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Answers #SundaySips

19 Feb

answers

Well, ask a question and you shall receive answers. On Thursday I posted my usual pre-release recommendations. I started the post with a question about whether people finished off a bottle at the end of the evening or re-corked and savoured it the next day. I confessed to most often finishing it off under the condition that it was an extraordinary wine. Maybe I wasn’t clear that I do sometimes re-cork but that’s the exception.

The verdict is in, people have spoken and I’m thinking I have a problem (“No shit, Sherlock”). Most responders re-corked – red on the counter, white in the fridge – and savoured it the next day. Several felt that the wine changed for the better and that it was instructive and even of benefit to taste it with the extra evolution.

I agree. There is an evolution once oxygen has rattled the wine. It’s like a decant effect – some funk may get blown off, tannins integrate, and the wine opens up and tells us about its aspirations and the previous evening of neglect.

chdmI have listened and I have heard you. I can’t promise anything because tonight I’m opening a 2003 Pauillac (Ch. Duhart-Milon for the geeks out there). That’s VGS quality. And, my level of restraint post-first glass of great wine isn’t the best. Wish me luck.

Cheers.

Bill

The Instituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità Grandi Marchi – Toronto, October 18th #SundaySips

13 Nov

grandi-marchi

On October 18th, I attended the Grandi Marchi at the Royal Ontario Museum. I was going to break this into two posts to avoid readers nodding off but…..

What is the Instituto del Vino Italiano di Qualita Grandi Marchi? I had the same question. From the event pamphlet: “The Instituto del Vino Italiano di Qualita Grandi Marchi is the result of determination and enthusiasm of some of Italy’s most important producers to promote premium quality Italian wines to the world……..One of the Institute’s major goals is to provide leadership and direction in the development of quality Italian wine in world markets.” It’s kind of the Italian equivalent to the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, it seems. And I suppose that, since the mother ship is the largest purchaser of wines and spirits, an appearance in Toronto was in order.

Royal Ontario Museum

Royal Ontario Museum

Just a quick word about the venue. If you’ve been, I don’t need to say much. But, if you haven’t, think of a grand hall with marble statuary, a spectacular crystal treatment on Bloor, columns (Corinthian?), and old shit scattered about inside. Why don’t I just show you a picture of our host.

fuggy

Now, the wines. Most Italian DOC’s and DOCG’s were represented. I’m only going to talk about the highlights and/or wines generally available in wider distribution. They are in no particular order but the more cryptic my notes get, the later in the evening they probably were. Sorry, but I did swallow much of it and it’s awkward holding your glass, juggling the tasting notes book, making notes, dropping your pen, picking it up, spilling your wine, stumbling into a well dressed woman – you get the picture.

The wines:

Carpene Malvolti

carpeneCarpene Malvolti 1868 Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut #727438 $18.95 this is a wine that I’ve recommended before and it was a great start to the evening. Extremely dry, toasty notes. Great value and a Prosecco to celebrate not berate. Available starting February 4, 2017

Carpene Malvolti Spumante Brut Rose #474460 $19.95 Liked this wine. Quite dry as well. Hint of red fruits – strawberries. Perfect holiday season bubbly. Available starting December 10, 2016. I’m going to get a few for the holidays.

Donnafugata

sedara2014 Donnafugata Sedara #900274 $16.95 A blend with Nero d’Avola and native varieties. Very dry, as in, “Please drink me with food”. Despite the fact that I had no food, I liked this medium-bodied red. Great value, particularly on a night like this. Available starting December 10, 2016. I’ll try to remember to recommend for you before that release.

2014 Donnafugata Ben Ryé #568063 $42.00 (375 ml) This is a wine from the DOC Passito di Pantelleria. Where is that, you ask? It’s a small historically strategically important island between Sicily and Tunisia. My archaeologist son has dug there and tells me that it’s particularly beautiful. The wine is a dessert wine – nutty, dried fruits, apricots. I’m not a big dessert wine fan but this was nice – just wish I’d waited until I was actually through with the others. Only available at the event.

Gaja

2013 Gaja Barberesco #92080 $279.00 Here’s the thing: The Director was with me and she only drinks white wines due to a red wine headache issue. She sniffs the ones that I rave about and usually says, “Cannot see what you’re raving about. Smells awful.” The strategy that night when we went to a table that only had red wines was for her to ask for a sample of a red too, we’d step aside and I’d get to sample both. At Gaja, I suggested she get the Barberesco while I sampled the one below. She swirled the Barberesco, sniffed and said (I kid you not), “This smells very nice.” Ventured a sip and said, “If I didn’t get headaches, I think that I’d like to drink this.” Sure. The $279 wine, she likes! This wine was as promised. Powerful elegance if that”s possible. Perhaps the nicest wine of the night. Just wish I could pull the trigger on a wine this pricey.

2013 Gaja Ca’Marcanda Camarcanda #174342 $184.00 This is a wine from DOC Bolgheri in Tuscany. Like many people, I know Gaja as Langhe, Barolo, and Barberesco primarily. So, I was particularly interested in trying this wine and seeing if he brought the same attention to terroir to this effort. Bingo. This is a Super Tuscan – so Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other international grapes rather than Sangiovese. Cassis overflowing on the swirl but hiding a bit on the sip and swish. Very present tannins and a nice acid kick on the finish. A food wine that requires a decent time in the basement. Only available at event.

Lungarotti

lungarotti2I chatted up a guy at this table that had already tasted the Lungaotti offerings. I asked him what he thought of the four offerings. He said, “I’m going to wait until you taste, then we’ll talk.” I tasted and well we were in agreement on the best wine for us and it wasn’t what most others were expecting and assuming. A cool moment to be sympatico with another geek in front of thousands. Well, in front of The Director and this guy’s eye candy, at least.

2009 Lungarotti Rubesco Monticchio Riserva #51771 $51.00 This is a DOCG Torgiano Rosso Reserve wine and if that doesn’t get your heart racing, let me say that it is beautifully crafted. In the swish and swallow – spices, liquorice, and chocolate. Is that even possible? Man, I love this wine! And it still has loads of stuffing to get you through the next 10 years. Who am I kidding, this won’t last that long at my place. Only available at event.

1997 Lungarotti Rubesco Torgiano Riserva #473975 $51.00 As I stood at this table, people stepped up and were jonesing to try the oldest wine there – the 1997. Age is as seductive in wine as it is in male wine bloggers. The older we get, the more attractive we become. I can’t explain it – weird but true. Anyway, everyone wanted the 1997 – it had to be great, right? Many even seemed to nod and spit appreciatively. They were wrong. Oh, it is mature, spicy, but seemed to be getting to dried fruit a bit too much for me. It was very good but the 2009……… Only available at event.

Marchesi Antinori

antinoriI have several Antinori wines in my basement (Tignanello, Badia a Passignano among others). I like this family winery. But, this was a bit of a disappointment from a service perspective. The rep was buddying up with a crowd of guys off to the side (you wine geeks know what I mean – the guys that buy a shitload and know not what they buy aside from the badge). But I could be wrong. Well, that’s silly to say – I’m never wrong. Regardless, that didn’t detract from the wines.

2013 La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano #473694 $25.00 This is another special wine I tasted. And, it’s not just because it was later in the night. I still had loads of palate agility and sensitivity left. Well, loads is overstating it a bit. This Sangiovese with a bit of Merlot had cherries – not the red sour type that seem to come with sangiovese but the black sweetish ones. Toasty notes. My notes say, “Cherries, cherries, cherries – and coffee.” This is a great value Tuscan. Only available at event.

2014 Prunotto Mompertone Monferrato Rosso #388587 $18.95 Quick review – burn some burgers or other red meats and pop a cork on this. Barbera and some other stuff. Available starting February 4, 2017.

Mastroberardino

This was the table that I was most interested in. We get a ton of wine from other Italian regions but Campania is underrepresented. I don’t get much opportunity to taste this stuff. Plus, I had a boatload of it two years ago when I was in Camopania. FYI, a ‘boatload’ is just a ‘tich’ less than a ‘shitload’. Never mind what a ‘tich’ is.

greco2014 Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo #568105 $19.95 This is a grape that even California doesn’t try to monetize. It must be difficult to manage and the payoff would require a massive marketing campaign – “greco de what?” This is a perfect summer white wine. Perfect is strong praise and this particular wine carries that label proudly. Light, yet flavourful. Crisp, yet cool and refreshing. Bring on the seafood! Love it! Available at LCBO locations now.

2009 Mastroberardino Radici Riserva Taurasi #683615 $56.00 I really like Taurasi. I’m not sure what it is that does it for me but it just seems to best represent the volcanic soils, mountains and beauty of Campania. It can be rough – Anglianico is like that, but I like it rough – wink, wink, nudge, nudge. However, this particular wine was a long, long way from ready to drink. I’m thinking 5 to 10. Liked the hint of dark fruits that it showed but wanted a little less obfuscation before it made the grade. Only available at event.

2011 Matroberardino Radici Taurasi #340562 $53.00 Now, here is the weird thing. This 2011 is good right friggin’ now while the more mature cuvée is many years off. I know the older one is a riserva but it shouldn’t make that much difference. This is an Aglianico bomb! Big, dark, earthy, anisey. Muscular, full-bodied and bringing little heat as it’s only 13.5% ABV. Now, we’re talking.  I want this wine in my cellar. Only available at event.

Tasca d’Almerita

Have I told you that a bucket list wine trip is Sicily? Well, it is. Cannot wait.

maria2014 Tasca d’Almerita Guarnaccio Perricone #473934 $21.00 This is a Sicilian beauty like Maria Grazia Cucinotta (at left). Only you get to actually keep this in your basement. That didn’t come out right but hopefully you get it. I wondered why they called it ‘Perricone’ until the penny dropped and I realized that the variety of grape is ‘Perricone”. This is full on. Loads of spunk from the alcohol (15% ABV) and dark, dark fruits. I loved this wine and felt at this price point – it’s great value. Super spicy and ready for some marinated grilled portobellos or red meat. Only available at event.

Umani Ronchi

This table was a pleasant surprise! So, what does a white wine only drinker do at these events? Particularly when the bulk of the ‘cool’ wines are red? Well, they mill around at the tables that promote white wines – like Umani Ronchi. And, The Director did just that. This table was great in all areas. The rep was educational to a deep, deep (did I say it was deep?) level and the wines were just what the doctor or Director ordered.

umani-ronchi2015 Casal di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore #268169 $18.00 This wine was the hit of the night. Given that we were tasting Pio Cesare Barolos, Gaja Barberescos, Sassicaia, Chiarlo Barolos, it’s a stretch to say that an $18 wine won the night. But, I am nothing if not attentive to the needs and wants of my wife. This particular wine was floral on the nose, round enough for a Chardonnay hound and ethereally light. I gave it three check marks on my scoring scheme of check marks and ‘blahs’. Pears and citrus are my main notes on this. Lovely sipping wine for white wine aficionados. Only available at the event.

So that’s it. What did I buy, you ask? Well, I had to have me (apologies to grammar teachers everywhere) the Umani Ronchi Verdicchio, the Mastroberardino Taurasi 2011, the Perricone, the Antinori La Braccesca, and the 2009 Lungarotti. I mean they took Visa and I have 21 days to clear the account, right?

In summary, if you get a chance to partake in this event in your hamlet, don’t hesitate. There are some wines that don’t show well in this type of event, as usual, and there will be human wine nuisances at many tables. But, plow through and enjoy the wines of the best wine country in the world, IMHO.

Cheers.

Bill

#WBC16 – Serious Business? #SundaySips

21 Aug

The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC16) was held last week. It’s a big deal where wine bloggers get to meet their virtual wine buddies in the flesh, drink wine together and talk wine and the art of the blog. This year it was held in Lodi. So, tastings, tours, etc. were of that region. Did I mention you drink wine together?

This shouldn’t be construed as indicating that wine bloggers have their shit together. Bloggers are a bit troubled and conflicted.

Let me explain. Most people practicing the genre (always wanted to use that word), started by enjoying wine, being interested in learning more about wine, educating themselves and/or taking some formal structured learning, perhaps getting into the trade, and then being encouraged by delusional loved ones and friends (in my case, imaginary) to write a blog.

UmBut, here’s the challenge that we face. Wine bloggers are needy. We mistakenly think that we want to be taken seriously. We really do want a lot of ‘follows’, daily stats, even if we deny it. We might write for ourselves (so, we say) but it’s nice to know that we’re not whistling in the wilderness, isn’t it? Did anyone out there follow my suggestion to buy some 2010 Chateau Obscure? Damn, didn’t think so. We want our opinion heard and weighed. And, yes, followed – at least once in awhile. But, there’s the rub. We want all that but we don’t want to be viewed as ‘them’. You know who I’m talking about.

I took an informal poll and discovered that there are 1 billion wine drinkers on the planet (survey results have a 95% confidence level plus or minus half a billion people). And wine isn’t any more important to most of them than having an aquarium, sorting their sock drawer, and/or Bob Ross’ Still Life with Apple.. Oh, we wine geeks would like to think that most people, if given the chance to experience a vintage DRC or Ch. Haut-Brion, would come over to the dark side and ‘get into wine big time’. They’d be like, “Yes, I love, love, luuuuuve, the finish on that d’Yquem.” They’d argue the benefits of Stelvin closures. I am not shitting you – there is a debate about closures. They’d be more like us. Validate our obsession. But, aah, I’m thinking that they really wouldn’t. They really, really don’t care that much.

So, that leaves bloggers talking to bloggers, casual wine drinkers who, remember, don’t really care, and friends who are too rude to unsubscribe.

awesomBut, how does that compare to serious wine scribes? You know the names: Parker, Molesworth? Well, most bloggers truly don’t care about having that kind of Klout score. And yet, we’d like just a little more than we currently have. What blogger wouldn’t like his/her name on a shelf talker. “Duffs Wines Recommended.” I used to think that I’d love to see that. Even better, a case of wine that I recommended in a friend’s cellar. Bloggers want people to value their experiences and opinions. Who wouldn’t?

But wait a minute my blogger friends. If we did – have that much power, that is. We would be forced to do the unthinkable. Get deadly serious about wine. I mean Sauternes versus Barsac serious. Be held accountable (I’m too old to be held accountable, BTW). We would be more obnoxious than we already are. We would spit more before noon than we drink before noon now. Speaking personally here, that’s a lot of spitting. We would be subjected to full eight hour days of tasting hundreds of wines – enjoying none of them. Plus, think about having to come up with new esoteric aroma and flavour descriptors. How else to explain Maduro tobacco and fig paste?

I’m not sure I could handle it. So, although saying this is totally unnecessary, “You don’t have to take me seriously”. I know that with a few exceptions………actually, without exception, I don’t take the bloggers I follow very seriously either. I just simply really enjoy them, thanks.

That brings us back to WBC 16. I wish I could have been there. I’d love to spend time with some of my social media and wine writing peeps. I’d like to be surprised by who they really are. I might surprise some of them with my substandard singing voice and misplaced sense of self-importance (hence, this self-indulgent ramble). And we would never be serious. Well, with the exception of the closure debate. Wouldn’t that be great?

Like a Leafs’ fan, I will just say, “Maybe next year.”

Cheers.

Bill

Visiting Niagara Region Day 1 and 1/2 and Day 2 – #SundaySips

24 Apr

notl1

Last week, I gave an introduction to and a good first day in Niagara Region on a wine crawl. You can read that here. The first day was one of GPS fun, a superb lunch, a run-in with a flat rock, and some great wines. I realized almost “Oh shit” simultaneously with the clicking of the “PUBLISH” button that I hadn’t gotten you settled in and fed. And, that is very important after a long day on the road.

gazebo3

Image courtesy of Lonely Planet

So backing up into Day 1, you’ve arrived at your NOTL destination, unpacked, popped a cork in your room and you want to go for a walk. Yes, you do. Walking the streets of NOTL is the best. Walk Queen Street and shop the shops, grab a patio chair and a………….glass of wine, of course. Or better yet, head down to the river and Front Street. There’s a gazebo in a park (picture above) that was built as part of a movie set – some slasher flick or political thriller. Check out the homes and picture Laura Secord warning the British and turning out some truffles. It’s a very historical feeling with Fort Niagara across the river and Fort George down the Parkway. Peaceful.

You are hungry, you say? Well, it’s hard to go wrong. Advice? Ask the people that you’re staying with (if at a B&B) or at the hotel. But, I will try to steer you in a few directions:

treadwellcuisineTreadwell – 114 Queen Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 905-934-9797 www.treadwellcuisine.com This is the number one ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor and deservedly so. Inventive farm-to-table cuisine (e.g. Confit Leg of “Schuyler Farms” Lamb with Ramp Whipped Potatoes, “Cumbrae Farms” Bacon, Peas, Kozlik’s Mustard Jus”. Locally sourced, with expert service. Wine list is locally focused when it’s by the glass and they have the cream of the Niagara crop in bottle. They also have a representative selection of better California, French, Italian wines as well. Bonus? They have opened up a cozy wine bar. Hint: Reserve well in advance.

Escabéche at The Prince of Wales – 6 Picton Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 1-888-669-5566 www.vintage-hotels.com Typical fine dining menu well done in a superb setting. Wine list recognized by Wine Spectator. If you want to feel special, this should give you a headstart.

oban2Oban Inn – 160 Front Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 1-866-359-6226 www.obaninn.ca This is a fabulous setting down by the Niagara River overlooking the NOTL Golf Club. Great gardens. Traditional fine dining. Exceptional service. Wine list is focused on Niagara as well but that’s why you came, isn’t it? Mildly humorous NOTL Golf Club story? One wife and years ago, we are staying in NOTL and my friend and I were dropped at the club by our wives – we would play 18, they would shop. So, rather than risk getting our shoes stolen from the locker room, we wore our spikes and left shoes in the car. As our wives drove away, we strolled into the pro shop, our metal spikes clicking, clicking away. We were told that the course was closed for a club event. Um, what to do. We walked around the town for a bit carrying our clubs and clicking on the sidewalk. A couple of real losers looking for a game. Embarrassing. Then we remembered that the night before, my friend had bumped into a colleague from another movie at the theatre.and he had provided his address. We banged on his door, clubs in hand. We were welcomed in, borrowed swimming trunks and spent the 4 hours by the pool, sipping drinks. Sometimes these things work out.

Winery Associated Bistros There are some restaurants associated with wineries (Peller Estates, OLIV at Strewn Winery, Ravine Estates, among others) but I haven’t been to them in years aside from grabbing a glass and a plate of finger food while I sip their stuff.

Pub Fare is all you can muster?

oldeangelinnThe Olde Angel Inn – 224 Regent Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 905-468-3411 www.angel-inn.com This is one of if not the oldest inn in Ontario. You can’t miss the charm of the very low ceilings. It’s styled after an English pub and they carry it off pretty well. Lots of taps, fish and chips, bangers and mash. Live music. Maybe after stumbling around Beamsville and having a feast for lunch at On The Twenty, you just want some comfort food.

The Irish Harp Pub – 245 King Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 905-468-4443 www.theirishharppub.com This is nice. The usual continental suspects on tap. Loads of Irish whiskeys and pub food. Not grand but it can provide that quick, familiar dinner you might need.

I forgot to tell you about the Shaw Festival. You can read about it at www.shawfest.com Suffice to say, that it’s a cultural icon on the Ontario map. Plays are taken from those written during George Bernard Shaw’s lifetime as well as by him. There is always something great on. Don’t miss it if you like live theatre. We are blessed in this part of Ontario with the Shaw and The Stratford Shakespearean Festival. Both top drawer.

Back to the tour.

Day 2

You awake to grab a quick breakfast and head out to visit more wineries. I’ve listed these in no particular order. But you can map them out by using the resources at www.wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com/visit-wine-country/maps-directions/ Once again, there are too many wineries to mention here and, unfortunately I’ve left off a bunch of good ones. If you see some in your planning that you’d like an opinion on, send me a note via duffswines@gmail.com and I can weigh in.

southbrookSouthbrook Vineyards – 581 Niagara Stone Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 1-888-581-1581 www.southbrook.com You probably passed by this winery on your way to NOTL yesterday and thought, “That’s an interesting building.” Well, it’s a whole lot more than that. Southbrook are leaders in sustainable and ethical winemaking. Those who know me know that I worked for a while in the renewable energy and ‘green’ technologies field. So, how Southbrook managed to be so successful in this regard matters to me. They are certified by Demeter (biodynamic), Pro-Cert Organic, Sustainable Winemaking Ontario and their hospitality pavilion is Gold Level of LEED – the first of its kind in Canada. Pretty impressive. But, you came for the wine, didn’t you? Southbrook has the usual stable of wines – Chardonnay, Cab blends, rosé, Rieslings. Where I like to wander with them is into their ‘Whimsy’ line. These are wines that are made in limited supply in each vintage at the whim of the winemaker. They usually are experiments or deviations from the norm and worth the gamble. Oh, and one more thing – their staff are top notch. Ask them about the green stuff. Bonus Recommendation: They have a Framboise which is unique and good with sparkling wine as a Kir wannabe.

Inniskillin Wines – 1499 Line #3 at Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 1-888-466-4754 ext. 5400 www.inniskillin.com This is where Niagara wine began in earnest. Most people have seen, heard of, or even drank Inniskillin wines. In particular, their ice wine is sold abroad. Being owned and distributed by Constellation Brands, they have a solid reach in the US. Of course you should sample the icewine. They have 4 different kinds, including a sparkling. My fave, however, is the Cab Franc icewine – fresh picked strawberries. Their Reserve, Discovery, and Single Vineyard efforts are particularly tasty. Try the ’13 Montague Vineyard Pinot – savoury.

Niagara College Teaching Winery – 135 Taylor Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 905-641-2252 ext. 4071 Niagara College offers courses in winemaking and many of the other arts and sciences that surround the industry. This winery is the classroom in many respects and it’s kind of cool to sample the assignments and liquid essays that have been completed by the classes and their profs. In particular, I’ve loved the ’10 Dean’s List Pinot Noir #445759 $18.95 that is available at the LCBO in very limited supply.

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery – 1366 York Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 905-262-8463 www.ravinevineyard.com This vineyard sits on the St. David’s Bench a sub-appellation of NOTL which gains some BTU’s on the other subs. That means riper fruit – less greens to the Bordeaux varieties. This is a family owned and operated enterprise. Organic. Restaurant on site so you could make this your halfway point.

stratusStratus Vineyards – 2059 Niagara Stone Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 905-468-1806 www.stratuswines.com As with Southbrook, you probably saw this amazing building on the way to NOTL. It is also a fascinating hospitality centre and barrel room. Top drawer – which is the vibe they we’re looking for. My favourites from here are: ’14 Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard Riesling  and the ’08 Stratus Red both available on-line or at the cellar door. Many may have seen their Wildass label in your local. Good value straight up Ontario wine.

Colaneri Estate Winery – 348 Concession 6 Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake ON Tel: 905-682-2100 www.colaneriwines.com I wrote about Colaneri a couple years ago and you can read that here. Beautiful setting, impressive appasimento technique wines.

In this series, I’ve left off some of my other stalwarts like Pondview, Sue Ann Staff, Foreign Affair, Coyote’s Run. But, I am heading back that way in May and will regale you with tales of oenological conquest in later posts.

Now, back to your Sunday.

Cheers.

Bill

 

Visiting Niagara Region Day 1 – #SundaySips

17 Apr

This was playing while I composed this and it seems appropriate…….’cause we are taking the car or bicycle to Jordan.

Spring has finally arrived.

And Spring deserves a road trip. My favourite road trip that doesn’t require a road map for me is down to Niagara to visit some of the most underrated wineries around. “How underrated are they?” Well, I get the Wine Enthusiast and Wine and Spirits and I can’t remember when they have ever mentioned a Canadian, let alone Niagara, wine. Decanter did a  nice piece with a Canadian wine on the front cover. But generally, Niagara is the Rodney Dangerfield of wine. Even here in Ontario, I have friends who wouldn’t consider a wine from Niagara regardless of my strong recommendation – they just don’t even want to try it – they know they don’t like it. Let me repeat that – “regardless of my strong recommendation”. Are you shitting me? If I, Duff, recommend it, you can abso-friggin-lutely count on the fact that…………….I’m going to like it a lot. And, by extension, maybe you will too.

I get the lack of air play and respect for Niagara, I think. Low volumes, low brand recognition, strong competition in all categories, and many of their better wines’ price point. There’s lots of noise for a wine consumer to navigate.

I want to provide a bit of a guidebook to a tour of Niagara. And after you’ve taken it literally (or in the comfort of your own home) and sampled their offerings, you make up your own mind.

As I see it, Wineville Niagara is laid out like this – there are the wineries you visit on the way to or from (Niagara Escarpment/Twenty Valley) and those that you visit when you have unloaded your stuff in a lovely inn or bed and breakfast in or near that tony village – Niagara-On-The-Lake. If you try to mix it up, there are issues related to time pressure, confusion, wrong turns, marital discord, and potential DUI convictions. Trust me – I know this. And, it’s important to sample wines from both of these larger chunks. So, don’t miss either.

The lens I’m using is one that takes into consideration travel time (assuming a couple days at least) and the experience that you’ll have (both wine and atmosphere). And, it’s my blog so these wineries and dining places are from my own experience and are tailored to my palate and taste. There are 88 wineries in Niagara and some will be horribly disappointed that they don’t get a mention on this heavily subscribed blog but here’s a hint for them: it’s easily rectified with an invitation to a tasting/tour and free swag for Duff. After all, I am that easily bought. Here we go.

Before we start, make sure you’ve done a little research. I’ve listed one solid resource at the bottom of the page. For restaurants and accommodations, of course, there are the usual suspects TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. Also, I’m trying out a new app called Winery Passport. Let me know if you use it and opinion.

First Day (on the way to NOTL)

A good mix of wineries from large to artisanal, from Riesling to Pinot to Viognier to Chardonnay. I’m somewhat travelling towards NOTL from Hamilton:

Leaning Post – 1491 Hwy 8 Stoney Creek, ON Tel: 905-643-9795 http://www.leaningpostwines.com Artisanal winery – taking grapes from small plots throughout the area. Great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay but also make Gamay, Riesling. Up and coming.

rosewood

Rosewood Winery

Rosewood Estates Winery – 4352 Mountainview Road, Beamsville, ON Tel: 905-563-4383 http://www.rosewoodwine.com Lovely winery situated amongst several others (Angel’s Gate, Thirty Bench – so you could kill a flock with one stone). They have an apiary and make mead as well as very nice Riesling (MS), Pinot Noir, and Merlot. And, they had a senior dog when last I was there. I pay attention to this kind of detail. Check to see if they are having a wedding there before you go.

Daniel Lenko Estate Winery – 5246 King Street West, Beamsville ON Tel: 905-563-7756 http://www.danilelenko.com Great Old Vines Chardonnay, Heritage, Merlot, and a few takes on Viognier which are interesting (many barrel and bottle aged e.g.. 07’s and ’08’s available) family style presentation, family run grape growers from way back. Great down home vibe.

Vineland Estates – 3620 Moyer Road, Vineland ON Tel: 1-888-846-3526 http://www.vineland.com Beautiful  tasting room/reception centre, tour, etc. Exceptional restaurant. Specializes in Riesling for my money although other varieties are available.

The Malivoire Wine Company – 4260 King Street East, Beamsville ON Tel: 1-866-644-2244 http://www.malivoire.com I wrote about Malivoire here. Chardonnays, Gamay, Foch, Rosé.

Tawse Winery – 3955 Cherry Avenue, Vineland ON Tel: 905-562-9500 http://www.tawsewinery.ca I wrote a bit about Tawse here. They make exceptional terroir-driven Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and Cab Francs. Solid Riesling too.

Flatrock Cellars – 2727 Seventh Avenue, Jordan ON Tel: 1-855-994-8994 http://www.flatrockcellars.com I wrote about Flat Rock here. They have a beautiful reception area, reasonably priced and tasty Chardonnays, Pinots, and a great Riesling (Nadja’s Vineyard). Great vibe. You can see all the way down to the lake and across to Toronto on a clear day.

Westcott Vineyards – 3180 Seventeenth Street, Jordan ON Tel: 905-562-7517 http://www.westcottvineyards.com A family-run boutique winery specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. You can read what I wrote about Westcott here. I believe that on weekends in the summer, there is a nice bistro-like place to sit and get some local food.

creeksideCreekside Estate Winery – 2170 Fourth Avenue, Jordan ON Tel: 1-877-262-9436 http://www.creeksidewine.com Summertime weekends (check web site) there’s a great casual bistro – The Deck – that offers light stuff. Good place to pause particularly if you are cycling. Creekside has a counter-culture vibe. To that end, they grow and make Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz (not even calling it Syrah which is de rigeur here).

Bonus Coverage: Dillion’s Small Batch Distillers – 4833 Telford Road, Beamsville ON Tel: 905-563-3030 Yes there is a distillery in Beamsville. Dillon’s makes exceptional gin, oak-aged Canadian rye whisky (white), vodka, bitters, and absinthe.

Note: All wineries, and Dillon’s, charge a tasting fee. In most cases they waive that should you purchase. If you want to be sure, ask.

Where to Eat

OnThe Twenty – 3836 Main Street, Jordan ON Tel: 905-562-7313 Can’t recommend this highly enough. Exceptional takes on classics and seasonal, local stuff. Upscale

Vineland Estates – Address above Tel: 1-888-846-3526 ext. 33 Inventive cuisine, good pairing program. Upscale

Jordan House Tavern – I wrote about this here. Traditional roadhouse fare. Craft beers, local wines.

Where to Stay in Jordan

Inn On The Twenty – 1-800-701-8074 http://www.innonthetwenty.com Upside is that it’s in Jordan which means quiet and close to wineries. Downside is that there is limited nightlife.

Where to Stay in NOTL

riverbendinn

Riverbed Inn

http://www.vintage-hotels.ca  several upscale establishments. My fave is The Prince of Wales – good dining room, spa). These are all upscale.

River Bend Inn http://www.riverbedinn.ca (winery, a bit out of the town, beautiful setting, exclusive feel)

Oban Inn http://www.oban.com Lovely inn rebuilt from the ruins of the original that burned down a decade or so ago, good dining

BranCliff Inn http://www.brancliffinn.com (close to the theatre and main drag)

Bed and Breakfast There are a zillion bed and breakfasts. I’d recommend one of the heritage homes on a side street or down by the river

Resources:

Wineries, local map, info: http://www.winecountryontario.ca/niagara-escarpment-twenty-valley

In a couple weeks in another #SundaySips, we will explore NOTL or Niagara-on-the Lake

 

 

 

Family Day For A Wino – #Sunday Sips

27 Mar

family

There’s an artificial holiday in Ontario called Family Day. I believe Don Getty while Premier in Alberta was the first to think that we wanted to spend time with our family. Seriously? What family do you live in? Eventually in Ontario, politicians didn’t want to appear anti-family values, so now we too have a Family Day here.

The Director and I took the opportunity to head to Niagara for a quick look see at some of our favourite wineries. It was a shitty day weather-wise and promising to be horrid by nighttime – sleet, snow, freeing rain.

First stop was just off the QEW on the outskirts of Grimsby at Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery. I don’t believe that I’ve spoken about this winery.  They have an exceptional restaurant in an old Victorian house with the winery Visitors Centre in a newer building. The tasting room (below) is generously appointed with the usual tasting bar, knick knack displays, hewed wood beams, etc. They have a pairing menu of artisanal cheeses and/or chocolate. FYI, most wineries in Niagara and all that I’m mentioning here have a reasonable tasting fee ($5 – $10 which is $1.50 US) that they wave with purchase.

penridge

Tasting Room at Peninsula Ridge

Reds

2012 A.J. Lepp Vineyard Reserve Merlot $18.95 I tend to shy away from Niagara single variety Bordeaux wines – they just don’t seem to get ripe enough – showing green pepper too much. This Merlot had but a hint of that – telling you it was Niagara born. Full-bodied, plummy with firm tannins. Needs time or a long decant to really open up.

2012 Reserve Syrah $24.95 That’s right a Syrah from Niagara. You’d think that it would thrive here. But only a few wineries grow it. This was far and away the best of the wines I tasted at Peninsula Ridge. Peppery, smoky, balanced, solid tannins, long finish. Loved it! I bought but only one bottle as this was the start of the day and, alas, gave it to my sister-in-law as part of a birthday present. Which means I’ll have to return soon.

Whites

2009 Beal Vineyard Chardonnay $18.95 Pen Ridge has a very successful non-oaked Chardonnay called Inox #594200 $14.95 usually available at the LCBO. This one, however, was touched by oak. Nonetheless, the thing that I noted most was the acidity on the finish – not large oak influence. Apples, citrus. A very nice Chardonnay for patio and potato chips.

Peninsula Ridge’s web site: www.peninsularidge.com

Next we trundled to Jordan for lunch. We ate at a new (at least new to us) eatery called Jordan House Tavern right on the corner. Now, you might ask, “What corner?” Well, you clearly haven’t been to Jordan. They’ve done a really nice job at the place. Refurbished an old warehouse-style building. Menu a bit of a blend of roadhouse and English pub. Good selection of craft beers and local wines – I enjoyed a local 20 Valley Cream Ale with my wings – it screamed, “Cottage!”

Then it was off to some more wineries. We stopped at a couple places (nothing notable) en route to Tawse. This is one of my faves – the wine is just so consistently excellent and the venue, staff, etc. are top drawer.

Here’s a great video on how they operate. Take some time, watch it and you will want to head there to taste what they create. Lauded by Decanter magazine, Canadian Winery of The Year multiple times.

Whites

2012 Tawse Estate Chardonnay $37.95 Tawse Chardonnays have a kinship with those of Burgundy. In fact, Tawse has vineyards there. This white was perfectly ready to quaff. Melon, apple, and some oak influences on the nose and in the mouth. Long, lip smacking finish.

2012 Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay (certified organic and biodynamic) $35.95 This was notably more mineral in character than the Reserve – almost stoney in places. More restrained on the oak influence. Certainly not Chablis in character but definitely leaning toward ‘less is more’. Loved it!

They had a half case of Chardonnays unavailable in single format that The Director decided she needed. Looking forward to cracking one for our Easter dinner today. FYI, the case held- 2011 Beamsville Bench, 2011 20 Mile Bench, 2011 Celebration Chardonnay (this wine was served at the i4C in 2015, I believe).

Reds I love Tawse Pinot Noirs and may have expressed this opinion several times on these pages. They are structured, lean, powerful, and even I can pick out the nuances of the different cuvèes. Which, according to the video above, is the goal here.

2011 Tawse Quarry Road Estate Pinot Noir (certified organic and biodynamic) $34.95 Spice, liquorice, and menthol on the sniff and the swish. This is quite mineral with darker red berries – big, smoky and a long finish. Great effort!

laundry2011 Tawse Laundry Cabernet Franc #130997 $31.95 OK, I know I’ve sung the praises of the Burgundy varieties at Tawse. But, really, if you want to get a sense of the winemaking, this is the test. This is an Old World Cab Franc. Bursting with life both in the glass as you swirl and sniff and then – pow – you get a hit of the mint and black berries. This is Sean Penn – intense, a bit rough around the edges, purposeful, story telling. Love it! Needless to say, it was an expensive day at Tawse.

Off we went with our car listing a bit due to the extra weight. West on King Street and a hard left up the drive to another of my faves – Malivoire. Malivoire has a cool vibe. Where Tawse is somewhat opulent, formal, Malivoire is more playful, experimental. The winery is set into a hill with a quonset hut styled metal roof. This allows a gravity fed operation. Malivoire hit it big a number of years ago with a unique bottling – Old Vines Foch. It became a cult wine. They’ve since got everyone to pay attention to their overall prowess and the many different wines they craft. I seem to annually recommend their Ladybug Rosé #559088 $15.95 (having as a pre-dinner sip with Easter dinner) and Guilty Men Red #192674 $15.95 but tasted other wines this time.

Malivoire tasting room entrance Spring

Malivoire Tasting Room entrance Spring

White

2011 Mottiar Chardonnay $29.95 Tropical and toasty on the nose (I’ve seen ‘brioche’ used but definitely not confident in that until I’ve brioches a bit more). Vanilla, roundish stuff in the mouth with a nice crisp finish which was a surprise given the smoothness of the rest.

2011 Chardonnay $19.95 Although this wine is available at the LCBO #573147, I’m not sure of the vintage currently in stock. I kind of like this better than the more expensive one above. Can’t put my finger on it. This might have a little more zip in the mouth. Flavour profile as far as fruit and oak elements very similar but less tropical more apple. More food friendly. Not that I didn’t love the other – just saying’ for $10 less, I could get 5 bottles of this instead of 3 bottles of the other. Oops, let the cat out of the bag.

2013 Rennie Vineyards Christine Chardonnay $35 I don’t quite understand the relationship between Maliviore and Rennie. Rennie is a family owned and operated vineyard on the Bench, In any event, there clearly is some symbiosis of vineyards if not cross-pollination of staff as well. This wine is a beaut! Can we talk? Frequently New World Chardonnays are one-dimensional – they’re naked, they’re not, they’re round, they’re crisp and acidic. This wine defies some of that. I don’t claim to have a sophisticated palate. For instance, I can’t tell the difference between Maduro tobacco and just plain tobacco. Or, Montmorency cherries from, well, regular black cherries. Mea culpa. This wine, however, helped me to relax and just let it come to me. There was an overall feeling of bon ami. OK, what it really tasted like was a bit tropical – pineapple – an alcohol bump (14%ABV), and the best finish for the whites we tasted that day – medium length, citrusy. It’s a warmer wine than the others, if that makes sense.

Red Here’s where it gets fun at Malivoire. I mentioned above the Old Vines Foch. Let’s start there.

Background Note: My father was a home fermenter. He made wines from anything that could be constituted as fruit – dandelions, sour cherries, etc. But, he also was part of a cooperative venture that purchased fruit from Niagara and everyone got together, drank last year’s stuff (I was a DD) and crushed, fermented, and eventually bottled their wine together. I remember his Marechal Foch bottling as, well, almost the same as all his other bottling – hint of sulphur, very fresh, fruity and light. And not to speak ill of the dead, but it was pretty lacklustre. Not suggesting that my friends and I didn’t poach a few of each case – just sayin’. Now, fast forward to Malivoire’s 2013 Old Vines Foch

2013 Old Vines Foch $24.95 I remember this wine in previous vintages was one of the most unique reds that I’d ever had from Niagara. This doesn’t disappoint on that score. In the gurgle and swish, it feels French to me – Southern France – kind of Grenache-ish. And I love Grenache!  ABV 12% which avoids any heat – chocolatey goodness. You get a sense of power with this wine. I love it now like I loved it before (Fleetwood Mac lyric? Help me here). Dad, wish you could taste it.

2014 Small Lot Gamay $19,95 Gamay might be making a comeback. I read a great review of a Cru Beaujolais by a fellow blogger, Jim VanBergen, you can read it here. To paraphrase, Jim sang the praises of natural wine and how smashing a particular naturalBeaujolais from Morgon was. I also read a piece in a recent Wine Enthusiast about Gamay now being made in Washington. Interesting to watch the ebb and flow of the popularity of grape varieties. hard to keep up. Malivoire has three Gamay bottlings – a single vineyard (Courtney – $25.95), a generic ($17.95), and a Small Lot. The Small Lot is a fun, fresh cherry bomb. This is all about the fruit with just a hint of grassiness hiding on the finish. I bought a few and am waiting for the first Spring weather day to open with apps – yes, I have an app for Gamay. Chilling this wine for a few minutes wouldn’t hurt and would add to it’s refreshingness. Refreshosity? Refreshmency? Love this wine!

We left Malivoire, raced down the QEW to overnight in Hamilton just beating the freezing rain. Watched it all from our room with one of our purchases chilled and popped. I like Family Day.

That’s our day. In the next month or so, I’m going to put together my ideal wine tour of Niagara so that you can benefit from my swings, misses, and home runs.

Cheers.

Bill

 

Westcott Vineyards Redux #SundaySips

17 Jan
westcottdoor

Westcott Vineyards

In the fall of 2014, I posted a piece on my visit to Westcott Vineyards in Niagara. You can read it here. Summary for those of you too lazy to click through and boost my numbers: a new family endeavour focusing on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – very cool winery building, balanced Pinots and judiciously buttery Chardonnays and a great story.

This past fall, I wanted to drop back in and hear about their winter, spring, harvest, plans for the future, and taste some of their new releases. It was a day that reminded me that winter was in fact going to be a reality. Windy, cool, and overcast. I arrived mid-afternoon (entrance door above) and the place had several folks in tasting and the fire warming the room – Emma greeting everyone as they arrived.

Emma

Emma

I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned my fondness for dogs. Emma was a sweetheart and very interested in meeting you, seeing if you could spare a pat or two or, if she was really lucky, a treat. And, she was a Lab. I really love Labs and am starting to well up as I type.

Victoria Westcott set me up with a few tasters as she dealt with the other patrons and I sat watching the fire – tasting and loving it. I love my life.

Once everyone was gone, Victoria and I stood and talked through their portfolio, the savages of the past winter and their ambitions for the coming years. Her brother Garett joined us. Garett is the Ass’t Vineyard Manager (according to their website). But, seeing as this is a family operation, I sense that he is a lot more than that. He had a solid sense of what had been going on both in the vineyard and the winery and took a lot of ownership, it seemed to me.

Where was I? Oh yeah, talking to the Westcotts and sipping wine. How cool is it when you can deal with the family that owns, runs, and markets the winery? Answer? Very cool.

The winter of ’14-15 was harsh. Despite burying many of the vines a la The County (#PEC), a portion of the vines were lost. That is so unfortunate and given that Westcott is one of the few here that bury, I’m interested in the damage across the vineyards in Vinemount Ridge.

The wines? Please wait. Let me ramble a bit first.

Westcott has had a partnership with Zooma this past year. Zooma was a small and groovy bistro in Jordan that catered to the locals and visitors over the past many years. they closed up that operation but set up a neat resto, outdoor patio thing at Westcott. If you’ve been to Norman Hardy, this has a similar vibe to that. Although, I sensed that the menu was a bit more expansive here. Well, cool (read: cold) weather set in and the two partners decided to try a Friday night sip, eat, sit around the fireplace thing. I wish that I lived closer so that I could take advantage of this. The day I was there (a Friday), they were set up for a menu of – ham and barley soup, lobster grilled cheese, a charcuterie plate, and pecan pie. Take a look at the picture below and imagine sitting there drinking a glass of Pinot Noir with that lobster grilled cheese.

Westcott Fireplace

Westcott Fireplace – Maybe the you would have figured out the ‘Westcott’ part on your own

violetteThe wines? Well, although Westcott focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they do have some fun with other stuff. They have a bubbly called NV Westcott Violette #438200 $24.95. When I used to think of sparkling Niagara wines, I had a bit of a gag reflex. I remember those dark days of Cold Duck (which, if I was honest, I thought was pretty tasty when I was 20. Later? Not so much). So, consequently, I haven’t ventured into that territory until recently. Wineries such as Henry of Pelham (Cuvée Catherine) and Flat Rock Cellars have changed my impression. They do sparkling pretty well in Niagara now. The Violette is no exception. Dry, toasty, crisp, extremely light. We’re talking, “Hi, glad you came. Here’s a glass of something to get started. Help yourself to the popcorn and sushi.” That type of wine.

Their rosé – 2013 Westcott Delphine $15, which I don’t see on http://www.vintages.com so am assuming that it’s not available at the LCBO but only at the cellar door. Have I told you about my love of rosé? Of course I have. This rosé in 2013 was a blend of Cab Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. It’s darker berries, dry, with a clean acidic finish. I love rosé all year but suggest that this is a summer wine. Get the umbrella on the patio, some snacks with tomato or shellfish and pour this out!

Now, the main events – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

They have an unoaked Chardonnay – 2013 Westcott Lillias #425322 $20  that I didn’t taste as I swallow most of my sips and was a 2 hour drive from home. I wanted to focus on Westcott’s sweet spot. Yes Shannon, I can be responsible.

There are two levels of Pinots and Chardonnays – Reserve and Estate. Victoria tempted me with two oaked Chardonnays:

The 2013 Westcott Estate Chardonnay #427484 $26

The 2014 Lenko Old Vines Chardonnay $

estatechardoI love Daniel Lenko’s own Old Vines Chardonnay in  most years. It has cellaring potential and usually has a lot of stuffing. In the case of Westcott’s take, I have to tell you that I preferred their Estate. Which is a high compliment in my books. It was leaner and had a bit of The County in it – minerals, citrus but still some vanilla/butter notes – particularly on the nose and finish – from 12 months in 2/3 new French oak. This is the direction that I believe should be taken in Niagara. Stay with oak but somehow let the ridge or bench come through. If I knew how that could be done, I’d be less directional and more prescriptive in my comments.

The Westcott Pinots were what I had really come for. I loved them last vintages and was hoping that weather or fate wouldn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I tasted three:

The 2012 Westcott Estate Pinot Noir $30

The 2013 Westcott Estate Pinot Noir $30

The 2013 Westcott Reserve Pinot Noir $46

estatepnHere’s the thing. Last time I was there, I bought a few of the 2012 Estate. Loved it. Can’t put my finger on exactly why. This time? Same thing. I could talk about the vintage – you know “wet in some month, warmed up in time….” You wouldn’t really, truly care, would you? It might be a bit bullshit as well. Sometimes, there’s no explanation regardless of the scribes and eonologists. But, let’s talk about all of them anyway.

The 2012 Estate (did I tell you it was my favourite?) had a Burgundian/lean/power feel to me. Cherries, loads of earthy notes on the finish – lip smacking acidity. I remember having the same experience in #PEC – loving the leaner efforts. It might be why I tend to focus on Prince Edward County, Oregon and Burgundy.

I think that the 2013 Reserve, needs a few years to find it’s way, knit together and find a theme. It definitely hinted at power and fruit but all hidden for my palate at the moment. I wanted to wait on it but that’s what Burgundy is for – unrequited wait and wait. The 2012 Estate, on the other hand is perfect now and still could handle another few years down below. Or, I could return to Westcott in a couple years and hope they still have a few bottles of the 2013 Reserve left.

The 2013 Estate was reserved (pardon the pun) as well. It doesn’t have the spunk that the Reserve has but I still think it will evolve nicely. Perhaps showing that it was a riper harvest with lusher fruit. More lush fruit? Remind me not to use the term ‘lush’ again.

I’m not sure you can go wrong with any of the Westcott Pinot Noirs. The last time that I was here, I expected a more assertive style portfolio and was a little surprised at the restraint. It’s kind of like watching a movie that you were told had juicy parts and you find out…….Never mind. This time, I was ready for it. You have to love restraint when it’s executed this well – letting the weather, land, and fate tell the story not the house style.

I could tell you more but my word count tells me that you are very close to clicking away.

If you’re looking for tour bus styled tasting rooms and little mugs and other souvenir ……………um,……shit to take home, avoid Westcott. But, if you’re like me and you want the wine and the people to take centre stage, make sure you get to Westcott and tell them I sent you. there might be a pat of Emma or a free bottle in it for me.

They can be reached through the website http://www.westcottvineyards.com . The website has purchasing functionality and you can sign up for emails about what’s happening there.

Celler Devinssi – Gratallops – #SundaySips

8 Nov

devinssilogo

When we last left our intrepid wine tasters, they were finishing a mid-day meal at La Figueres in Gratallops. You can read about our tasting at Clos Figueras here and the early morning tasting at Sao del Coster here. As we stabbed the last piece of sausage (and that did not come out like I had hoped), we were approached by Jordi from Celler Devinssi, the last stop of the day. Jordi would wait in the truck outside for us which was a bit more than he needed to do. So, we finished our meal and wandered outside to meet up with Jordi.

Jordi is a Russian-born, tourism-trained wine guy. We couldn’t quite understand how he actually ended up in Priorat but like so many others, he came for a bit of a stay and hasn’t left. Probably something to do with love.

We hopped in the truck which had stayed running with the A/C on to keep the wine cool. Attention to detail, baby. Jordi had a bunch of wine in the truck – he told us that he was taking us up into the vineyard to taste and talk.

Leaving the village, we exited the paved road at the same juncture as we had with Xavi of Sao del Coster and wound our way up and around through anonymous vineyards and olive groves until Jordi stopped at a little wooden building. We got out, he took the wine, we took the glasses and we walked up a terrace or two to find a barrel at a bit of a clearing.

devinnsitastingroom

Celler Devinssi tasting room – Gratallops in the distance – pinch me

How cool was this? The sun had started to break through some cloud cover, Gratallops in the distance with a ray of sunlight on it, it was warm and toasty, we had a mild buzz on, and we were about to drink……er….taste some wine with our new best friend, Jordi. Jordi was delightful.

Cellar Divinssi: A little history of Celler Devinssi is needed. Celler Devinssi was founded in 2000 by Josep Roca Benito from Barcelona. He was a wine merchant and became aware of the region through contacts in the business. After three years of rehabilitating the vineyard, they bottled their first vintage. Capacity at the winery is about 10,000 bottles – a true garage wine enterprise. Most of their vineyards are planted to Garnatxa and Cariñena. But, there are some white grape vines planted as well in limited number. There is a great interview with Josep from their website here.

whitedevinssi

Mas de les Valls – Image courtesy of http://www.devinssi.com

Jordi started us off with the white – 2013 Mas de les Valls Blanc. This is a village wine or vi de la vila – in this case – Gratallops. It definitely shows the Pedro Ximenez as I noted immediately the sherry (nutty) quality to this dry wine. The other grape is Garnatxa Blanc – lending a Rhoney vibe to it too. A nice combination of experiences. This wine would be a warm weather wine. Maybe afternoon sun – as we were experiencing. It was dry and moderately crisp. There were only 600 bottles made.

Before I get into the reds, there’s something I need to get off my chest – wine glasses at tasting rooms. In my travels, I have been blessed with many great tasting experiences. But, there have been too many where the winery has lousy wine glasses. I’m not suggesting that everyone go out there and get numerous Reidel glasses to perfectly match the wine varieties eg. the Blaufränkisch glass. But, for crying out loud – get something that’s not sold at Walmart for $12 a case!

What does that have to do with Devinssi? Well, they are small and still they use wine glasses that are very good quality for their tasting. In fact, all the wineries we entered in Priorat had good quality wine glasses, one wine per glass and no tasting fee. If I had a winery, I’d want my clients to have an optimum experience tasting my wines. And, I wouldn’t want some Canadian blogger bitching about the glasses. But, that’s just me.

masred

Mas de les Valls Negre – Celler Devinssi – Gratallops

The first red that we had was their most popular red, I’d bet – 2013 Mas de les Valls Negre. This is a blend of Cariñena and Garnatxa with some Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in. Now, if you’ve sipped swirled and either spit or swallowed a bunch of wine in a day, you know that your buds don’t always cooperate. You just can’t feel it. This was such a sip and spit. So, rather than miss the mark, I’m going to use their web site to provide tasting notes – “12 months in 225 litre French and American oak casks…..fragrance of fresh and macerated cherries, black fruit jam….vanilla and mild touches of timber. In the mouth, it shows appropriate acidity and a certain fattiness and long palate.” I did notice the acidity. Don’t remember the oak at all.

ililaThe next red was their 2012 Il.Lia. Garnatxa, Cariñena and Cabernet Sauvignon fermented separately in oak. This definitely had more oak treatment, quite dry, tannins evident. This is a cellar wine. From their web site, “French oak – 225 litres casks are used for aging….it emphasizes black fruit, ripe plums, cherries….In the mouth it shows well balanced, well structured, beefy, fatty, and wide taste.” I liked it and planned to take some back to Canada to test my hypothesis on cellar time but it didn’t make it through the trip – we consumed all of it a few days later.

jordi2

Me with my new best friend, Jordi. I’m seriously questioning the purchase of the Mountain Equipment Co-op shorts and tee. If you have a Wine Bloggers Dress Code, please forward

We returned to Gratallops via a different route. Jordi showed us the Clos Mogador vineyards and some olive groves. He made an interesting comment as we passed a mature vineyard with irrigation lines. Jordi said that the winemaker shouldn’t irrigate mature stock – he actually shamed the winemaker. Apparently irrigation is frowned upon – the nature of DOQ Priorat is to allow the harsh conditions to encourage power and depth that irrigation can reduce.

We toured the cellar facility. You need to know that the tour doesn’t last long as the cellar is in an old stone olive mill – two stories with an office and showroom/retail space upstairs and the barrel room and cellar on the ground level straight off the street. The staff (there are three, including Jordi) were there cleaning the first floor and readying the equipment for the first of the harvest. One guy’s wife was there to help.

devinssiMany wineries use the word ‘artisanal’ in describing the vibe, processes, and outcomes of their winery. Well, I’m not sure there’s a winery that’s anymore artisanal than Devinssi. When I think of the word, I think of people lovingly using their hands to craft a product from select ingredients or materials – be it cheese, wine, clothing, olive oil, or anything else. I don’t envision exhaust spewing harvesters, food scientists, or spiffy bottling lines. Well, you don’t get much of that at many Priorat wineries but Devinssi takes it a bit further. Their bottling ‘line’ is a small table with a hose. Cork it up one bottle at a time as you would at your local ‘homemade’ wine/beer store with a lever. Affix each label through the use of a small template holder for the bottle and a wet sponge. One bottle painstakingly at a time. Now, that’s not necessarily the key to making great wine but twinned with a similar ‘hands on’ approach in the vineyard, a solid site, older vines, and a level of expertise, it does work in this instance. It’s very cool to see.

If you get to Gratallops and you must, schedule some time at Devinssi and tell Jordi I sent you. You will get……well nothing that you wouldn’t get anyway but mention me anyway. After all he is my new BFF.

Here’s my penultimate pic of the Monsants.

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The Monsants. I enjoyed this picture with a little Leonard Cohen playing. Image courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.org

An Update: Last post, I tried to explain the meaning of ‘Gratallops’. I was excited to see that someone had actually read the post and took the time to educate me. Sinisa Curavic from http://www.catalan365.wordpress.com informed me that ‘gratar’ means scratching in Catalan and ‘llops’ means wolves. So, ‘scratching wolves’. Thanks to Sinisa Curavic (check them out if you are planning on a wine trip to Catalunya).

Resources:

http://www.devinssi.com

http://www.catalunyawine.com

http://www.vinologue.com

http://www.turismepriorat.org

Clos Figueras – Gratallops – #SundaySips

1 Nov
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Monsant Redux – Image Courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.com

This is the fourth post on my trip to Priorat.

I know that I talked about the Monsant Mountains and Natural Park a few posts ago. You can read it here. And, this post isn’t about the topography but a winery. But, I don’t think that you paid enough attention to the Montsants before. I’m figuratively pulling the car over so you can get out and take another gape. Really understand it. We may have to do this again. They are très cool.

On our third, and last, day in Priorat we visited three wineries in Gatallops. We were escorted by Timmer Brown of Catalunya Wine (@catalunyawine & http://www.catalunyawine.com ). If your interest in Catalunya wine has been piqued by my posts, visit Timmer’s site to learn more. Last time out it was Sao del Coster. You can view my post on our visit here.

Before I start this post – here’s a quiz. How do you pronounce Gratallops? And what does it mean? Anyone? Buehler? Buehler?

I didn’t think so. We were told by one Prioratite (Prioratarian? Priorater?) or maybe it was Timmer that told us that Gratallops meant: Grata as in the Latin gratis – ‘free’ and llops as in the Latin lupus – ‘wolf’. So, ‘free of wolves’. Pronunciation we heard was varied but I believe it’s GRAT-a-yops. If there is a Catalan pronunciation expert out there, let me know.

Lesson over. After we finished up at Sao del Coster, we wandered down the street a block or two to the winery, Clos Figueras.

Clos Figueras is more of a stand alone winery but still within the village. It includes a lovely restaurant and has a few rooms for sleep overs.

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The history of this winery bears some explanation. Although each and every winery we visited had a personality unlike the others, Clos Figueras adds the presence of a human personality in the person of Christopher Cannan. Christopher Cannan founded the wine export company, Europvin, back in the 80’s, I believe. He experienced the early attempts by winemakers to ‘up the game’ in Priorat through such wines as Scala Dei, loved them, and was encouraged by René Barbier  (of Clos Mogador) to establish a winery with the purchase of an abandoned vineyard and olive grove just north of Gratallops. The vineyard has been painstakingly rehabilitated and expanded. Clos Figueras produces about 30,000 bottles annually along with olive oil. Initially, Rene Barbier was the winemaker but Christopher has filled that role himself for awhile now. They primarily focus on Garnatxa but they have a significant plot of Viognier (not that common in Priorat) and make a brilliant white blend too. Syrah, Cariñena, and Cabernet Sauvignon are also planted.

cflogoWe met up with Miguel, the head of marketing for Clos Figueras. He told us a bit about the history of the winery. Miguel has such an enthusiasm for wine and, in particular, what they are achieving at Clos Figueras. Expressively outlining the history, the present state, and their ambitions. It was both informative and a bit of a tease. Bill wants wine!

He showed us the fermentation premises with both stainless steel and primary plastic tanks. Not unlike Sao del Coster, this was a pretty cramped space and tanks were wheeled around to accommodate switching things up.

He then invited us to the barrel room. The barrel room is in an old cistern. Oh yeah, you should know that Clos Figueras is in an old chicken coop. That’s right. It was a chicken coop before a winery. This prompted me to attempt numerous chicken related jokes as I penned this. “Miguel laid an egg when he explained the…..” “We were on the lookout for chicks?” “The pecking order in their wine levels is….” Now, there aren’t any indications other than the style of construction that would lead you to believe that you are in a chicken coop. It is quite winery-like now. Back to the barrel room – it is in an old brick lined cistern under the ground. It was pumped out, cleaned of sludge and such and rehabilitated like their vineyard.

We lifted a steel trap door and walked the fifteen feet down a steel spiral staircase into the barrel room. It was unusual but it seemed a perfect fit vibe-wise and we were told a perfect fit for the wine to age (humidity, temperature, etc.).

Barrel room - Clos Figueras - Gratallops

Barrel room – Clos Figueras – Gratallops (This is my kind of man cave – a Bill cave)

We were joined on our tour by Miquel Hudin. Miquel is the author of the vinologue series (link below) of regional winery reviews. His guide to Priorat was indispensable for our planning and initial understanding of this region.

Miguel, that’s Miguel not Miquel, told us about the different wines that were sleeping and we tasted several from barrel. In particular, we had  straight up Syrah (I believe 2013). Loved the spiciness and structure. It could be a single variety wine almost Northern Rhone-like but will be used as a blending partner. Clos Figueras uses up to 20% Syrah in their blends.

Enough of the underground, it was a nice day outside and we were thirsty. Bill wants wine! Up the stairs, make sure no one is left below, drop the trap door and pop a cork or two!

Miguel eloquently explaining to me the essence of life. It's wine of course.

Miguel eloquently explaining to me the essence of life. It’s wine of course.

We dove right in with some olives. I do love olives – these were Arbequino – my faves – some bread and charcuterie.

Serras del Priorat

Serras del Priorat

Clos Figueras, like most of the other Priorat wineries have several ranges of wines. We started with the – 2013 Serras del Priorat. An interesting thing about this wine is the packaging. Christopher Cannon’s daughter has taken over some of the marketing activity and has given this a hipper/more modern vibe in a burgundy shaped bottle. It’s a fresh wine with primary fruit being red ones – cherries, raspberries. A long finish for this weight. A hit of acidity – food friendly. If you are into ‘professional’  scores this has received several in the 90’s. Under 20€.

The next level up is the Font de la Figuera line. It has both red (negre) and white (blanc) blends.

Font de la Figuera Negre

Font de la Figuera Negre

The white was very floral channeling the Viognier – in the Rhone white style. Now this isn’t going to come out right but this wine isn’t in the ‘blah’ style of many white wines that we sampled in Priorat. It had depth we hadn’t seen much of up until then. I think this proves that there is promise here and with the passion we experienced, they will find their white wine stride. Approx. 21€.

We tasted two vintages of the Font de la Figuera negre – 2011 and 2013. Reviews were mixed. I liked the ’11, some of the others preferred the ’13. The consistent thing in these wines is depth again, a richness that you can count on with most mid-range Priorat reds that try to feature the Garnatxa. The depth exceeds the price point in most cases. Fruit front and centre – some leathery accents particularly in the ’11. Approx. 21€.

We were unable to taste the flagship wine of the winery – the Clos Figueras – the 2008 vintage is now being sold. It retails around 50€.

We finished our tasting and on to lunch at the restaurant on site – Les Figueres.

Clos Figueras - Gratallops

Clos Figueras – Gratallops

The restaurant is very well appointed. You can dine al fresco or inside. We chose inside. Timmer had to dash with his beautiful main squeeze and their little toddler (I remember those days of young children. I lie. I don’t remember them at all – maybe the effect of recreational drug use?). Before he left, I presented Timmer with his very own Toronto Maple Leafs cap – goodwill in abundance until he tires of me. Timmer ordered our lunch which in the local style was a lot of food. A lot of food. A beautiful tomato salad dressed plainly with olive oil just like we love it. Some calamari. Then a large plate of sausages and grilled peppers – it was YUUUUGE, Caroline. We passed on the wine with lunch as we had one more winery to do before we wobbled out of town on our way to Falset.

Clos Figueras is a one stop destination for great wine, enthusiastic knowledgable staff, great typical Catalan food, and a nice setting to sit and appreciate how lucky you are. BTW, I am. I’d think a must visit if you are venturing to Gratallops. Call or email ahead as tours/tastings are by appointment.

Next: Celler Devinssi

Resources:

http://www.catalunyawine.com

http://www.vinologue.com

http://www.turismepriorat.org

http://www.closfigueras.info

Sao del Coster – Gratallops – #SundaySips

25 Oct
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Village of Gratallops – Monsant Range in the Background – Image Courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.org

Day 3: We checked out of the lovely Cal Compte, bid farewell to Graciela and Vincente, and navigated our way out of Torroja, and made the long trek to Gratallops (10 minutes).

Career Major (that's Main Street to you) in Torroja

Career Major (that’s Main Street to you) in Torroja – door to Cal Compte first arched door on left

We arrived at the central plaça in the village of Gratallops (pop. 300) at 9:00 a.m. and there stood ex-pat Timmer Brown of Catalunya Wine (@CatalunyaWine and http://www.catalunyawine.com ). I had connected with Timmer through Mike at Please Bring Me My Wine (@PBMMW) in the UK. In the beginning, I did not know that Timmer was Canadian and a hapless Toronto Maple Leafs fan. But, once I did, I knew that I had a hook. We greeted Timmer in the typical Canadian fashion (for the uninitiated, that’s a 2-4 of Molson Golden, a pound of back bacon, and Tim Horton’s double-doubles). Timmer had graciously agreed to show us a bit of the flavour of Priorat through its wineries and through the relationships that he has built over the past little while with wineries there. Timmer works with wineries in Catalunya – promoting, assisting with social media and building web sites. We couldn’t have been more appreciative of his enthusiasm or generosity. After the usual incredibly tight parking endeavour, he led us to our first winery, Sao del Coster.

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A plaque outside the door at Sao del Coster – granting Qualification for DOQ Priorat

Now, if we were expecting a separate new building with flashy signage, we would have been disappointed. Sao del Coster is located on a narrow street amongst residences and other mysterious businesses. We knocked on the door of the top floor of the winery (there are three floors – that’s what real gravity fed looks like) to no avail. We wandered down the sloping street around to the other side of the building which was the first floor and knocked again. We were greeted by Xavier Barrachina, Sao del Coster’s winemaker. He goes by the name of Javy and having  a nickname just fits him – informal, accommodating, friendly.

A Misty Morning View From the Terrace at Sao del Coster

A misty morning view from the terrace at Sao del Coster

Xavier took us up to the top floor (stairs were a bit narrow and one staircase was a spiral one – where are the worker safety inspectors?) where the fun begins. We weren’t there five minutes when one of the investor/owners, Michel Grupper, arrived with his two young children to talk business and with him was Frédéric Duseigneur, a consulting eonologist and biodynamic specialist. What a great coincidence to spend some time talking about the business of Sao del Coster, their biodynamic processes and further ambitions. Sao del Coster is a biodynamic operation. And biodynamic isn’t just different processes, it’s different beliefs and values. Frédéric talked to us about the ‘energy’ in the vineyard soils, the plant, the grape, the barrel. It was a fascinating discussion and reinforced my belief that, in great wine is passion.

Sao del Coster makes approximately 50,000 bottles a year, including their Galicia project. It’s smallish but stay tuned, I’ll be talking about smaller enterprises in further posts.

“When I grow up, I want to be wine.” Sao del Coster primary ferment

Xavier said, “Enough talking – let’s taste”. What? It’s 9:30 a.m. Who do you think I am? I actually swallow my sips, remember. But, as Timmer put it, “It’s never too early to taste good wine.” So, we entered the tasting room……..which just happened to be the same room we were standing in.

We began the Sao del Coster tasting with their Rias Baixas white – ‘X’. Rias Baixas? Yes, Sao del Coster has a Galicia project that’s been running a few years. I like Rias Baixas whites. But, I have to tell you that a crisp, salty white at 9:30 a.m. doesn’t gently arose your taste buds. It screams them awake. An interesting study might be the reviews given by professional tasters in the morning versus the afternoon. This tough love might have been what we really needed to get started but it didn’t provide me with a good opportunity to experience the wine the way I’d have liked. My hint at perhaps having a free bottle or two ‘to go’ to better feel this wine fell on deaf ears. If their craftsmanship on their reds is any example, I’m confident that this 100% Albariño is full value.

2013 Pim, Pam, Poom - Image courtesy of www.saodelcoster.com

2013 Pim, Pam, Poom – Image courtesy of http://www.saodelcoster.com

We started the reds with their ‘fun’ wine – Pim Pam Poom. Xavier explained that ‘pim, pam, poom’ is a Spanish (or was it Catalan?) expression similar to ‘easy, peasy, lemon squeezy’. The name is perfect for this wine. It had the weight and vibe of a fresh Beaujolais. That’s a compliment. If you’ve been playing along at home, you know that I appreciate good Beaujolais. Fresh, on the lighter side for a Priorat red – a chill wouldn’t hurt this wine. It’s 100% Garntaxa so tannins are subdued and red fruit is king. No oak. If they wanted people to enjoy this in the summer with nibbles – Mission Accomplished. I just checked their web site and there are no bottles of this left. Understandable, since they made only 2,300 bottles last vintage.

2012 'S' - Image courtesy of www.saodelcoster.com

2012 ‘S’ – Image courtesy of http://www.saodelcoster.com

The next wine was one that I think we have had in our market – S. This is a blend of Garnatxa, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Digression: I was surprised by the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that is being used in Priorat. They’re never the dominant grape but supporting cast members and seem to be the more common grapes in new plantings. You could smell the presence of oak with this wine. I’m thinking a short period but still there. This had a bit of heat, 15% ABV, on the first sip but like many of these wines, you don’t notice it as a hindrance but a quality that grows on you. This would be a great introduction to DOQ Priorat red wines, if you haven’t had them. I’m a little fuzzy on the price point but I’m thinking it was around 18€.

terram

2008 Terram – OK, it may look like I was drinking in bed. But, the nightstand at the hotel was the best place to take the picture. Really. Notwithstanding the fact that I do drink in bed.

The last wine we tried was the 2008 Terram. I love this wine! Garnatxa, Cariñena and a little CS and Syrah combine to give this dark and smoky red lovely balance and a smoothness that I bet we wouldn’t have found until its last few years. So far, our experience with Priorat red blends told us that the nose is almost always Garnatxa – red fruits. This one is 14% ABV, which I think is a sweet spot for this bold, full-bodied, dusty red. Medium length finish and that’s when you get the mineral hit – the schist, llicorella, slate or whatever else you might want to call it comes through. Price point is 25€. In a Priorat red, that’s mid range. Took some of this with us when we left.

Xavier with my Friend, Marty

Xavier with my friend, Marty. Drinking DOQ Priorat at 9:30 a.m. Our tasting table in the foreground How great is that?

Fortunately, as in all businesses, things need to get done and a 4X4 pulled up on the street upstairs with a load of Garnatxa that needed unloading. All hands on deck! Michel’s children, Xavier, Timmer, the pickers (there were 2) and my friend and I unloaded the grapes from the truck. Well OK, I didn’t really do that much. The amazing thing to me was that all these grapes were hand harvested, carried from the terraces down to the truck (that may be no small feat – check out the picture in my first Priorat post here), trucked to the winery 30 crates or so at a time (25 pounds to a crate) and then hand bombed into the winery upon arrival there. It just doesn’t work like that in most wine growing regions. The lack of mechanization and high volumes was quite noticeable

Now, do you know what an empty 4X4 means? Road trip! Timmer, my friend and I hopped into the truck and Xavier said, “Now the fun begins. Trying to get out of town without killing somebody.” Did I tell you that the streets were narrow?

Off we went, out of the village on to the main road to and from Gratallops until we came to a farm lane that led us down off the pavement and through the vineyards. Winding through different parcels of Garnatxa, Cariñena and olive trees is like crack to Rob Ford for yours truly. Up and down through terraces of beautiful gnarled vines. Different unsigned parcels owned by families for years all running together in a cryptic quilt. We stopped by one of the Sao del Coster vineyard parcels that looked out over the valley, across to Gratallops – the view looked almost exactly like the picture at the top of this post.

Beside the vineyard was a fenced compound and the mules were stirring. Xavier said, “The mules are restless. Before we check the vines, I have to feed them.” Why mules, you ask? Well, the terraced vineyards are so narrow and steep that the wineries cannot use traditional motorized vehicles to plow the terraces. They use mules. Cool.

Xavier Feeds the Mules at Sao del Coster

Xavier feeds the mules at Sao del Coster

After the mules, Xavier took us to a section of the vineyard that held Cariñena, Garnatxa, and Syrah. Some of the Garnatxa was already picked. He asked us to assess the pick worthiness (that’s a winemakers terms, BTW) of the Cariñena in the picture below.

Cariñena still on the Vine - Sao del Coster - Gratallops

Cariñena on the vine – Sao del Coster – Gratallops – good view of the llicorella

We picked a couple grapes, squeezed them into our mouths and I said, “Well, I have no friggin’ idea, Javy. But, since they are still here, I’d say, not ready yet.” I was right. The grapes weren’t ready – still a week and a half away. Although they do use the technical tools available, Xavier still relies primarily on experiencing the grape to determine readiness.

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Yours truly and Xavier discussing the advantages of long pants over shorts

We hung out in the vineyard for about 30 minutes and then back in the 4X4 and returned to the winery. Before we left for our next winery, Xavier asked us to sample some 2013 wine from barrel. We returned to the barrel room and began the arduous and exacting task of extracting wine from barrel. OK, it isn’t that exacting or hard.

We saw, we tasted, we played in a field, we bought, and then we said our goodbyes to Xavier, Michel, and Frédéric and wandered off with Timmer down the street to our next tasting at Clos Figueras.

cratessdc

What a great way to taste but, more importantly, to understand wine. In this case, we developed an appreciation of the actual work that goes into the beverage we love. But, more than that we better understood the passion of Xavier and the folks at Sao del Coster. The paradoxical nature of biodynamic farming – the complexity of our controlling natures and the simplicity of working in tune with all of nature.

I have decided that if I could set the Wayback Machine, I’d start my working life as a mule at Sao del Coster in Gratallops. Oh, I know you’re saying, “But, Bill at least twice a year, you have to put on the yoke of slavery and pull a plough through a terraced vineyard”. Yes, I get it, but the rest of the year, you get to stand around with your buddies in a lovely vineyard, eat food already prepared by someone else, and leave the seat up without recrimination. Wait, would I get to drink wine? No? Well, maybe then I’ll pass on the mule concept.

Related Posts:

Priorat – Day 1 Torroja, Porrera

Priorat – Day 2

If you want to learn more about Sao del Coster:

http://www.saodelcoster.com

Other references used:

http://www.catalunyawine.com

http://www.turismepriorat.org/en

http://www.vinologue.com

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