannes Sabathi Sauvignon Blanc (****), as mentioned above, I found myself even more impressed with the depth and character of Wine 6: Schloss Gobelsburg 2007 Gruner Veltliner - Kammerner Lamm (****+)

Some Words About Austrian Wines ...
The seminar wasn't just about tasting wines, it was about re-introducing Austrian wine to a smaller more influential group that might help drive Austrian wines out of the shadows and onto your table ... the things to note about Austria is that it is not Australia - Austria is more about white based wines, is much smaller in acreage planted (46,000 hectares vs. 164,000) and you don't see as much Austrian wine on LCBO shelves as you do Australian - plus Austrian wine is amazingly lunchtime-food friendly.

Finally, the Other Wines ...
Through all of this talk about white wines and Gruner, my favourite wine was none of the above, in fact it was a Pinot Noir from Wien (Vienna): Wieninger 2007 Pinot Noir Grand Select - it hit all the right notes Pinot should hit and is both a pleasure on the nose and palate: cranberry, sour cherry, touch of vanilla, cinnamon, spice and fine tannins (**** 1/2)
Wieninger 2007 Pinot Noir Grand Select - **** 1/2

Having tried a plethora of whites during the seminar portion, I concentrated on reds, which proved to be fruity and accessible, as well as a few more varieties of whites; here is the best of the rest from this year's Austrian tasting:

Forsteiter 2009 Zweigelt ($12.95) - nice spiced raspberry and black cherry with cranberry nuances. (****)

Heinrich GesmbH 2008 St. Laurent ($32.00) - black cherry throughout with a hint of spice on the finish. (****+)

Meinhardt Hube 2009 Steinbach Sauvignon Blanc ($18.90) - tropical core with pear-like finish. (****)

Laurenz 2009 Friendly Gruner Veltliner ($16.95) - fresh and fruity with melon and pear notes. (****)

Stadlmann 2009 St. Laurent (N/A) - fresh, bold and black cherry with a hint of licorice, even better chilled. (****)
Stadlmann 2009 St. Laurent - chill and enjoy
 "Rabl" Rouser (showing consistency in three wines) ...
Of 5 wines, four offered excellent flavour, aromas and surprisingly good value.  One of those wines was part of the seminar and then there were these three:

Rabl 2010 Gruner Veltliner - Spiegel ($16.95) - melon, lime, hint of grapefruit and pear, very fresh especially due to the balancing acidity. (****)

Rabl 2009 St. Laurent ($18.00) - peppered cherries and cranberries with a white pepper and cranberry finish. (****)

Rabl 2007 Rielsing TBA ($47.95) - extraordinary sweetie with honeyed peach, apricot and lavender; a decadent dessert all on its own, amazing. (**** 1/2)
Rabl 2007 TBA - "decadent and amazing"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Report from ... The All Canadian Wine Championships Judging, Day 2 - May 17, 2011

Greeted by 30 Rosees this morning
Another early day.  We arrived at The Other Place Catering venue by 9AM ... the schedule showed my panel was tasting Sauvignon Blancs, a small handful of Semillons, Rosés, Bordeaux-style blends and a few others.  The tasting went as expected, but lunch proved to be a bit of a surprise ... usually day two is quiche day, but weren't we all pleasantly surprised when we were presented with salmon and mini potato latkes with a delicious Bailey's creme brulee for dessert.  After lunch we went through the major medal round judging: sweet wine, fruit wine, red wine and white, which are to be announced at dinner in the evening at the same Lebanese place we enjoyed last year: Mazaar.

I can't reveal names of wineries but I can tell you that Ontario took home the best White and best Fruit wine trophies, BC did there usual masterful job with Red and Quebec will be taking the highest Dessert wine honours.  The announcement of all the winners is this Friday (May 20, 2011) and can be found on the All Canadian Wine Championships web page:

Musar 2008 Jeune Red
As for dinner, some of the wines were of interest while some were just plain boring ... the best of the night were:
Chateau Musar 2008 Jeune Red - a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon with really good red fruit with the right amount of spice and pepper, a real highlight of the night.
Batzella 2006 Tam - a Tuscan red made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc aged 24 months in oak and another 8 in bottle; I am told this is the neighbour of Sassicaia (for you wine freaks that should mean something).  licorice, red berries, and spice, this wine was lush and still very ageable.
Three Loose Screws 2008 The Crusher, Wilson Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - this was a typical California Cab with lots of red juicy fruit, red licorice and some chocolate; surprisingly it had less alcohol (13.5) than the Tuscan (14.5).

As for dinner ... everything was amazing and here are the pictures to prove it:
Pita, hummus and something cheesy
Garlic-lemon butterfly shrimp
Plate a Lebanese goodies

Report from ... The All Canadian Wine Championships Judging, Day 1 - May 16, 2011

Here I am in Windsor, Ontario for another round of the All Canadians which includes wines from across Canada (I was told that the first wine ever from Saskatchewan was entered this year).  We assembled in the morning (9 AM) at The Other Place Catering venue to start our tasting of more than 1130 wines ... it always looks the most daunting in the morning.  I wrapped my palate around Unoaked Chardonnay, Meade, Late Harvest, Soft Fruit Dessert wines, and then after lunch a pile of Merlots and Iced Ciders.  Somewhere in there we also had the Sparkling wine taste off to determine the best Sparkler in Canada - I am sure I am not allowed to tell you who it is but I can say that the trophy will stay in Ontario with a first time winner.  We break at 3:30 and are back at the hotel about 4 for a well deserved bit of rest before heading out to dinner.

Now dinner I know I can tell you all about ... we went to a place called Nico's, that serves some wonderful Italian food, tonight's choice was between white fish and lamb - from my look around the table lamb was the main of choice for most judges, but I bucked the trend and went for the fish (glad I did, it was delicious) - both dishes were sided with the best pillow-gnocchi I have ever tasted ... pictures are below.
When you get a whole bunch of wine judges / writers together the wine flows free and there were some really good bottles on the table this evening - the most interesting of which were brought by members of the jury themselves:
Gemma 2001 Giblin Riserva Barolo - I had one mouthful, what what a delicious mouthful it was.
2027 Cellars 2007 Featherstone Vineyard Riesling - brought by a proud papa, this wine is still showing beautifully.
Ehrhart 2008 Domaine Saint-Remy Reserve Gewurztraminer - floral and spice with a thick mouth-feel.
Michel Delhommeau 2009 Cuvee Harmonie,Muscadet Sevre et Maine (sur lie) - a lovely lemon-limeade wine with great acidity that paired well with the shrimp and calamari made from 100% Melon de Bourgogne.
Castello Vicchiomaggio 2001 Ripa della More - a super-Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot, another wine I had but a mouthful of but a mouthful was enough to taste the intricate flavours this wine had developed ... though I wish I had been able to relish a whole glass to get all the nuances out of it.
Librandi 2007 Duca San Felice Ciro Riserva - a wine made with the native Italian grape 'Gaglioppo'; this was a really food friendly wine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Report from … Get Fresh in the Valley – May 7-8, 2011

Back in 2008 I did something I have never done since:  I had a guest writer write a blog entry of an event that I could not attend.  His name was Fred Couch, and although I and my readers enjoyed his frank, honest assessment of Wrapped Up in the Valley 2008, a certain winery had some choice words for Mr. Couch (I think they threatened to eat his children, good thing for Fred that he does not have any).  Anyway, it has taken me 2 years but I have coaxed Fred off the couch and on to the road again – this time for a look at the new 20 Valley event “Fresh”.  Fred has also told me that he tried to remain positive, and where negativity did seep in he did not mention any names (I guess he wanted to not only protect the guilty but himself as well) …

“Get Fresh in Twenty Valley” Passport Event 
… By F.G. Couch

This event, held the first two weekends of May, was an inaugural event for the Twenty Valley Association.  20 wineries participated and for a passport cost of $35 plus HST (of course!), holders could visit all 20 for a sample of wine with matching food.  As a bonus and to get your spring garden started, each winery also gave out a packet of seeds.  There were ten different varieties in all, each producing an edible product including arugula, sweet basil, Detroit dark red beets, Touchon carrots, Bouquet dill, red salad bowl lettuce, Tokyo long white onions, cherry belle radish, Tyee spinach and Johnny Jump-up violas.

As with most passport events, some wineries go all out and do a great job and put a lot of effort into the wine and food pairing and the presentation.  Unfortunately, others took the easy way out and offered uninspired food such as a bit of goat cheese mixed with dill on a very stale crostini.  Another winery just served a small piece of baguette with a saucer of dipping oil and a dry spice mixture. [ed. Note:  this is where Fed has performed his negative soft shoe shuffle.]

The best food presentation both visually and taste-wise has to go to Sue-Ann Staff Winery.  Sue-Ann had an unfortunate experience on the first weekend with the spring-style sushi California rolls that she wanted to serve for this event.  [She did not repeat her mistake twice] instead she created a dish modified from a magazine recipe.  For the cup she used an egg roll wrapper baked in a muffin tin.  This was then filled with a coarsely shredded papaya dressed with fresh mint, ginger, garlic and lime juice with fish sauce, sugar and salt.  Then garnished with soya poached salmon, cherry tomato, peanuts and thinly sliced dried mango on the side.  The matching wine was the 2009 Pinot Grigio.  Five out of five stars, Sue-Ann!

Runner up in the presentation category goes to The Good Earth Food and Wine Co.  They served a spring pea soup with crème fraiche garnished with an edible Johnny Jump-up viola.  The soup was paired with their 2009 Chardonnay.

Best food pairings were at: Megalomaniac (John Howard Cellars of Distinction) - the 2009 Narcissist Riesling was served with a caramelized onion tart with duck confit and goat cheese, garnished with a beet chip.  This excellent dish was prepared by About Thyme Bistro in Vineland.  13th Street Winery – the 2010 White Palette was paired with spring rolls and a spicy dipping sauce.  As an added bonus they also served a carrot soup and you could also try the Red Palette with the spring roll.  Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery – the 2010 Wismer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc with a spring market sandwich of cream cheese, cucumber, tender greens and fresh herbs on organic whole wheat bread.  Angels Gate Winery – the 2009 Sussreserve Riesling with a South-western rice medley with shrimp.

The maverick winery award goes to Stoney Ridge Winery for serving the only full-bodied red wine of the event!  The other wineries served either a white wine or a rosé.  Stoney Ridge broke the mold by offering their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon with roast beef slices and aged cheddar cheese including a horseradish cheese which went well with the beef – delicious!

Overall, this was a great event and well worth the price of the passport.  Some of the wineries were disappointed with the attendance while others said they had a great turnout.  I’m not sure what would be the explanation for this.  One winery representative said that the event should be held in June rather than May.  The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake hold their Herb and Wine Festival during four weekends in May as well so this could contribute to attendance being lower than expected.  However, with a bit of tweaking and possibly more advertising this event could become the spring wine event to attend!  Event rating: 4 ½ out of 5; value for money: 5 out of 5.

[ed. note: I found the advertising to be a little lacking for this event; as a media outlet I received only one email about the event and it gave only a single day for the event, not 2 weekend in May.  Meanwhile, the folks at the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake have sent me two emails a week to remind me of there Spring event (Wine and Herb Festival)].