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!***

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)

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)

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




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


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!


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.


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