Archive | March, 2015

Ramble – Throw Down – Balance

23 Mar

A shout out to Fort Worth – a great performance that’s 37 years old.

This past weekend, Anatoli over at Talk-A-Vino posted a great piece on balance in wine. You can read it here. What it did was get me thinking about that very topic. Well, actually Anatoli challenged us to think about balance in wine – what it really means, how we view it, how we value it, and what characteristics affect our take on balance. And, then post our thoughts.

Here’s my take. For years when asked what made a great wine, I’d almost always include “Balance”. It was a bit contrived, running with the herd, and disingenuous. I appreciate ‘balanced’ wines but there are times that I (and I realize many wine drinkers) love wines that are a bit skewed in one direction or another. So what does that say about balance?

The best way that I can describe my concept of balance is by referring to my second love – music. Where balance seems to oddly fit is rock music. If you’ve read Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, you’ll have read a treatise on rock music. In particular, the rock guitar. Keith believed that the guitar wasn’t to be the primary sound of rock music. It was about the band as a whole, a wall of sound (apologies to Phil Specter) – limited guitar solos, no drum solos; just the band and the lyric. When I read that, I thought he was joking – it’s The Rolling Friggin’ Stones – there are guitar riffs and the musical thread is led by the guitar usually. But he’s right, primarily the sound, the experience of The Stones is that of a band, blending together their individual instruments to make a sound, a great and wonderful rock and roll sound. Love that balance! I get The Stones.

Now, how does that explain my love for Joe Bonamassa? Nothing classically balanced there just guitar, guitar and more screaming guitar. Or Bruce Hornsby – prodigious piano. Um.

Do I have to rethink this music parallel? I don’t think so. I think that actually reinforces the analogy. It just means we have to redefine balance – as a wine experience specific. Balance is relative – it’s never absolute or, more importantly, a substitute for equal.

balanceStay with me here. Different varietals, different regions, and different winemakers have calling cards. Some are accepted as the ‘truth’ of the grape or that particular region. And wine drinkers allow many, many takes on that card. But, they expect that calling card shows up. So, I guess what I’m saying is that some wines are in balance when they aren’t… balance, that is. They are the Joe Bonamassa’s – loud veins of acidity and crisp saltiness, say in a white wine like Sancerre. Anything but objectively ‘balanced’. You wouldn’t want to balance away the acidity. You would want every other note to fill out and support the crisp ambition of the wine. If it was objectively in balance, it would taste shitty. And, most importantly, it wouldn’t be Sancerre. When it’s done right, I get Sancerre.

Another example could be California Cabernet – known as big and fruit forward in some quarters. Not purely in balance. But, what needs to happen to take those big Cabs to ‘great’ is a cast that supports the notion of big and fruity. That means rhythm guitarist (tannin) and drummer (acidity) supporting the superb vocals (heft and alcohol) and lead guitar work (fruit) of the Cabernet.

Oh we’ve all had wines where we opine about the balance – an aged Bordeaux, say tasting like The Rolling Stones or Steely Dan – every note supporting the whole, every sniff filled with Bordeaux, every swallow followed by Bordeaux and a little Mick Jagger on the finish. I guess what I‘m saying is that balance is different in every wine. It’s really the wine being genuine, true and then having every other component recognizing and supporting that truth. That’s proper balance. Balance out of balance but just the same – right?

Confused? I might still be too. I’ll keep working on it. Life long learning, I say (tongue in cheek). But, I did respond to the challenge. And quickly too. Thank Anatoli for that.




Three Rieslings – The White Daily Slosh(es)

18 Mar

This day in music history – 1972 – Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” hit number one on the US singles chart. His only solo recording to make a top 20 slot.

Just a few quick white wine recos for the March 21st release.

I’m a member of a fantasy baseball league and part of the fun is sending smack emails to other team owners. It usually takes the form of taunting someone about losing their star to season ending surgery – cheering someone tearing their ACL seems wrong but it feels pretty good when it’s not your guy. Last week as we struggled to find a date for our draft, a fellow owner stated that he was quaffing a Riesling at that very moment. I’m not sure what exactly I said but it was clearly interpreted as being disparaging about Riesling. That’s not what I meant. I love Riesling. Editors Note: He knew exactly what he said – something about some sommeliers and their lazy recommendation of Riesling.

This release there are three local Rieslings that bear a look see. I had all three at the cellar door and that usually means that my notes aren’t quite as expansive – more experiential, less intellectual.

frcnvThe 2013 Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling #578625 $19.95 has pretty well been recommended here for each of the past three vintages and I usually make some reference to the surrealist Andre Breton but it is lost on my audience. The Nadja style is one of bone dry, taut minerality and high acidity. This year is no exception. Lip smacking and good now with food that has some pop or later after the fruit (apples, pears) is allowed to open out and show itself – requires some time in the cellar, perhaps. In fact, this label usually does quite well with a few years at least. My ‘go to’ Niagara Riesling. You can read about my visit to Flat Rock Cellars here.

vinelandelevatioSpeaking of time in the cellar, the 2012 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling #038117 $19.95 is a definite cellar candidate. I opened a 2008 Elevation Riesling last year and it was just beginning to come into focus. Still crisp but starting to fatten up a bit. The 2012 seems to have even a better chance of improving over time. This label has some sugar – classified as ‘medium’ in sweetness – but I appreciate that it has enough spine to not come off as sweet or cloying. I’m big on this wine but let me quote Michael Godel at “To purchase in increments of less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling.” That’s pretty convincing. So I throw down to my fantasy baseball Riesling friend, “Michael, you had better get some of this, cellar it, and when I win in 2020, give me a bottle”.

13rieslingThe last Riesling brings a return to these pages of 13th Street. I featured one of their reds here. The 2013 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling #147512 $19.95 is the first Riesling that I’ve sipped from this winery. This is another dry one that has a definitely heavier feel to it than the Nadja’s. Not heavy – sweet, but heavy as in mouthfeel – fruit, chewiness? Anyway, an interesting wine and one that is pretty great now but will even be better over time. I had thought that, in Niagara, the kero that Riesling can develop over time was most likely found in wines up around Flat Rock Cellars and Sue Ann Staff but this one from a different appellation (Creek Shores) will, I bet, develop some of that yummy petrol over time. Just think the weight indicates that’s the way it will go.

Interesting observation: all three recommendations are single vineyard wines. It’s nice to see Niagara develop individual vineyard personalities and have the courage to make them. I’ve just realized that the best of all three of these will be experienced down the road a while. But, surely there’s something else you can drink while you wait for these three to reach their peak. They’ll be worth the wait. And, I need suggestions for wine for my fantasy baseball draft. I’ve pretty well stayed in Italy or Spain the past few years and haven’t won. So, it may be time to shake it up. Anyone?


Patrick, Alexios and The Red Daily Slosh

17 Mar

Love this song and the timing seemed right. Happy St. Patrick’s 2015! Caution: there are some naughty words.

Being part of a wine blogging community is great. You gather in the ether with like minded souls, you kibbitz back and forth on what you’re drinking, you get great comments on your web site, you learn a lot about wines that you haven’t really had that often, and you unfortunately fall off the wagon. What? Let me explain. Yesterday afternoon, I had decided to forego my usual glass or two (read: bottle) of wine with prep realgrand dinner. It’s kind of a masochistic deal where I tell myself that I drink too much, too often and I need a break and then I proceed to try to talk myself out of that position with mixed results. Yesterday as I prepared our dinner, Anatoli of Talk-A-Vino sent out a tweet to some of us that showed a label shot of 2004 Cvne Viña Real Gran Reserva with the tweet, “This is what I call ‘a damn good wine”. Well, if you’ve read these pages a bit, you’ll realize that Spanish wine has become my Achilles Heel. It’s so damn tasty (a professional wine blogger’s term – do not use it at home). I thought, “I have a few bottles of the 2009 Viña Real Reserva downstairs. Umm. No, resist Bill. Stay the abstinence course” Then, in response to Anatoli’s tweet, Stefano of Flora’s Table tweeted, “Nice, I’m on a Basilicata trip: Re Manfredi, Anglianico d V ‘07”. With a label shot. And it is a very cool, inviting label – “Hey, why not drink a little Aglianico?”, it said. I love Aglianico too! What is a mere man to do? Well, you guessed it – open a bottle of anything as quickly as possible. Rather than taking the time to wander downstairs for the Viña Real, I pulled a wine from the rack upstairs – and with shaking hands and sweaty brow pried the cork out of a 2009 LAN Gran Reserva. How was it? Well, I should have decanted for hours to allow it to open; which wasn’t going to happen. Slosh, sniff, slurp, swish, swallow. Maybe tonight the remaining glass – yes, there was a little left – will be a bit more robust and present. The moral of the story? If you want to dry out a bit, stay off social media.

The March 21st release features ‘Cali Icons’. But, I have a bit of a problem and not just the abstinence thing. I’m overweight in California wine. Being overweight for me doesn’t necessarily mean that I have a ton of them. It means that I will never drink the the ones I have – they never diminish. There’s never an Open That Bottle Night that will get me to pop the cork on these wines. That’s not just the California wines, it’s all the really good ones. What I see happening? In a few years, I will be in the HWID (Home for Wine-Induced Dementia) – along with Anatoli and Stefano it seems – my cellar at my bedside still not able to Open That Bottle. It’s weird. All this to say that I’m not getting any of the offered Cali Icons until I open something else Cali. And, you need company for that. Anyone want to join me?

remofarinaWhat’s the biggest growing trend in wine? Prosecco? Well, yes but what else? New World Rhone blends? OK, but what else? Ripassos? Right On! You cannot go to a restaurant in my town (#ldnont) that serves anything vaguely Italian in origin without a few Ripassos on the wine list. They are everywhere. And we know what happens with this race to make a certain style or varietal of wine. There are way too many pretenders and sloppily made wines. Think oaky Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Cava. Because of that, I seldom order or buy Ripasso unless I’m familiar with the label which does limit my experience. One that I do guzzle with gusto is the 2013 Remo Farina Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore #999946 $16.95. This wine is ready to guzzle right now. You might think light, fresh, red fruit but you’d only be partly right. There’s the red fruit but the additional process (re-passing) has lent a heavier character to this wine, not particularly fresh – ready for more substantial foods than straight up Valpolicella. Balanced. No pizza for this wine unless there’s sausage and mushrooms on it. Good value. Recommended.

castiglioniI have recommended a lot of Italian wines. Italian wines are wines of place – they express their culture perhaps better than any other region’s wines. And, among all those recommended, one certain Italian label appears more than any other for it’s great QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) – Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castigligoni #145920 $21.95. This week it’s the 2011. Now, I realize that $21.95 isn’t what many might spend for an everyday wine. I say, “Really? Let’s fix that.” What you do is you justify the purchase by telling yourself that it was recommended by a brilliant wine guy and that you’ll drink it on a weekend – say, a Friday night after a brutal week. And then you find an excuse to open it on a weekday. Say…………you decide that you’ll pop it open to accompany The Voice Battle Rounds on a Tuesday. Yes, that works. I mean, who will Adam choose? Slurp. That’s how it starts. Commit to the inevitable upselling and buy this. Drink it whenever you want. Why this wine? This is a perfect representation of mid-range Toscana – cherries, backbone and a long surprisingly luxurious finish. Have with any meat with rosemary, Italian fare like Caprese salad with great Balsamic, Neapolitan pizza – yum – or just by itself. Full-bodied and presenting us with the possibility that we might like Tuscany reds the best. Now, what to tell our exes – Rioja, the Southern Rhone, Niagara, Washington State, Piedmont,………….Highly, highly recommended.

boutariGreek wine – what do those two words conjure up? Sitting on the edge of the cauldera in Santorini with a cool glass of Assyrtiko. Been there. Unbelievable, pinch me. But, it also conjures up a very bad glass of red wine, doesn’t it? I’ve been to Greece a couple times and had sworn off their red wine. Ask me about the barrel red and the re-purposed plastic water bottles on Tinos. There was a reason it was a Euro a bottle? But, swearing off a whole country of wine is like never drinking Ontario wines because you once had a glass of Cold Duck. It’s a bad idea to generalize that much. It’s all about point of reference. Plus, life is boring if all you try is stuff that’s the same and safe. So, I jumped back in a few years ago and since opening my eyes to Greek reds, I’ve enjoyed a bunch of them. You should too. And, the safest label for me is Boutari (FYI, Boutari has been named a ‘Winery of The Year’ 17 times by Wine and Spirits Magazine – only three wineries with more nods). This week, the 2008 Boutari Grande Reserve (Naoussa) #140111 $17.95 arrives. If you’ve never had a wine that’s musty, you ‘must’ try this. On my cheat sheets I don’t have the descriptor ‘truffle’ so I just wrote it in the margin. It has a distinct truffle aroma and that follows in the mouth. Wet earth. Love that. Not a fruity wine. In fact, I don’t have a single fruit in my notes. Sturdy in the mouth and on the finish. Almost the mouthfeel of a CdP. Highly Recommended. March 17th just so happens to be Saint Alexios Day in Greece (I’m not kidding, I looked it up on the internet). So, Irish stew, Guinness and a chaser of Ouzo on the rocks with a splash of water. Well, maybe two ouzos – it is a holiday, you know. I’ll tweet Anatoli with a cool picture of the Ouzo – poor bugger, he’ll have to have one too. That’s how it works.

For What It’s Worth – The Red Daily Slosh

3 Mar

This day in music history (1966) – Neil Young, Steven Stills and Richie Furay formed Buffalo Springfield. That’s our boy Neil sitting on the amp. Sorry for the video quality. I think it might have been filmed with a Kodak Brownie. Not sure what the ending is either.

saintrochBack when I simply sent out a newsletter, I remember singing the praises of an inexpensive red from Roussillon. The ’05 and ’06 were superb representatives of the region – lavender, herby goodness. This week, the ’12 version of this wine hits the shelves – 2012 Château Saint-Roch Chimères #119354 $18.95. Not quite in the inexpensive range anymore but in a world where you pay $11 to see a cartoon movie (and don’t get me going on that score), not that surprising. This vintage carries the same brushy, garriguey, herby full-bodied goodness both in the swirl, sniff and in the mouth. That doesn’t mean fruit isn’t present – black fruit – juicy fruit – not the chewing gum but fruit with a nice puckery quality. This might be a bit smoother than other years and a bit bigger – it’s hard comparing notes. Nonetheless, this is a formidable wine – powerful. Love it. Great value for those that love the Rhone-style blends of Syrah and Grenache. That would be me. This is 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Carignan. Highly recommend.

13thstreetCan we talk? I like to promote Ontario wine when I can. I like the wines, the people that make them, and the fact that they don’t feel compelled to send me samples. Well, maybe I hate that last part. The problem is that I’m usually reviewing and recommending from the bi-weekly Vintages release. And, there aren’t a ton of Ontario wines in each release. Example: this release has 120 offerings of which 9 are from Ontario. Just 9! It probably has more to do with the winery’s ability to supply enough product and, I admit, that there are lots of General Listing Ontario wines. But, it would be nice to have more ‘release’ Ontario wines, even in limited availability. OK, down off the soapbox. This week the 2012 13th Street Gamay Noir #177824 $19.95 arrives at the mother ship. There are some grapes that are done quite unevenly in Ontario and Gamay is one IMHO. There are a few great examples but way too many weak efforts. Gamay can be good simple and fruity usually with interest.. And, it can be just plain bad simple and fruity. The 13th Street Gamay is red fruity but has some underlying structure and loads of personality by way of earthiness and surprising minerality. That stuff comes through mostly on the sniff for me and dissipates a bit in the mouth – leaving the fruit and a nice bite. It’s interesting. Reminds me a lot of the Villages-Beaujolais that I recommended last time out but a bit fruit purer – less messy.

bonterrapnCheaper Pinot Noir is, well, usually pretty bad. It’s a grape that doesn’t lend itself to big harvesters, huge production numbers, and just-in-time delivery. So, I tend to avoid it. I know that I’ve recommended the Cono Sur Bicicletta Pinot Noir a few times over the years and it can be as low as $9.95 on sale. But, there haven’t been a lot like that. This week, there’s an organic Pinot Noir – 2013 Bonterra Pinot Noir #317685 $19.95. I like this – it has some wood effects – vanilla and cedary tannins. But, what I like is the unapologetic red fruit nose and finish. It’s juicy with a bite at the end but not too. It would be a great sipper – stand around wine. I’m going to check out now the price stateside just to show you how we get screwed on the lower end stuff……..lowest stateside price on is $16.50 CAD. I stand corrected. I apologize. I guess $19.95 is fair considering that our monopoly helps build hospitals, women’s shelters, and pay off failed gas plant closures. Back to the Bonterra – pick this up. Recommended. Comment: the Bonterra label seems to be picking up its game – I have had a few different varietals from them that represent good effort.

benmarcoI haven’t had a Malbec for awhile. So, when I was out for dinner around the holidays, for our second bottle, we ordered the 2013 Benmarco Malbec #657601 $18.95. Either it was impressive or I was influenced by the poorer quality of the first bottle we had. I’m sticking with the first – it was impressive. This is a meat wine as are most Malbecs. It has integrated tannins, a vein of juiciness but the biggest thing you get is that this wine is together, balanced, smooth. Like The Spinners. Chocolate on the nose but I lost it in the mouth. Dark fruits everywhere. It’s made by my girl, Susana Balbo. There seems to be a purpose to all her wines. They tell a story; you don’t get confused – you know what you’ve got when you drink it. Highly Recommended. And, on second thought, you could just pop and pour this by itself. A guilty pleasure – put on The Spinners (you’ll need the little plastic thing that goes in the middle of the 45).

Splurge wines that I haven’t tasted but am picking up:

2009 Terre Nere Brunello di Montalcino #208462 $42.95 I love Brunello. It’s generally what people buy me if they truly appreciate me. Hint, hint. I have one of three 2004’s of this wine left in the basement. It has such a nice weight and juiciness to it (the 2004 that is). The review for the 2009 speaks to some of the same qualities I found in the 2004 – red cherries, spicy, big aromatics. From a vintage perspective, 2004 is a bit more heralded but, really, my palate may not be tuned to these nuances. I’m jumping in with both feet.

2011 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz #422782 $34.95 When I started to splurge a bit, I always ended up with a few bottles of this wine. Through thick and thin we have travelled the roads to wine knowledge and appreciation. I love its weight – large but manageable; it’s berries too. I can’t identify a single kind of berry but it just smells like that yogurt you can get called “Fieldberries”. Strawberries? Not exactly. Raspberries? No not them either. But, by the Gods, jammy berries. And, it has some peppery notes but not overwhelming like some Shiraz. This one has great reviews and, in particular, I like the term, “finishing with good persistence”. Seems like a good way for a Shiraz to be. I’ll let you know what I think. I’ve had other vintages of this with lamb tagines. Perfect.

nkmip2011 Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon #303719 $27.95 OK, this is a light splurge. This wine always intrigues me because of the story. Oh, the wine is usually great but the story is the best part. This winery is the first wholly owned and operated aboriginal winery in Canada. The dedication of the band leadership is quite remarkable, courageous, and inventive. You can read about him here. The wine? Well, it’s a dark, complex, structured cab in most vintages. It feels right to drink this wine. But, it’s tasty too. And, if you can pronounce the name, you win the monthly DuffsWines prize package.


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