November 29 Roundup: Budget Reds, Days of Wine and Rocks, and Back to Burgundy

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

Sip It!
La Posta Tinto Malbec Blend, Mendoza, Argentina
LCBO #: 269860 | 750 mL bottle | $12.85
Alcohol: 13.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
A blend of Malbec (60%), Syrah (20%) and Bonarda (20%), this full-bodied, ruby red blend is a great budget buy. Fermented separately and aged for fourteen months in a combination of French and American oak, this wine is surprisingly and deliciously aromatic. On the nose, candied cherry, raspberry, cocoa and a nip of woodsy-mushrooms and forest floor harmoniously mingle. On the palate, this wine is well-balanced, with moderate tannins and a brightening acidity; red fruit, spice and hints of tobacco are prominent. The wine, though not complex, would be a cheery accompaniment to a weeknight takeout dinner.

Rating:     

Skip It!
Castillo de Monséran Garnacha, Carinena, Spain, 2014
LCBO #: 73395 | 750 mL bottle | $9.95
Alcohol: 12.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
I appear to be in a minority as most other wine bloggers seem to think this a fabulous “value driven” brand, but it’s really plonk. The wine is deep ruby-purple, medium- to full-bodied and the tannins are punch-you-in-the-face powerful. Mushroom, prune and fig aromas on the nose are matched by equally pronounced flavours of mint, smoke and spice on the palate, which I thought gave this wine a rather unfortunate finish. Despite decanting, little can help improve this cheap bottle.
Rating:     


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THIS WEEK: WINE TASTING TERM

Minerality: “My Wine Tastes Like a Wet Rock!”…Or Does It?

Let me be the first to admit that the wine world can be pretentious. In a niche that’s increasingly dominated by certification-chasing oenophiles  and critics with a rockstar-following, it’s sometimes hard to escape the borderline silliness. Nowhere does this trend towards snobbery appear more ubiquitous than in the humble wine note.

It’s often hard to take a tasting note seriously, especially when it lists aromas and flavours that the average person isn’t familiar with. I recall reading a review of a Bordeaux once that mentioned hints of “pencil shavings” and “graphite,” which I absolutely couldn’t pick up when I tasted the wine (though I have since sniffed my L’Oréal eyebrow pencil when freshly sharpened).

Despite my best attempts to keep Sip It Or Skip It‘s tasking notes accessible, I know some of you have even asked whether or not I really taste and smell the things I write about each week. (Case and point, Mother to Daughter last weekend: “‘Oxidized green apple peel’? You aren’t serious!” Of course I am. I’ve made apple crisp often enough to know what peels left too long on a cutting board smell like!) I’m delighted to say, however, that I’m as authentic as I can be; that’s also one of the reasons why my tasting notes don’t vary as much as they should. I don’t know what elderberries smell like, I haven’t crunched on sun-baked Japanese maple tree leaves, and I haven’t gotten up close and personal with graphite, so that really limits my descriptive abilities. What I can tell you is my approach: I consult my trusty aroma wheel, give each sniff or sip the contemplation that it deserves, and then I render my verdict.

This very lengthy intro brings me to our topic this week: minerality. It’s a term that gets tossed about by everyone, myself included, and, in my opinion, is most often applied white wines like Chablis, for example, where the Kimmeridgian and Portlandlandian limestone soils are thought to contribute a flinty taste to one of France’s most beloved wines. But what is minerality? Is it a taste or, as I think of it, a texture?

According to Sarah Jane Evans, MW, writing for Decanter, minerality is a fairly recent term, entering the wine lexicon in the 1980s. However, unlike “acidity,” “tannins,” “red fruit” or “baking spices”–all terms that are commonly used in wine notes–“minerality” is a word without a consistent definition or application. To some, like me, it’s a textural quality. I can’t taste wet rocks and I have no idea what limestone imparts on a grape’s flavour when vinified. I don’t think it’s about the saltiness that some wines, like sherries made in close proximity to sea coasts, take on; for that, I think a perfectly acceptable descriptor could be “salinity,” or, heck, let’s reach for a $0.50 word instead: “salty.” To me, minerality is something that light, particularly white wines, like a Riesling from Alsace or Mosel, often have–a kind of crisp, bright, quasi-but-not-completely bubbliness on the palate. It’s a quality that adds depth and dimension and a pleasant mouthfeel; like layering accessories, minerality contributes to the layering inherent in the sensory experience. 

Christophe Rolland, the former sommelier at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in an interview in Practical Winery & Vineyard Journal, argues that minerality is present in more northern climates with single grape varieties. However, a precondition for its expression is acidity, which is most prevalent in wines that are vivid and crisp and have not lost some of their sprightliness through lees stirring or lengthy barrel aging. In a Guild of Sommeliers’ podcast from last year focusing on the relationship between wine, soil and geology, a geologist argues that there’s no direct connection between the minerals present in local soil and the taste of the wine, and while he suggests that minerals themselves don’t have any particular odor, others, of course, disagree. 

Charles M. Bear Dalton would happily stand up and challenge the scientists, arguing that some “minerals,” like flint and sulfur have distinct odors, especially the latter when struck. In fact, according to CMBD, “certain tastes in wine (which we group together under the umbrella of ‘minerality’) do correlate with minerals in, around, and over which some grape varieties are grown. Riesling goes with slate, quartz and sand. Chardonnay goes with limestone and chalk. […] Cabernet Sauvignon likes gravel and sand.” And so on. I’m still not convinced that this does much to the aroma of a wine. Tomatoes still taste like tomatoes, regardless of where they’re grown, with only slight nuanced differences on the palate. In fact, readers may recall one of the headlines from an earlier posting, where a New Zealand study showed that wine’s flavour may have a lot to do with the microbes responsible for its fermentation. Native yeasts, indigenous to Chablis or Champagne or Alsace or Mosel, could really be responsible for a wine’s “unique geographic signature.”

All this to say, you have my permission to roll your eyes at anyone this holiday season who goes on about the terroir and minerality present in that St. Julien Bordeaux they’re sipping at your dinner party. Armed with this knowledge, including the likely role microbes play in altering a wine’s taste profile, you know enough not to be taken in by the occasional puffery of self-proclaimed (or still-in-denial) wine snobs.  


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR

Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute.

***Faithful Readers, As promised, the second installment of my two-week Burgundy wine book series. I hope you’ll seek this little gem out on Amazon, too, to add to your budding collection.***

So, you’ve read Burgundy and Its Wines, loved the photos and the history the tightly woven narrative provides, and now you’re ready to really dig into the wine-making of the region. No more festivals, auctions and other annual traditions; no more tales of monastic orders and European royalty; and certainly no more glossy coloured pictures.

PitiotThe Wines of Burgundy by Sylvain Pitiot and Jean-Charles Servant, and translated from the original French, is a textbook–the kind of tome you’d slip under your pillow overnight, hoping for cerebral osmosis if studying for a WSET or sommelier exam. It is thorough, technical, and entirely uninteresting to the weekend wine enthusiast. A chapter on geology through the Parisian Basin and Auxerrois district acquaints readers with “sedimentary strata,” tracing the different limestone alterations and the ages of soils, from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous periods. Need some great cocktail party conversation-starters? How about the vegetative cycle, beginning with débourrement, or bud burst? Or the principal pruning types in Burgundy, like the Goblet, Guyot and Cordon de Royat systems?

I’m not suggesting that this isn’t a valuable book. In fact, this is one of the most thorough texts I’ve yet read about winemaking in a specific region, from viticulture through to vinification. It discusses the AOC system at length, the bottling processes, scientific checks, possible changes affecting wines and even characteristics on the more noteworthy vintages. About fifty per cent of the book is focussed on the appellations themselves, listing the producing communes, grape varieties, areas under production, average annual production and even tasting notes. The book is also filled with a number of helpful maps, from specific grape-growing regions to individual communes.

But would I recommend this to a friend who just had a really awesome Beaujolais and wants to learn more before their next trip to France? Probably not. For that, stick with the book by Nicholas Faith reviewed last week. Only serious wine geeks need slog through this one.
Sipitorskipit.com’s Rating  

The Wines of Burgundy by Sylvain Pitiot and Jean-Charles Servant
Softcover
Publisher: Collection Pierre Poupon

ISBN-10: 295137319
ISBN-13: 978-295137316
Available on Amazon.ca

November 22 Roundup: A Tale of Two Rieslings, Ontario Welcomes the Return of Wine Auctions and a Primer on a Portugese Wine Region

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

***Faithful Readers, I have nothing to report for Beaujolais Nouveau 2015, which could be ascribed to my poor planning. I did not line up at my local LCBO trailer on Friday (yes, trailer, while my neighbourhood wine and spirits retailer is under renovation), but, for those who may be interested, the LCBO’s releases for this annual event can be found here. The editorial calendar has been locked down since October, hence also no Carmenere recommendations in honour of International Carmenere Day (but do check out my older review of a charming budget Carm). It’s all about Riesling this week, I’m afraid. Like it or loathe it, we’ve got two options from opposite sides of the Atlantic

Sip It!
Tawse, Quarry Road, Riesling, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara VQA, 2013
Vintages #: 198853 | 750 mL bottle | $23.95
Alcohol: 10.5%
Sweetness: Off-Dry
Wine Type: White
My tasting notebook says it all — beside this organic Ontario wine is the following shorthand: “TASTY! :)” This young Riesling is an unspectacular pale straw colour, nearly water white, but on the nose, light apricot and citrus aromas, even the subtle scent of oxidized green apple peel, invite a delightful first sip. On the palate, the wine is off-dry but still crisp, medium-bodied and honeyed, with pronounced floral characteristics, and only the subtlest hint of petrol (one of the signature aromas of an excellent aged Riesling). A pleasant minerality on the tongue transitions to a smooth, velvety finish, albeit disappointingly short in my opinion. Overall though, a great match for Asian dishes, complex curries or some schnitzel and spätzle.
Rating:     

Skip It!
Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier Scharzhofberger, Spätlese, Riesling, 2012
Vintages #: 424721 | 750 mL bottle | $31.95
Alcohol: 8.5%
Sweetness: Medium-Sweet
Wine Type: White
A Mosel Riesling from Robert Talbott Vineyard and Winery, this Riesling was uncorked with the highest of expectations. Though not significantly older than the Ontario wine reviewed above, I was hoping for something infinitely more aromatic. It must be a failing of mine: I anticipate greatness from some of the world’s most renowned regions for specific varietals and am often crestfallen. Sadly, this one fails to deliver. Not overly aromatic, this wine is much sweeter than the Tawse, but stops short of the off-putting saccharine quality I find plaguing budget German Rieslings, like Black Tower or Deinhard Green Label. The wine is rather light bodied, with flavours of stone fruit (particularly ripe peach), honey, and crushed violets. Alright, but hardly worth the price.
Rating:    


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

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GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: WINE REGION

Dão, Portugal: Rising Star

Dão isn’t a household name outside of wine circles. Unlike Napa and Bordeaux, few consumers are pillaging liquor store shelves at the first sign of wine from one of Portugal’s lesser-known, less glamorous, even underappreciated viticultural regions. Virtually eclipsed by its showy southern cousin, Duoro, where the country’s signature fortified wine, Port, is produced, my first encounter with a blend from Dão was extremely memorable, making it a wine region worth exploring further.

According to Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Wine: An A-Z Guide to the Wines of the World, Dão can produce some of Portugal’s best reds, due to both its climate and topography. But it isn’t all gold medal, best-in-show standings–far from it, in fact, as the region has long been a producer of plonk. The structure of wine co-operatives in the area has, for decades, contributed to the proliferation of “hard, over-extracted reds and oxidized whites.” Thankfully, I did not have this experience with the Borges red I reviewed two weeks ago!

Dão is one of the oldest established wine regions in Portugal, which, not unlike Sherry, owes much of its wine-making evolution to various influences spanning millennia (think Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, not to mention rise of a global multi-empire wine trade). It takes its name from the Dão River around which many of the region’s producing vineyards are located. Some of the best reds are made from the local Tinta Roriz  (known as Aragonez or Tempranillo in Spain) and Touriga Naçional grapes, often blended together; these are also two of the main varieties used in the production of Port.

Better quality Dão wines have good ageability, and can be cellared for many years. High quality wines owe a great deal to the combination of topography, aspect and soil type. The altitude, as well as the proximity to the mountains, help moderate the region’s temperatures, producing cooler nights, ideal for helping the grapes ripen slowerwhile the poor, granitic soils ensure grape varieties, like the Touriga N. and Tinta R., thrive. The predominant white grape variety, Encruzado, is well-known for producing light, fresh whites and, when barrel aged, wines of great depth and flavour. Unfortunately, Portugal’s wines earned no spots on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 this year, though two top-25 places went to (surprise, surprise) Portugese fortifieds, including a Port.

If my experience is any help, I strongly encourage you not to skimp on a wine from the region. I hate to equate quality and price, since we all know that, like a designer handbag, you might be paying more for the name rather than a discernible difference in craftsmanship (and I’m thinking here of some French and American wine-producing regions in particular). This said, I also know that every penny of that $25 Dão red was worth it, and landed me a superbly blended wine that was thoroughly enjoyable. So, do your research, and don’t fear splurging to ensure you avoid the trap of those overly astringent, poorly made bulk wines that are no reflection of the true potential of this great region. (And, of course, if you know of any exceptional, “entry level” Dãos, do let me and my readers know!)


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR

Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute.

***The first in a two-week series on the wines of Burgundy, I review two very different books about France’s most beloved wine regions. It’s also been suggested that I rate the books I review, so you’ll see my much-adored five-cork rating system applied to wine books as well.***

If an introduction by Robert Parker, Jr. isn’t a stamp of approval for a wine book, I’m not sure what is! Burgundy and its Wines by Nicholas Faith, with photography by Andy Katz, is a visual treat and an easy introduction to a region known as much for its history as its terroir.

Faith is author and coauthor of several books on wines and spirits, including Cognac, The Story of Champagne and Chateau Margaux. His style is accessible, and his treatment of an area as complex and daunting as Bourgogne is deftly handled so that neophytes and experts alike can immerse themselves in the pages of this tome and benefit from its content.

The book is divided into six chapters that weave together a cohesive narrative, from an introduction to local geology, geography and grapes, to a short history of the slow but steady ascent of Burgundy as a venerated wine region–both its reds and whites enjoying the patronage of not only Burgundian dukes, but also Hapsburg emperors up until the late 19th century.

The chapter, “The Royal Road to Romanée Conti,”focuses not only on what Faith argues are “by far the finest…wines of unique elegance,” but the areas surrounding it. Indeed, the Côte d’Or is synonymous with Burgundy itself, rising to prominence from the humble beginnings of local monastic orders, to the gradual “secularization” of wine-making in the 15th and 16th centuries.

What Faith does well is connect history with tradition and culture. One of my favourite chapters on Beaune introduced me to the annual wine auction at the Hospices de Beaune which Faith calls “surely the weirdest event in the wine world,” but which I think is utterly charming. The annual auction, held on the third Sunday of November, sees fine wines from the 61 hectares owned by the Hospices (“almost exclusively from its Premier and Grand Cru vineyards”) sold for the purposes of donating the proceeds to the hospital. This year’s auction raised a record-breaking $12 million USD

My overall verdict is that this is a wine book for the collection. It can be read and reread, and each chapter can be easily enjoyed on its own. It’s light on the more technical aspects of wine-making, but rightly so: this is not a textbook. Instead, it helps add the much-needed context and perspective to what some might forget as they sip their Domaine Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis Blanc: the fact that wine is often an integral part of a region’s historical and cultural narrative and is heavily influenced by politics, economics and social change.
Sipitorskipit.com’s Rating    

Burgundy and Its Wines by Nicholas Faith
Hardcover
Publisher: Raincoast Books (Jan. 30 2004)

ISBN-10: 1551926652
ISBN-13: 978-1551926650
Available on Amazon.ca

 

 

November 15 Roundup: Gewürtz to Meet You, Champagne Jayne Defends Her Bubbly Name, and Introduction to Sherry

***Faithful Readers, you’ll note a wee modification to our tried and tested format this week. I know, I promised no tweaks until the New Year, but as I find a style that works for those who regularly “tune in,” I am nothing if not open to positive feedback. One of our new readers mentioned that the Hugh Johnson System was a bit of a head-scratcher. I rather liked the quirkiness of it, but I also appreciate that it detracts from the clarity of a single rating. This week we’ve dropped the HJ system (sorry, Hugh!) and we’re sticking with my “Sip It!” or “Skip It!” recommendation, plus the usual five-cork scale. As always, comments, including effusive praise, are welcome!***


TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

Skip It!

Kuhlmann Plata Gewürtztraminer, Alsace, 2013
Vintages #: 169474 | 750 mL bottle | $19.95
Alcohol: 13.5%
Sweetness: Off-Dry
Wine Type: White
I suspect Gewürtztraminer is one of those love-it-or-hate it acquired tastes, like cilantro and blue cheese. The “ick” scribbled next to this wine in my tasting book tells me that I have yet to demonstrate the requisite appreciation for this noble Alsatian grape variety. What makes Gewürtz stand out are the pronounced aromas of roses on the nose and lychee on the palate. Depending on the age, much like Riesling, the flavour profile changes, with younger Gewürtzes demonstrating brighter citrus notes. This wine is pale, nearly water white, with a slight lemon tint. It’s off-dry, though some might say sweet, with a pleasant mineral texture on the tongue. The bouquet is floral–excessively so–and tastes of honey, cloves, allspice and lychee. The finish is rather short and marred, in my opinion, by a slightly unpleasant alcohol burn. I’d pass on this one and find a better expression of the grape.
Rating: 

Sip It!
Open Riesling-Gewurtztraminer VQA Ontario
LCBO #: 134965 | 750 mL bottle | $11.95 (though periodically on sale for $2 off)
Alcohol: 11.1%
Sweetness: Off-Dry
Wine Type: White Blend
I admit, I like labels. I know it tells you nothing about the contents of the bottle, but it does help you pick a wine you’d otherwise pass right over. This was how I stumbled upon this quite quaffable, though unexceptional white blend, in what I call my “Gewürtztraminer Phase,” which lasted less than a week. Unlike the above example, this blend tones down those flavour notes I don’t really care for in the classic Gewürtz. On the nose, aromas of lime, lemongrass and lychee are complimented by a lovely stone-fruit flavour, rounded out by a crisp finish without even the slightest hint of alcohol burn. The finish is medium, the temperature on this puppy should be cold, and I imagine it would be an awesome pairing with spicy curries or Thai noodle dishes.
Rating:    


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Continue reading “November 15 Roundup: Gewürtz to Meet You, Champagne Jayne Defends Her Bubbly Name, and Introduction to Sherry”

November 8 Roundup: Two $25 Reds, Lodi AVA Named ‘Wine Region of the Year,’ and “There’s an Umlaut in my Wineglass!”

***Faithful Readers, it’s back to our regularly appearing blog format this week. Thanks bunches for your patience and for indulging me not one, but TWO “special feature” weeks. While I’m mulling over yet another tweak to this section of the blog, I promise not to beta test until the New Year. And, by the way, the Christmas countdown is on!***


TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

Sip It!

Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2011, DOCG (Veneto, Italy)
Vintages #: 980128 | 375 mL bottle | $25.95
Alcohol: 15%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
A colleague at work a few weeks ago confessed that she had had the worst Amarone ever. The flavours were too strong, the wine was heavy on the oak and the overall “quaffability” was disappointing. I really want to recommend this expensive, albeit exceptional, version from Tommasi Estates, one of the foremost Amarone producers. The wine is a blend of the four Valpolicella varieties – Corvina, Corvione, Rondinella and Oseleta – and undergoes a lengthy process from harvest to bottle where the grapes, before fermentation, are dried; this results in a loss of moisture, a deepening of flavours and a concentration of sugar. The 2011 Tommasi Amarone is a dark ruby colour, with hints of purple around the meniscus, suggesting that it might benefit from a few more years in the cellar, but there’s really no good reason to keep you from imbibing this near-perfect wine now! On the nose, aromas of dark chocolate, black cherry, mint and warm baking spices, especially cloves, are pronounced. On the palate, this is a fantastically well-balanced, full-bodied wine, with gentle tannins, mild acidity and flavours of seared meat. The wine ends on a slightly sweet note with a medium finish. My red-wine-averse mother claims this is one of the nicest wines she has ever had! That’s definitely saying something, though the price tag, for a half bottle, is rather steep. I guess, as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for?!
HJ System Scoring:  1 [half] bottle (means thorough satisfaction)
Rating:   

Sip It!
Borges Dão Reserva Tinto, 2008 (Portugal)
Vintages #:  Not found (I may have bought the last one at the Clearance LCBO) | 750 mL bottle | $25.95 (I think…)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
A blend of Touriga-Nacional, Tinta-Roriz and Trincadeira, this full-bodied red wine is such a contrast to the Amarone’s sweet, but deeply ripe flavours. The wine is an opaque, inky purple, almost black, and the tannins are more muscular, the acid more pronounced, and the red fruit notes are strongly punctuated by cocoa, tobacco and even a bit of mulling spices. If you’re looking for something smooth, I’d definitely take the Amarone over this one, but the Borges Reserva Tinto, if you can find it, would be an excellent mate for pastas, prime rib or fall veggie stews. If you’re more patient than I am, this would probably benefit from a few more years in the bottle to mellow some of the sharpness.
HJ System Scoring: 2 glasses (meaning I quite liked the wine, or there was nothing else to drink)
Rating:     


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

U.S.

International


GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: GRAPE VARIETY

Embracing the Umlaut: Introducing Blaüfrankisch

The migratory patterns of grapes are fascinating, especially of those lesser-known varieties that are only slowly trickling into the LCBO. (I say “trickling” because, after twenty minutes of searching the Ontario Liquor Control Board’s website, I finally found this week’s grape under one of its obscure aliases: Kékefrankos, in Hungarian.)Blaufrankisch_close_up

Blaüfrankisch is a dark-skinned, red-wine grape that thrives in cooler climates. A late-ripener, it is widely planted throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and, in fact, is often called the “Pinot Noir of the East,” owing to its similarities with Burgundy’s red grapes. It’s with Gamay, however, (of Beaujolais fame) that Blaüfrankisch shares the most commonalities; its expressions run from light and easy-drinking to complex, age-worthy wines that can be harsh, with pronounced tannins, until the wine softens over time.

Blaüfrankisch is the second-most widely planted variety in Austria, just behind Zweigelt, a cross between Blaüfrankisch and the country’s other star grape, Saint-Laurent. Germany, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary all plant the B.F. Hungary has about 20,000 acres (8,100 hectares) under vine, where the variety is a major blending grape in the country’s most famous red wine, Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood).

In 1941, Blaüfrankisch (going by the alias Lemberger) was first planted in Washington State, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it began to be seriously cultivated by local vineyards. Today there are over 100 acres under vine and some fourteen wineries bottling Lemberger, often as part of a blend. Other New World growing regions include the Finger Lakes in New York State, where it is blended with Cabernet Franc; California’s Lodi and Temecula AVAs; Lake Erie and Lehigh Valley  in Pennsylvania; Ontario’s Niagara region; and British Columbia’s Okanagen Valley and Vancouver Island.

On the nose, B.F. smells of cherries, berries, smoke, spice and black pepper. It pairs well with grilled foods, duck, venison, lamb, cream-sauce pasta dishes and lentil soup. I’d say stay tuned for my reviews of some Blaüfrankisch in the coming weeks, but all I can seem to find is an $8.90 bottle (Jaszbery Szekszardi Kékfrankos, LCBO #: 371583). If anyone stumbles on others, do let me know!


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR

Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute.

Was anyone else wondering what happened to Joe Bastianich when last season’s Master Chef USA premiered? Just when I was getting used to his abrasiveness, he disappeared without explanation. Odd.

At any rate, I bring up Joe Bastianich less for the Master Chef mystery, and more for his fantastic book, Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy. Co-authored with David Lynch, former senior editor for Wines & Spirits magazine, the 544 pages represent a comprehensive and definitive guide to Italy’s numerous and complex grape varieties and wine styles. Have you tried Tocai Friulano (a.k.a. Sauvignon vert)? Wine from grapes grown at the foot of the Dolomites? Could you find Alto Adige on a map? Would you be able to name the varieties that go into a Super Tuscan?vinoitaliano

Admittedly, the level of detail is a bit overwhelming, and though I’ve read the book closely, it warrants a second or even third perusal. With over three hundred permitted grape varieties, Italy is obviously among the richest viticultural areas in Europe, certainly rivalling, if not surpassing, France. Exploration of the country’s wines could be expertly studied with Bastianich’s book, and, as I intend to do, pair each libation with complementary regional dishes, which have been contributed by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s mother, Lidia. Vino Italiano retails for just under $20 CDN on Amazon.

November 1 Roundup: Wines of Chile Special Edition, Harvard Paints California Wine Country Crimson and We’ll Always Have Casablanca…

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

**We’re interrupting your regularly appearing format again this week to bring you the mildly informed and completely amateur impressions of a selection of Chilean wines.**

Torontonians have every reason to fall in love with the wines of Chile, especially if they attended the Chilean Wine Festival this past Tuesday at the Royal Ontario Museum. (Unfortunately, I don’t have photos. The set-up wasn’t the most conducive to finding places to rest your tasting glass, tasting book, and copious pieces of marketing collateral, plus it was so crowded I was jostled a whole lot, so the photo quality would have been pretty poor.)

At first I felt a bit like herded cattle as ticket holders were asked to line up outside the Peter F. Bronfman Hall. (Always a great view of the museum’s gold-mosaic ceiling when you’re loitering on the second floor!) When the doors finally opened and everyone streamed in, we were handed a tasting glass and booklet before being let loose to sample the offerings of some 30 participating wineries. The room’s layout had wineries at booths along the perimeter, while two gigantic tables in the middle were designated as food stations serving an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, including braised lamb, sweet and savoury pastries, assorted cheeses, fruits and other nibbles to nosh on. The live music was a treat, and the waiters zipping by with fresh cevice and flaky tartlets filled with bright greens and aromatic herbs helped clean and refresh the palate from the dozen or so wines I tasted.

Although I prepared by listening to a great master class hosted by the First Lady of Wine, Jancis Robinson (see this week’s “One-Minute Wine Tutor” entry below for the link), I was like a kid in a candy store and every intention of approaching tasting in a more systematic way, based on regions and geography, was quickly tossed aside.

I know Carmenere is all the rage — Chile’s signature grape, and with an exciting story of rediscovery in the New World after assumed extinction in the Old — but I was equally interested in sampling those classic Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, as well as Sauvignon Blanc.

Some of the wines sampled are available in the LCBO, and some are on their way — a good thing, too, since yours truly may want to taste some of these wines (including an astonishingly exciting Syrah) again — but all the wines could be purchased through the local merchants representing them.

So, what did I try?

Caliterra Reserva, Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc, Central Valley (LCBO #275909)

According to the winery, Caliterra’s Sauvignon Blanc is produced using environmentally friendly methods, right down to the paper on their labels! This Sauv Blanc was surprisingly light and not nearly as herbaceous as some others I tasted either at the Wine Fest or in the past (long-time readers will recall my green-pepper complaint with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc). I enjoyed the flavours of tropical fruit, citrus and, yes, herbaceous notes of asparagus and bitter greens. I probably wouldn’t buy it, but it would be a very nice wine for salads or seafood.
HJ System Scoring: 1 sip (not even a faint interest!)
Rating:  

Carmen Gran Reserva Syrah, Alpalta (LCBO #: 301903)

Really liked this wine. It was a super full-bodied Syrah with a heavy mouth feel and powerful tannins. I picked up elements of black fruits, smokiness, wood, cocoa and spices, especially some anise and cloves. I don’t think it’s a crowd-pleaser because of the complexity (I have to deal with some red-haters on a regular basis), but it’s something exciting for a steak or lamb stew dinner. Great autumn and winter wine!
HJ System Scoring: 2 glasses (means I quite liked the wine, or there is nothing else to drink)
Rating:  

Bisquerrt 2014 La Joya Gran Reserva Syrah, Colchuga Valley (LCBO #: 325407)

If I had blind tasted this (not that I’m any good), I would never have guessed that this was a Syrah. Unlike the above Syrah, this one was astonishingly light, fruity and atypical in terms of flavour profile. It was mellow, lacking in spice and herbaceous notes, and was the kind of wine you could easily serve with a tomato-based pasta dish or pork chops without it overpowering the meal or seeming too bitter.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)
Rating:   

2012 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere, Alpalta ($17.95)

Following the Syrah was such a big mistake! Even with a clean palate, this seemed blander, but by no means a disappointing expression of the Carmenere grape. Lightly stewed fruit compote flavours mixed with a slightly lighter body (although it’s still quite full) makes this my more likely go-to between the two for a dinner party.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)
Rating:   

Tarapacá Gran Reserva Carmenere 2013 (Vintages #: 57513 – Available February 16, 2016)

Again, a fine expression of the Carmenere grape. Really liked the reddy-black fruit notes of this wine, coupled with some mint and spicy-woodiness that added depth and complexity. A nice wine, once again, for heavy red meat and game pairings. I’m splitting hairs, I know, but I probably liked the Carmen just a touch more.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)
Rating:   

San Pedro 2012 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley ($19.95)

Oh dear. Reviewing scribbles, likely jotted down as the evening wore on, reveals some unusual and less incisive musings. “Nothing special,” I seem to have written, “Slightly astringent tannins. Reminds me of a young Sangiovese.” Well, that’s that, I guess. My review should really be corroborated with a more reliable source, RPJr. or maybe that WineAlign site?
HJ System Scoring: 1 sip (not even a faint interest!)
Rating: 

Pérez Cruz 2012 Pircaas de Liguai Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Collection, Maipo Andes

A solid wine, with more well-balanced tannins than its predecessor, and tasty black fruit flavours. Definitely lighter in style than some other Cabs on display that night, but my use of a check mark appears to have been shorthand for, “Yup, I’d buy this.”
HJ System Scoring:  1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)
Rating:  

Pérez Cruz 2012 Chaski Petit Verdot, Maipo Andes

“Yup, I’d buy this” check mark present here as well, with a few words, “light,” “like Pinot,” “easy drinking.” Fruit notes say, “red cherry, tart raspberry, nutty.” Clearly a later-evening wine due to poor penmanship.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)
Rating:   

Morandé 2014 Edición Limitada Sauvignon Blanc ($30.25)

Wow. I liked this one, despite how heavy it was on the herbaceous notes, especially the slightly in-your-face green pepper. Compared with some of the other Sauvignon Blancs this had marginally more body and a really refreshing acidity to help round out the finish. There’s a smiley face beside this one, too, but I can’t remember what that was shorthand for…possibly “I’m cutting myself off soon.”
HJ System Scoring: 2 glasses (means I quite liked the wine, or there is nothing else to drink)
Rating:  

Morandé 2014 Gran Reserva Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley ($22.80)

I think this is the first Pinot on the list so far. It wasn’t bad as far as this finicky little grape goes. I tend not to enjoy the lighter body of Pinots — and this one was, unquestionably, lighter-bodied — but it had a nice ruby-purple colour, with a prominent berry profile and no real hints of oak to overpower the palate. Youthful, fresh, a red for summer. Red wine drinkers who complain about knockout tannins or heavy mouth-feel would enjoy this one, but I didn’t love it.
HJ System Scoring: 1 sip (not even a faint interest!)
Rating:  

Indómita 2013 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($15.95)

The “Yup, I’d buy this” check mark makes another appearance. Deep purple colour, almost opaque, full-bodied, dark fruit flavours, richly complex, with hints of bitter dark chocolate and warm baking spices.
HJ System Scoring: 1 glass (tolerance, even general approval)
Rating:   

And, if you’ve lasted with me this long, I’ve saved the best for last.

Call me a geek, but part of what I love about wine is the learning that goes along with it. If I had one complaint about the evening (OK, fine, two complaints for all those keeping track), it’s that some of the folks at the booths weren’t nearly as conversant in the wines they were representing as I had hoped. (And don’t even get me started on the people who ignored me as I sidled up to their booths! I won’t mention names…) I’m sure I’m in a minority, but I believe that you should be armed with a great elevator pitch that, when asked “Tell me about your wines,” or “What’s your standout?”, you could answer with a twenty-second spiel on your winery, where you have your vineyards, how the climate and aspect influence grapes grown, and what your most impressive wine is. Few people could answer this for me, but the gentleman at the Koyle booth was a superstar in this department.

I tried all six wines on offer, and was very patiently led through a quasi-tutored tasting of their: 2013 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.75), the 2011 Royale Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.95), 2013 Gran Reserva Carmenere ($14.75), 2014 Don Cande Cinsault ($14.75, my first New World Cinsault ever!), 2012 Gran Reserva Syrah ($14.75) and 2010 Auma, all Colchagua Andes wines. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is currently available at the LCBO and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (I really enjoyed this one!) will be available later this month.

I think I appreciated how each wine had been presented from lightest body (the Cinsault) through to fullest (Syrah), with the Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrahs, in particular, displaying such nuanced, albeit markedly different flavour notes, that it seemed like the most exciting impromptu study in contrasts. I especially loved how, between the Cabs and Syrah, the fruit notes grew darker, riper and more robust, and by the time I got to the Syrah, I was blown away by the prominent mint and smoky-pepper notes, which were notably absent in the preceding wines. The gentleman representing Koyle knew the ins and outs of the winemaking technique so thoroughly I felt privileged when I was shown photos of the egg-shaped aging tanks that helped the wines circulate constantly to avoid sediment from collecting at the base of the vessel. I think my overall experience would have been that much better if everyone had taken the time to chat with me in this level of detail. It was evident that the Koyle folks were really passionate about their wines — something I won’t forget next time when walking the aisles of this city’s LCBOs.

The verdict: Koyle Cabs and Syrah get   — my highest scores of the night — with the wines of Chile, more generally, being worth a second, third and fourth look, especially as I increase my familiarity with the country’s myriad winemaking regions.


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

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GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: WINE REGION

Casablanca: Spotlight on Chile’s first cold-climate wine region

I pulled myself back from a dangerous precipice: providing an overview of all Chile’s viticulture areas from north to south. I’m reminded that this is not only a weekly blog (so, I need to conserve material), but also one that I wanted to ensure achieved a level of pithiness in the entries that allowed readers to breeze through while still acquiring some new knowledge about wine. So, for this week, one region.

Why Casablanca? In an informal poll which included a sample size of one, I asked, “Do you think of Chile as having a warm or cool climate?” Those polled said “warm,” adding that they didn’t expect to see penguin (a subject, no doubt, handled by a different blog). For that reason, I think Casablanca is pretty neat, because summers can be as nippy as 15-18°C.

Casablanca Valley’s climate is strongly influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the cooling effects of the Humboldt Current which carries chilly sea breezes inland, contributing to colder night temperatures and to morning fogs that help minimize frost in the winter and spring. The temperate climate — which allows for a longer ripening season for white varieties and warmer, frost-free zones for red varieties — has led to comparisons being drawn with the U.S.’ Los Carneros AVA (which includes parts of Napa and Sonoma County) and Bordeaux, though these are both further from the equator than Casablanca Valley. Noting the latter, in particular, it’s probably little wonder that many of the varietals grown in the region include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, among others. Many Burgundy and Southern Rhône varieties also make an appearance, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Chile’s Casablanca Valley also grows a number of those fun aromatic grapes we so adore, like Gewürtztraminer, Muscat of Alexandria, Riesling and Viognier.

Serious winemaking in this region is relatively recent. During the gradual influx of domestic and international investment in Chilean winemaking in the late 1970s and 1980s, the country also saw the pioneering efforts of viticulturalists and vignerons, like Pablo Morandé (note the Morandé wine reviewed in this week’s “Tasting Notes”), who planted the first vines around the industrial city of Casablanca in the 1980s, defying skeptics and naysayers who doubted the region’s potential for making quality wine. According to wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd, today the wines from the Casablanca Valley now enjoy an “internationally established reputation…for [their] arresting, vibrant, mouth-watering white wines.”


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR
Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute. 

We’re running a bit long here this week in terms of word count, so I’ll try to be brief. I toyed with renaming this the “One-Hour Wine Tutor” this week to allow for the fact that there’s a very lengthy, albeit informative, Chilean wine tasting master class with none other than Jancis Robinson available through the Wines of Chile website. You probably won’t have the wines in front of you (I certainly didn’t), but it was nonetheless a fascinating introductory journey into the myriad varieties and expressions of some of the country’s best wines, a few of which I’ve already described above. So hunker down with a glass and enjoy!