Archive | November, 2014

Pais It Forward – The Red Daily Slosh

19 Nov

As I type this post, I glance out the window to a yard covered in snow (and getting deeper) and rock to Talking Heads, volume at 11. We all remember that über cool 80’s group, right? I discovered that they’re same as they ever were. To quote Chris Farley, that means they’re, “Haaaawesome”.

These recommendations are for the class of November 22nd.

A release called “Uncork The Finest” naturally focuses on the finest (read: expensive) wines and makes it difficult to provide ‘daily’ slosh recommendations. But, I’ve given it a college try and found 4 beauts. And, if you want to splurge in the run up to the holidays, there are also some classic, iconic labels such as Chateau de Beaucastel, Sassicaia, and Silver Oak. Suggestion? Save some money by going on one less treasure hunt at Costco. You’ll save enough for a case!

Disclaimer: It seems that every time I review the wines available against my experience and notes, I bump into a Grenache (Garnacha) dominated wine that I’ve liked a lot. Not sure what the attraction is. Grenache is generally a little less tannic? But, I quite like a streak of tannin. I’ve been to the Languedoc-Roussillon, Southern Rhone and Provence – all areas that grow a lot of Grenache and I like to recreate that vibe? I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s just a phase that I’m going through. Wait, I know. They’re really good!

nostre paisThis week there is a three-peat wine. I liked it in 2010, liked it more in 2011, love it in 2012. The 2012 Nostre Païs Costières de Nîmes #295410 $21.95 from Michel Gassier is a wine of elegance and regional representation – a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Syrah. It’s medium-to-full-bodied, scents of leaves, lavender – chock full of herbs, dark fruit in the mouth. This is bolder than the last two vintages – more complete and definitely more substantial – longer finish. I enjoyed the last two versions with simple fare like pizza and those ones were perfect for that. I think this vintage needs a bit more class. I’d think a stew with winter vegetables might work. This would cellar for a few years (3 – 5). The 2013 vintage was a bit of a challenge for Grenache in the south. Can’t wait to see what 2013’s Nostre Pais brings. FYI, there’s another Michel Gassier offering this week – 2012 Château de Nages JT Costières de Nîmes #7368767 $24.95. I can’t comment on this vintage but it is highly recommended in several reviews I read. I guess that qualifies as a comment after all?

barahondaLately, there have been more Monastrell wines out of Spain showing up than in the past. What is Monastrell? Monastrell is just Mourvedre carrying a Spanish passport. Generally, unless it’s blended with some of its friends and called Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it’s well-priced. This week, the 2011 Barahonda Sin Madera Monastrell #366823 $15.95 arrives. This wine comes from Yecla DO (Denomenación de Origen) a region that we don’t see that often – but Yecla’s making a move up the charts. Yecla is in the south of Spain just under Valencia, near the Mediterranean – it’s hot and the wines show it. This wine is all fruit – darker and red. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, there isn’t a hit of anything that might be associated with time in wood. It’s easy drinking with some good spicy elements on the finish. Moderately high 15% ABV – so some heat on the nose and mouth. Smooth party wine and a great introduction to Mourvedre’s Spanish alter ego.

Interesting factoid: The Mourvedre grape was named via a contest held in the village of Uzes from where the grape was thought to originate. The contest asked residents to suggest a name easy to correctly pronounce by francophones but impossible for anglophones. Mission accomplished.

fincaecinalA couple weeks ago, I opened a Ribera del Deuro Reserva (2005 San Cristobal) that I’d forgotten in my mess down below that masquerades as a ‘cellar’. It was the best wine that I’d had in months. Sweet cedary scents, fruit still showy and perfectly balanced. I regret to say that I have very few RdD left. So, what to do? Well, let’s buy a few and let ‘em grow up in the basement. Although it may not cellar for as long, the 2010 Finca el Encinal Crianza #355081 $17.95 provides me with that opportunity. These wines are predominantly Tempranillo or Tinto Fino as they call it in Ribera del Deuro. This one has a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. Crianza wines can be a real find for Spanish red lovers. Usually immediately drinkable, easy-going, priced well, and lip-smacking yummy. This wine is a huge cut above anything explained that simply. It is smooth, full-bodied, complex, wanting to please above its designation. Love it. This has a real presence. Let it gasp a bit before you slurp. Very impressive.

ironyPreviously recommended and re-released – 2011 Irony Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon #025106 $19.95. My previous review here.

Also, the 2010 Chianti Classico’s are generally very good. There are a few already on shelves and two in this release (Rocca Delle Macie and San Felice il Grigio) – both riservas.

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Save Thanksgiving, Start Shopping Today!

18 Nov

An interesting and compelling argument to close stores on US Thanksgiving Day. I’d suggest we move it back further to either Canadian Thanksgiving or July 6, my birthday. Think of all that time to get the ‘perfect’ gift. Although, I fear that I would still be left pounding on the LCBO door at 6:05 Christmas Eve for a few last minute stocking stuffers. Or, we could just need so much stuff.

The Food and Wine Hedonist

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about people protesting stores being open on Thanksgiving to start the Holiday Shopping Season.   There are a few Facebook groups on it and people have protested some shopping malls.   Of course the stores’ reactions have been something silly about providing a service to the community or some BS like that.  But some have announced that they will NOT be open on Thanksgiving, and I think people should actively seek those stores out.    

All of this has been because of this post from last year.  I really wish those rat bastards would give me some credit.   Sheesh…


This Thursday in America is Thanksgiving, that terrific confluence of family, friends, gratitude, food, drink, relaxation, and maybe some football.   It’s also the first day of Hanukkah, so many of you “Members of the Tribe” will be celebrating Thanksgivingkah.  (Can I trademark that?)


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Wanna Score?

13 Nov

Thought that I’d insert a perfect scoring video as a benchmark. And, before anyone in the wine world shouts, “Not another article dissing wine scores. Arrgh!” Let me say that it isn’t, exactly. Although, I was reluctant to hit “Publish” for fear of yawns. I hate yawns.

A friend referred me to an article in The Economist a month or so back. The article discusses the upward trending of grades in elite schools. I won’t get into the analysis and you can read the piece for yourself here. But it got me thinking. First, why is Brown at the top? I choose to believe it’s the fact that my son is dramatically affecting the mean upward. And then, well, I got on with other things and forgot about it. Until I received this month’s Wine Enthusiast and flipped through the pages with a quick glance at the wine reviews. It made me think about that Economist article. Because this edition of The Wine Enthusiast like most other wine mags reviews upwards of all the wine in the world each month. It’s quite overwhelming and a feat of palate acrobatics, I bet. I don’t envy having to score that many wines through only a swirl, sniff, sip, spit, and next. These guys are good, I guess. The reason I remembered The Economist article though is that the scores for wines just seem increasingly high across the board. If there is a trend, it’s upwards, I’m thinking.

I love math. I don’t mention it in my “About Me” section like TDC – and you know who you are, Jeff. But, suffice it to say, I believe that mathematics is the foundation of all understanding. Don’t argue with me. Many people have tried and they never win. However, despite this love, I am not going to analyze all the scores in a wine magazine providing charts and conclusions. I don’t need to in order to make my point. All you need to do is take a look for yourselves. In these publications, almost all scores are between 88 and 95 and that’s with hundreds of wines discussed. OK, just one little statistical conclusion – that’s thousands of wines scoring 88 to 100 every year. Or to use the categories below, thousands of wines ‘very good’ to ‘extraordinary’ each and every year. There are few if any scores lower than 88.  The Wine Enthusiast doesn’t even discuss 70’s. No 70’s? Hell, the 70’s were the pinnacle of my academic achievement; the fact of which should not negatively influence the mathematics argument above. So, what’s going on?

A few things. I’m a bit baffled so feel free to comment below that it’s none of the things that I’m about to mention:

  • Due to improved wine technology and broader knowledge, wine is simply being better made and there are but a few examples of wines that wouldn’t earn a score above 80? and/or
  • Wines that aren’t any good aren’t making it into the magazine? and/or
  • Wine makers are working to make what reviewers like? and/or
  • They just seem high because there isn’t a big spread within the scoring scheme? and/or
  • Cynical Take? Reviewers are trapped in a commercial (advertising) or Incestuous (wine buddies) bind? If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything?

Here are the scoring systems for two of the bigger publications – the venerable Wine Advocate and the Wine Enthusiast.

The Wine Enthusiast

Category Scores Description
Classic 98 – 100 The pinnacle of quality
Superb 94 – 97 A great achievement
Excellent 90 – 93 Highly recommended
Very Good 87 – 89 Often good value, well recommended
Good 83 – 86 Suitable for everyday consumption, often good value
Acceptable 80 – 82 Can be employed in casual, less critical circumstances

Wines scoring below 80 are not reviewed in this magazine. Former work colleagues might recognize the Acceptable category as summing up my work history?

Now for a look at Mr. Parker’s system. This system is based on a 50 point scale. The descriptions here are a bit more instructive.

Category Scores Description
Extraordinary 96 – 100 An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety
Outstanding 90 – 95 An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific
Barely Above Average to Very Good 80 – 89 A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavour as well as character with no noticeable
Average 70 – 79 An average wine with little distinction except that it is soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine
Below Average 60 – 69 A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavour, or possibly dirty aromas or flavours
Unacceptable 50 – 59 A wine deemed to be unacceptable

Confession: I used to take magazines with me to the store or go on line and see if high scoring wines were available before I went on a buying spree. I admit it. I was a score and label slut. I don’t do much of that anymore. I know you won’t believe this (my mother didn’t) but I buy magazines for the articles. Reading stories about wineries, sommeliers, restaurants, travel, winemakers, regions instead of gazing lustily at photoshopped 93’s.

In the Economist article, exceptional students and employers complained that, since all students receive A’s, there’s little to distinguish the ‘true’ A student from every other student. As a wine drinker, I feel a bit like an employer. Taking out my personal style preferences, how do I tell the truly good 90 point wines from the good 90 point ones. Or, am I to believe that they are all equally ‘outstanding’. I’m beginning to just shrug and say, “90? Meh.” I get why scores are used. Among other things, it helps people understand the relative merits of a wine in a hopefully trustworthy professional’s opinion. It helps a weary consumer make a purchase. I read all sorts of people that use scores and I get it. It’s not scores that I don’t want. I just want a true spread – less crush at the top – more distinction and recognition of truly ‘fine’ wines. I vote for a true 100 point scoring system or a 1 to 10 paradigm. And, save the 90’s and 9’s for the really, truly, exceptionally special, special wines. The Economist article could have been talking about wine scores in the wine press trending up instead of picking on Ivy League schools, seems to me. Wine review sections in magazines remind me of those report cards designed to safely encourage children but say nothing. “Little Billy hovers between hopeless and exceptional. He is easily distracted by specious arguments. And, he is darn cute.”

In my case, on these pages, I don’t provide scores or relative grades. It could be laziness or that I can’t think of a scheme that I could employ without contradicting myself down the road. Wait, I’ve had a second to think about it and it is definitely the former.

Or, I could be wrong, imagining the whole thing. I’m open to that possibility. I am after all distracted by specious arguments. Thoughts?

People Get Ready – The Red Daily Slosh

5 Nov

One of my best live music memories was seeing The Funk Brothers with my son at Ronnie Scotts in London several years ago. So, when I saw this video – great song, one of the all-time best guitarists, smoking vocalist, and it’s at Ronnie’s, I couldn’t resist. Who are (were) The Funk Brothers, you ask? Only the biggest selling band in the history of recorded music, is all. Go ahead and Google them, I’ll wait.

Winter blows in to town in these parts  for serious (last phrase un homage to my home town) in about a month. And that means stuff to do. The great thing about having all sorts of closing up and winter prepping chores is the reward at the end. I’m not sure about you but I like to work a glorious fall weekend day outside, cleaning gutters, bagging leaves, putting stuff away, and then coming inside to reward my hard work. The reward can be a scotch, a local craft beer, microwave popcorn, or a glass of wine. Sit by the fire and watch the squirrels plundering my newly filled bird feeder – bastards! What I’m trying to say is that there are all sorts of reasons to reward yourself with your favourite beverage or nibble. Solve that Sudoku? Pop a cork. Discover the origin and proper use of diacriticals? Pop a cork. Unblock your formerly blocked plug-ins? You got it. BTW, the part above about liking the weekend chores is B.S. But, the squirrel hatred is too true. Despise them above all else. The point? Pick up a couple bottles of those wines mentioned below and reward yourself.

caliterra2How many times have I recommended a carmenère? Technically, in wine blogger terminology, ‘a bunch’ is the answer. A bit more than ‘many times’ and less than ‘lots’ of times. Why that often? I like carmenère and, frankly, it’s my blog. The 2011 Caliterra Tributo Carmenere #56630 $16.95 was featured in the last release and is a bit of a surprise. Carmenère is usually dark, full-flavoured, full-bodied. This Tributo is more instantly approachable and not quite as heavy or full-bodied as I’ve come to expect from this grape. It has some herbal character and it feels more European than Chilean. I’ve got it – it’s not as ripe as the usual carmenere gang . Big flavour, no heavy mouthfeel. I really like it. Lip smacking acidity. At this price and versatility, it’s a case lot possibility.

bertrandcorbieresI’ve spoken about Gérard Bertrand before. I wanted to recommend his Saint-Chinian a few months back (still a few of those available at First Canadian Place and Oxford Street, London – fabulous, baby!) but must have run out of space or ambition. The May 2014 edition of the Wine Enthusiast had a nice feature on Gérard’s take on the Languedoc-Roussillon, his estates, and his wines. His own personal history as well as that of his wines is firmly rooted in Corbières and the village of Boutenac. He has grown his enterprise to include several parcels including Domaine l’Hospitalet, a wine tourism destination in the Languedoc – check out their jazz festival. I know that I raved about the viognier and the Saint-Chinian so maybe you’ll disregard the following as simple groupie-ness – heaven knows he is plenty cool enough. But, bear with me. The 2011 Gerard Bertrand Terroir Corbieres #394288 $18.95 is a recreation of the better red wines that I drank while in that region. Only it accomplishes all this without the benefit of the influence of a cool sidewalk bistro in Narbonne. It sheds some of the ripeness and confusion of many wines from Pays d’Oc that we’ve all had. It has a streak of stoniness in the glass but is pretty fruit-ful in the mouth – an interesting combination. Tannins evident but in the background. Dark, medium-bodied. Opens up quite a bit after awhile in the glass. Technically speaking, it’s yummy. But remember, I’m trained to use such terminology and I’m biased. It’s a GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) and they all seem to be great cold weather wines. What’s that stew that I love but have never made? Cassoulet? That’s the match.


On The Twenty scallops

cavespringcfMy last post was about winery hopping in Niagara and I mentioned that we ate at On The Twenty in Jordan. I had a glass of local cab franc with my scallops (OK, it was two glasses but they were smallish). I know that cab franc and scallops doesn’t sound like a great match. My philosophy? Drink a wine you like with food you like and it will match up just fine. But, you would be right if you thought that the cab franc would be a bit too too for the scallops. That cab franc? 2012 Cave Spring Dolomite Cabernet Franc #391995 $19.95. The great thing? The Cave Spring tasting room and retail is connected to the restaurant. Of course I needed a bottle to provide a little remembrance of our great meal. This wine is an excellent example of Niagara escarpmentish cabernet franc. Medium-bodied and presenting more shrubby characteristics than fruit ones. Herbs, spices, a streak of acidity, and enough tannin to support it all against any meaty food. Actually, this wine needs food to show its stuff. Doesn’t have to be big food – scallops? Pass on the scallops and try a spicy chicken dish or something fattier.

HHH3A few posts back, I said that I’d provide some wines that have better availability through the Vintages Essentials program. Well coincidentally, I was reading a post on about ‘go to’ steak wines. Different wine writers including The Drunken Cyclist and, I believe, Julia Bailey, weighed in with their faves. To my surprise, one writer picked the Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills (H3) Cabernet Sauvignon #210047 $19.95. Now, I don’t mean surprise as in “WTF are they thinking?” but more, “That’s actually an available, affordable wine.” I guess I was expecting everyone to talk about Silver Oak, Alexander Valley or a well-aged Left Bank Bordeaux. BTW, the latter I have but can’t bring myself to open. Who is special enough to share it with? Anyone? The H3 cabernet sauvignon is an elegant steak wine at an affordable price. Great hostess/host gifty or BYOB at a neighbourhood BBQ.

FYI, another good value red is 2012 La Posta Angel Paulucci Vineyard Malbec #075515 $15.95 a mid-weight malbec with some backbone.

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