Friday, December 30, 2011

Report from ... Croatian Wine Dinner at Wildfire - November 3, 2011

Now there are some wine events you go to just for their curiosity factor … and to be honest with you this was one of those evenings.  I can count on one hand the amount of Croatian wine I have tried and would not need many of those fingers to count the memorable ones.  But tonight I find myself at Wildfire Steakhouse at the north end of Toronto with three winemakers from Croatia in attendance … 6 wines are being poured with dinner, two from each winery: Trapan, Matosevic and Saints Hills.

60% of all Croatian vineyards are planted to a grape called Malvasia, a white grape that seems to be the calling card for Croatia, either as a straight varietal or as a blender.

To start the evening we had a selection of passed hors-d’oeuvres along with two wines, a red and white – the white was a Malvasia, while the red would best be described as “just wine” … unfortunately neither was more than average.
Sit down dinner opened with salad

We moved onto the 2nd course which consisted of Pink Grapefruit and Arugula Salad with honey walnut dressing, candied walnuts and goat cheese … this proved not only to be a tasty course but a real delightful pairing with the Matosevic Grimalda White 2009 (*** ½+) a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Malvasia (25%) and Sauvignon Blanc (25%) aged 12 months in French oak.  “Grimalda” is a place located 300m above sea level where the grapes for this wine grow.  Flavours were quite white fruit driven with good mouth-feel and acidity – the wine improved with each sip (which is always a good sign).

Third course was wild mushroom and ricotta ravioli served with another Malvasia based wine, this time the grape made up a majority of the blend (61%) with only Chardonnay as its partner … this one proved to be a little over-ripe and while the first few sips were interesting you found yourself getting tired of the wine quickly.
Beef tenderloin served with Syrah - see pic below

Fourth course was charred beef tenderloin, which gave us a chance to sample some of the heavier reds from the country, one of the wines was an absolutely horrid mess, but the Trapan Syrah Shuluq 2009 (*** ½+) was a real surprise.  15 months in French oak gave this Syrah hints of cinnamon and spice, with raspberry and white pepper and a good acid balance, but there was an abundance of oak here, though it helped with the long elegant finish … this was by far the best wine of the evening.  I heard rumour that the price of this wine was somewhere north of fifty-dollars, which, aside from some of the nasty flavours, was the real drawback of many of the wines we tasted tonight: the price and of course their inaccessibility on wine store shelves.  If the prices come down that will solve one of the problems and maybe will get more people to at least take a chance on these wines …
Best wine of the night

Report from ... Le Donne del Vino / Women in Wine (Italian) - October 3, 2011

This was an event featuring Italian women in the wine business ... from the hoopla surrounding it, you'd think it was about winemakers and owners, but nope, it seemed that if you had a woman in the company in any capacity you could be part of this group; sure you had your fair share of owners and winemakers but also on the bill were CEOs, Managers, Export Directors, Sales Directors and Vice Presidents.  “Le Donne del Vino” is an organization that represents more than 750 Italian women involved in the wine industry … the most influential within their company and within the world of Italian wine ...  66+ wines from some 21 producers were presented, below a list of wines that scored 4-stars (very good) or above with some related notes about the wines …

Allegrini …
2008 La Grola ($35.00) a single vineyard Corvina with 20% Syrah added … a red fruit and mineral driven wine – tasty. (****+)
2007 Palazzo Della Torre ($25.00) a blend of Corvina and Rondinella with 5% Sangiovese … gentle spice mixed with nice red fruit. (****)

Bosco Nestore 2006 110 Riserva Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ($29.00)  some really intense flavours of black licorice, spice and leather with a pleasant chalkiness. (****)

Donna Chiara …
2010 Greco di Tufo ($17.00) a real summer style pleaser with citrus fruit, mineral and grapefruit pith are dominant with a lovely long yellow grapefruit finish. (****+)
2008 Irpina Aglianico ($19.00) pure essence of red fruit with a delicious palate and medium-short finish. (****)
2007 Taurasi ($35.00) made from 100% single vineyard Aglianico … very concentrated and full bodied with the elegance of cherry and a slight touch of spice. (****+)

Grotta del Sole …
2009 Aglianico ($16.00) red and black fruit with some nice violet notes. (****)
2010 Gragnano della Penisola Sorrentina ($16.00) a secret blend of reds with a touch of fizzant … big and bold red fruit like cherry and strawberry with a nice dry finish. (****+)

La Gironda …
2010 Brachetto D’Acqui ($18.00) the red brother of Moscato … lots of raspberry, strawberry, floral and bubble gum notes. (****)
2008 Chiesavecchia ($28.00) a blend of the native, Barbera and Nebbiolo, and the international, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot … excellent structure, nice tannins, lovely dark fruit. (****)

Marchesi de Frescobaldi …
2006 Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino ($49.95) a wine always available through Vintages (Ontario) … robust and full flavoured: sour cherry, cranberry and powerful tannins. (****+)
2008 Tenuta di Castiglioni ($22.00) the only native Italian grape here is the 10% Sangiovese in the blend … elegant: fruit mixed with spice and hearty tannins. (****+)
2009 Terre More ($19.95) all international varieties … sweet fruit forward with cherry, raspberry then adds a touch of white pepper, chocolate and sweet black licorice – yummy. (****+)

Marchesi di Barolo 2006 Crus Storici Sarmassa Barolo ($59.00) chewy wine with spicy tannins and dark fruit. (****)

Marenco 2008 Red Sunrise Albarossa ($25.00) Albarossa is a recent grape planting, a cross between Nebiollo and Barbera … the wine itself is blend of those two worlds spicy red fruit with robust tannins and good acidity. (****+)

Massimago 2007 1883 Amarone della Valpolicella ($62.00) the family has owned the land since 1883 … 5 months of drying, 2 ½ years in barrel and 1 year in bottle has produced a big (16.5%) yet smooth drinking Amarone loaded with blackberry, plum and spice. (****+)

Orlandi Contucci Panno 2006 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Riserva ($38.00) nice structure, dark berries with a slight peppery note on the finish and good tannins. (****)

Planeta 2009 Noto Passito ($40.00) a sweetie from south Sicily made from Moscato Bianco … really aromatic, fresh with well balanced acidity and a slight bite to the finish. (**** ½)

Vigne & Vini 2008 Papale Primitivo di Manduria ($18.45) plum, red cherry and vanilla with good acidity to balance all that lovely sweet finish. (****)

Zenato 2006 Recioto della Valpolicella Classico ($42.00) the dessert member of the Valpolicella / Ripasso / Amarone family … big red cherry start to finish. (****)

Report from ... Wines of South Africa Workshop - June 15, 2011

This was an all-day affair hosted on the 2nd floor of Morton’s Steakhouse (on Avenue Road).  Four seminars all dealing with South African wine and their many ilk. 

Seminar One – Chenin Blanc (10:30am) … We were here to taste some 39 wines starting with the (once and future) king of South African whites, Chenin Blanc, described as the Cinderella grape.  Years ago the South Africans called it “Steen”, which means brick, because the bunches come off the vine in a seemingly heavy brick form … but recently the proper name for the grape is being used to market the wines outside of South Africa.  Originally this noble variety was planted as a Brandy grape, but many winemakers have taken it under their wing and decided to make more serious wines from it.  South Africa has the largest production area of Chenin, double its nearest competition for the grape’s affection, the Loire Valley in France.  The reason for its popularity is simple: 9 out of 10 years the majority of regions of South Africa can ripen all their grapes.  It represents 50% of all white production, 20% of all wine production, and 55% of all Chenin vines in South Africa are 15+ years old.  We tasted 11 Chenins, with vintage dates ranging from 2006-2010 here is my top three:

FMC 2009 Chenin Blanc – this wine just had it all, the nose was full of buttery-toffee with n undercurrent of tropical fruit and vanilla.  The palate had a sweet sensation with vanilla caramel and tropical fruits; lively and fresh with vanilla-butter on the finish.  Lots of yum-factor here.  The wine was barrel fermented in 100% new oak, left on lees for the whole time and the Chenin vines used are well over 40 years old. (**** ½)

Mulderbosch 2010 Chenin Blanc / Steen-op-Hout – honeydew rind goes from start to finish here with lively freshness; there’s a slight bitterness but it adds to the charm of this wine with a finish that has lime and grapefruit pith that lingers a long time. (*** ½+)

Bellingham 2010 Citrus Grove – lives up to its name with citrus and pear notes on the nose and a rather fruity palate delivering citrus and melon rind. (*** ½)

Seminar Two – Always Something New (11:30am) … The topic refers to sustainability and fair trade wines coming out of South Africa and focused on three wineries: Paul Cluver, Reyneke and Thandi, for a total of nine wines tasted.  The Reyneke wines offered little to right home about, and Thandi’s 2010 Shiraz (70%) – Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), which was full of red berry and licorice flavours was the only reason to sing their praises (*** ½+); but each Cluver seemed better than the next, and somewhat surprisingly, all were white.  2010 Sauvignon Blanc was a lovely example of Savvy B with citrus and mineral on the nose, lime and guava on the palate and leaves behind a grapefruit pith finish (*** ½+).  The 2009 Chardonnay was classically Chardonnay in style: vanilla toastiness with good mouth-feel and a touch of beeswax/lanolin across the tongue (****).  Then came the low alcohol (9.75%) 2010 Close Encounter Riesling with its apple, pear and steely mineral notes along with a hint of sweetness; creamy in the mouth without being yogurty (****).

Seminar Three – Good Better Blends (2:00pm) … seminars three and four had a similar bent, mainly red wines and blends, but we’ll get to seminar four in a minute.  Out of the seven wines poured during this hour only two were whites and one of those whites made my hit parade.

Waterford Estate 2007 The Jem – this seven grape blend that includes Barbera, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Syrah and three other main Bordeaux varietal which spent 26 months in oak and was deliciously dark fruited and juicy, yet had enough firm tannins to remind you it could stand some ageing.  Also found some raspberry and chocolate notes within … the wine had a whole whack of flavour (**** ½).

Nederburg 2008 Ingenuity Red – strange bowling pin shaped bottle hints not at what’s inside.  This is an Italian grape blend of Sangiovese (45%), Barbera (45%) and Nebiollo (10%) with juicy red fruit flavours, starting with cherry leading to chocolate and red licorice; sweet fruited and drinkably tasty (****+).

Lomond 2009 Snowbush – this wine beat out my fourth place wine (Plaisir de Merle 2007 Grand Plaisir) by half a mark.  A Sauvignon Blanc heavy blend (54%) with three other grapes mixed in (Nouvelle, Semillon/Viognier), good citrus tones with melon rind and tropical flavours … the finish is a pleasant mix of vanilla and honeydew (****).

Seminar Four – Flagship Reds (3:30pm) … a full dozen wines were poured for this round and I singled out a top three selection, and a bubbling under 2, for a top 5.

Warwick 2008 Three Cape Ladies – sweet red berries and spice with vanilla-raspberry tannins that massage more than rip across the tongue, than there are pleasing chocolate notes that roll along the mid-palate to the finish (****+)

MR de Compostella 2007 – this one has some of those typical tarry South African notes, but there’s also dark fruit, spice, cocoa and some red fruit action here, that helps carry things thru to its pleasing conclusion (****+)

De Toren 2004 Fusion V – this Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wine is smooth and juicy with dark fruit, spiced-vanilla, mocha and some charred wood and fruit sensations on the finish; this needs some time and was poured alongside the 2009 vintage of the same wine.  If the ’09 is going where the ’04 is my suggestion is to stock up (****)

Bubbling under bottles …
Vilafonte 2007 Series C – chocolate coated dark berries with spiced-mocha on the finish (****)
De Toren 2009 Z – this is the other side of V, dominated by Merlot, here you’ll find a more simple wine than the more than its complex laden counterpart (Fusion Z), here we have the subtlety of blueberry and chocolate with decent tannins holding it together (*** ½)

In a Class All its Own …
During the Chenin tasting of seminar 1 we were poured a Kanu Kia Ora 2006 Noble Late Harvest, another version of Chenin Blanc, this time on the sweet side.  Honeyed-apricot and pears, dried peach and mango with a vanilla-buttery finish … delightful and playful dessert wine that seemed out of place amongst all those dry versions, but it deserved to be singled out as something decidedly different and wonderful all at the same time (*** ½+)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Report from ... The Cool Climate Chardonnay World Tour - July 23, 2011

You might have heard that Ontario hosted the world to a Cool Climate Chardonnay weekend in July: dinners, music, events all surrounded around the most popular white wine grape on the planet.  But one of the regions that made it extremely popular was not in attendance, and I'm not talking Burgundy; the reason that California was not in attendance was that much of the state is not considered "cool climate" - though there are some parts that could qualify.

Today, on one of the hottest days and evenings of the summer, Tawse winery hosted the world of Chardonnay in a massive tented area that stretched in a curve around the vineyard behind the winery.  Tables were set up and, wouldn't you know it, in the grand tradition of Tawse doing thing BIG, Murray McLaughlin performed on stage ... the big question: was he paid in Chardonnay? (Only Murray, or is that Moray, Tawse, knows).

54 wineries were in attendance, including 26 from Ontario the others from France, Oregon, New Zealand, Austria, Italy, Chile (?), South Africa (?) New York and British Columbia.  What follows is a list of the top international Chardonnays I tasted (in alphabetical order by winery) ... you can find Ontario Chardonnay reviews on my website (  If there was one thing I learned for certain on this day:  France still has the touch when it comes to Chardonnay ...

Ataraxia Wines 2009 Chardonnay (South Africa) - smooth and creamy with good balancing acidity (****+)

Chateau de Meursault 2008 Meursault 1er Cru (Burgundy) - ****

Domaine de la Vougeraie Vougeot Clos du Prieure White Monopole (Burgundy) - ****

Domaine des Deux Roches 2009 Saint-Veran Domaine des Deux Roches Vieilles Vignes (Burgundy) - delicious, creamy and smooth, balances vanilla with caramel apple. (**** 1/2)

Domaine Laroch 2007 Chablis Grand Cru, Les Blanchots (Burgundy) - ****

Josef Chromy Wines 2006 Zdar Chardonnay (Tasmania) - **** 1/2

Maison Alex Gambal 2008 Puligny-Montrachet (Burgundy) - ****

Maison Roche de Bellene 2009 AC Montagny 1er Cru (Burgundy) - ****
Maison Roche de Bellene 2009 Meursault 1er Cru Charmes Dessus (Burgundy) - ****+

Mission Hill Winery 2009 Family Estate Perpetua (British Columbia) - ****+
Mission Hill Winery 2009 Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay (British Columbia) - sweet fruited with vanilla, pear and melon notes. (****)

The Millton Vineyard 2009 Opou Chardonnay (New Zealand) - ****

Vie di Romans 2009 Chardonnay (Italy) - ****

Two of the more interesting Chardonnays from Ontario were from two very different places.  The 2008 Cuvee Dix-Neuvieme Chardonnay from the low-profile Pearl Morissette was wonderful, but with no retail space I can't tell you where you can go to get this wine, a restaurant near you might be one of the lucky ones to have snagged some of this limited edition wine.  The other Ontarian making wine is a name you should all be familiar with Thomas Bacheldar, winner of the Ontario wine Awards winemaker of the year.  Thomas made his name, amongst other places, as the man behind the wines of Le Clos Jordanne ... now we find he has struck out on his own to make his favourite wines (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) in his three favourite places in the world:  Burgundy, Oregon and Ontario.  Here he showed off his Ontario version (Bacheldar Wines 2009 Niagara Chardonnay) that should find its way to Vintages shelves in the new year.