Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

Late But Timely? – The Red Daily Slosh

5 Sep

Just a little soul with one of the greatest of all time, Smokey Robinson. Shout out to Sara H.

I’ve been distracted and busy the past couple weeks. So, not very timely with these recommendations for the September 3rd release as it’s already the 5th. Rather than entertain you with a tale or two, let’s jump right to it.

montgoIf it’s Iberian value you love. And who doesn’t? You might want to buy a case of the 2012 Montgó Monastrell #452136 $13.95. Yes, that’s less than $14! Monastrell is Spanish for Mourvedre. So, if you love wines from Bandol or just Cotes du Rhone style GSM wines, this will meet your palate. It’s dry, spicy and full of fruit in the mouth more than swirling in your glass. BBQ wine for those last hot summer days.

gebratMy friend, Andrew, asked me if I’d tried 2014 Clos Gebrat CG+ #360511 $19.95 from my favourite wine region – Priorat. I hadn’t. So, I ran out yesterday and gulped down a bottle last night. Oh, I swirled it in the glass, made notes on the colour, sniffed, inhaled, and then……. I gulped it down. This wine is made by the co-op in Gratallops. When we were in Gratallops visiting Sao del Coster and Devinnsi wineries, we learned that the co-op had the community crusher. They piled it into the back of their truck and drove to the doorway of the local garage wineries to rent out the machine. Just parked it in the street. We visited wineries in Gratallops that probably couldn’t even accommodate the size of the crusher in their space. This wine is typical Priorat – big, high in alcohol (15% ABV), and dark Garnacha present and accounted for. Cariñena lurking in the background. Thanks, Andrew.

graetzTuscan sun? This week there’s a cheap NV Tuscan wine – Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso #330712 $15.95 that is a light, balanced red that you can serve as a sipper (at least, I drink it alone – that’s the wine by itself and me by myself – sadly alone. But, I don’t have a drinking problem unless you count the empties). But you can serve with something light Italian – margarita pizza?  Great value. The label, as are all Graetz’, is very cool.

I had a discussion with someone the other night about Pinot Noir. They preferred California Pinot over Burgundy. I think there are a lot of people out there that would agree. I’m thinking it might have to do with Burgundy’s need to age a bit before you scarf it down. Or, the California fruit over the lean earthiness of most Burgundy. Whereas many California Pinot is made to drink younger. Somewhere in between, in my experience, is New Zealand. Particularly Central Otago – lean, powerful, but still a bit of sexiness and accessible fruit. This week, there are two Kiwi Pinots that I purchase in most vintages:

rua2015 Avarua Rua Pinot Noir #295592 $27.95 is one of the Central Otago Pinots that I think is proper to very good value at this price. It is typical as described above but also has some herbal stuff. I’ve had this vintage and it’s a beaut but could use some more time to develop or a bit of a breather. Nothing better than to know that there is a good Pinot Noir nestled down below and waiting for a good screw……Corkscrew, that is.

2013 Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir #361246 $31.95 is from the North island. This is more typical of Pinot with cherries, some earthiness, and a nice lip smacking finish. I have not had this vintage so can’t recommend the proper time to swill. Highly recommended just the same.

Untasted but of interest:

2010 Viña Real Reserva #094896 $21.95 I think I’ve had this vintage but can’t find any record of it. This is typically a very good example of a Rioja Reserva at this price point. Cellaring capacity but good now too. And, you will really impress your guests with a bottle or two of this and some meaty lamb or pork.

2013 Borgo Scopeto Borgonero #421396 $19.95 Had this in the 2009 and 2010 vintage then we lost contact. I blame myself really as I misplaced her email, FaceBook, Twitter, Snapchat, ……..addresses. But, now we stumble into each other. In those earlier vintages this was a big Toscana, full bodied with great bones. As I re-read my notes, I’m thinking that I quaffed those earlier vintages way too soon. So, let’s see if I can control my urges and leave one or two of these down below for a few years. But, I will have to drink one this week.

That’s it. Sorry for the delay. Have a great week – we are heading to the lake for some work, sun, food, and drink.

Cheers

Bill

 

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.

Word Power and The Red Daily Slosh

28 May

“When you hear the call you have to get it underway.” Ah, the 80’s and meaningful lyrics.

How many times have I glowingly recommended a red from the Southern Rhone? Go ahead think about it. Take your time scrolling through my posts. I’m waiting………… OK times up, ‘a lot of times’ is the correct answer. I love ‘em and assume that you do as well. They can be well-priced, adaptable to different situations, and, most importantly, almost always tasty. This week’s release features these wines among the 80 or so that are being featured.

Time out for a little recondite wine info. Like that word ‘recondite’? I looked up on Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com. Recondite: little known; obscure: a reondite fact. If I use it three times, it’s mine – Word Power, baby!

The classification of wines from the Côtes du Rhone is eerily similar to that of Beaujolais. At least that’s how I try to keep all this stuff straight – by comparing and contrasting. The basic Southern Rhone appellation for reds, whites, and rosés is Côtes du Rhone. We’ve probably all had a red Côtes du Rhone. And, if we’ve had more than a couple, we’ve noticed a broad range of quality. Some truly great wines and others plonk. The next step up is the Côtes du Rhone Villages which means that the grapes come from one of 95 communes, many of which we don’t see over here. And, another step up is a village with its own terroir – a cru. They will show up on the label. The cru villages that we see most often include Gigondas, Vacqueras, Cairrane, and Rasteau. For all the reds, Grenache is dominant (at least 40%) with a supporting cast mostly of Syrah and Mourvèdre. I love the Grenache, the Granacha (Spain), the Cannonau (Sardinia). Rosé is from almost everywhere here but the best come from around the villages of Tavel and Lirac and are labeled accordingly. Recondite discussion over. Although it wasn’t really that recondite, was it? Three times!

ferme du montLet’s start in the très economical range. The 2012 La Ferme du Mont Première Côte Côtes du Rhone #251645 $14.95 is a cousin of a wine of which I’ve recommended several vintages here – La Ferme du Mont Le Ponnant. The Première Côte is smooth, jammy with moderate tannins – that’s the Grenache. Absent of any woody stuff – it’s aged in concrete tanks. I’d think that you could serve this as a red-in-the-sun wine. You know, there’s always someone who doesn’t drink whites or rosés that’s taking up space on your patio. Pour them some of this. That doesn’t mean that it can’t take food or couldn’t pass for a winter wine. I’m just thinking that it isn’t winter right now and we are all over tapas and appetizer style eating. I bet you’ll like it at this price.

ortasThe 2010 Ortas Prestige Rasteau #985929 $19.95 shows us that all Grenache dominated wines don’t have to be low-tannin, fruit first wines. This has a dry profile with Syrah pepper and spice. Great BBQ or stew wine. It’s had time to figure it all out and is comfortable with its life – kind of like me. Nice balance – unlike me.

monteslspnThe Montes Limited Selection label brings pretty good value. I’m thinking there’s probably a million cases of the ‘limited’ selection but I’ll let that paradox go. The next rung up is the Montes Alpha line and, if you’ve been playing along at home, you’ll know that I’ve recommended a bunch of Alphas. This week there’s a wine I think you should try – 2012 Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir #037937 $14.95. Pinot Noir tends to be pretty bad at the lower price range and that’s effected a lot of people’s perception of the grape – they just don’t like it. Have to agree that cheap Pinot is pretty lame or just too thin and bitey. This one is clearly a cool climate pinot – alive with acidity, freshness and red fruit. Nice tang on the finish. A wee little chill wouldn’t hurt. Let me know what you think.

nicaloFinally, BBQ season has arrived in The Great White North. If I wasn’t suggesting below that you get the Visa out, I’d suggest that you pick up a case of the 2013 Tedeschi Capitel Nicalò #984997 $17.95 for your next mess of grilled chicken or burgers. This is a Valpolicella Superiore from the usual suspects – Rodinella, Corvino, and Corvinone. The grapes are dried out lending a deep quality to the flavours and a raisinated sense to the nose. It’s a consistent performer. The 2013 carries some tobacco and black cherries on the nose and that’s replayed on the swallow and finish. Good tannin and acidity to pair with burnt meat or those Portobello mushrooms soaked in Balsamic and grilled to perfection. Great value.

Wines that I’m picking up untasted:

pagigondas2012 Pierre Amadieu Romane-Machotte Gigondas #017400 $27.95If I had to pick one village cru that has been my favourite over the years, it would have to be Gigondas. I haven’t done the geological analysis of terroir so I’m not sure if it’s just the luck of the draw, the producers that I’ve had access to, or if in fact Gigondas is a superior village generally. I find that the best ones can be like mini Chateauneuf-du-Papes – more accessible and flowery though. Or, is suggesting that there might be ‘mini’ C-d-P’s the statement of a wine heretic? I know this is outside the Daily Slosh range but don’t you deserve a bit of a treat tucked away down below for a special moment? That’s my rationalization, anyway. And, it works in keeping my cellar moderately sated.

auntsfieldSpeaking of treats – 2012 Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir #361246 $29.95 – I loved, loved, loved the 2011 of this label. I hadn’t really sliced and diced the appellations for Pinot in New Zealand with the exception of understanding Central Otago’s brand a bit. But, last year, when I had the 2011, I did a little taste research into Marlborough Pinots. I do this for you, my readers. It’s very gruelling work but I soldier on. For me, I found that the Marlboroughs I had seemed to be a little more clearly defined red fruit and, although they carried minerality, not near as much as Central Otago, nor as lean and powerful. I’d say a gentler, more accessible Pinot. Here’s hoping that this is half as great as the 2011.

Thanks to Jancis Robinson and Karen McNeil for fact checks.

Word Up.

Bill

 

 

#PEC – Road Trip!

26 May
loyalist gin

66 Gilead Loyalist Gin

I’ve been a bit remiss over the last month. Not sure why I haven’t been posting stuff. I’ve been writing it, just never getting to the part where I upload, edit, rewrite, think about it, and finally post it. Bloggers will understand. That all changes today.

We traveled to Prince Edward County for the first weekend in May. For those not familiar with “The County”, let me provide a brief introduction.

TheCounty_logoPrince Edward County is on the north shore of Lake Ontario. It was originally settled by indigenous people and following the American Revolution, land was granted by The Crown to United Empire Loyalists. Interesting how The Crown decided that they owned the land in the first place. A rant for another time? You see the term “Loyalist” at every turn as it constitutes a lot of the sense of who the people are and where they came from. Plus, it’s a cool way to brand stuff, I presume. Minus the topograhy, it does have a New Englandy feel.

Over the past 20 years or so, courageous winapreneurs have been planting vines and working the vineyards to produce worthy wines. Understandably, it’s taken awhile to establish a track record that warrants the accolades that some County wines are now receiving. To get a feel for the wine trade there, you only have to think back to your first wander in Niagara region when they were trying to get established. Wineries that bore the descriptor ‘cottage winery’ were springing up all over the place and the region was absent of any grand chateau-style tasting rooms, vanity wineries, or lavish wedding venues. That’s changed in Niagara now.

In The County, there remains a sense of exploration and adventure among the 30 plus wineries. Now, that doesn’t mean that the wines are a casualty to experimentation or still years away from a recognizable sense of place. In fact, I’d have to say that the most striking feature of PEC wines is their sense of place. The prime varietals are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If you’re a cool climate dude or dudette, this might be your new favourite place. It’s one of those places where you’d say, “You can’t grow vinifera grapes here. It’s too damn cold in the winter.” Well, they’ve thought of that and each fall, the vines are buried. I’m not kidding, they mound dirt on top of the vines. And in the spring, pull all that dirt back off them. Seems like a lot of work because it is. Is it worth it? You bet.

I’ll include our full tasting notes in a later post. Most of the wineries discussed have a ‘club’ approach to participating in their thing. If you’re interested in learning more about the wineries or ordering some for yourself, click the links provided.

Closson Chase

Closson Chase

Closson Chase 

We had two days to wander, dropping into a number of wineries and a distillery. We started at Closson Chase. Like many of the wineries, the tasting room at Closson Chase is in a converted barn (above). Great ambience – no pretensions. Vines are planted on fractured limestone sloping towards Lake Ontario giving the wines a definite Burgundian feel. Until recently, Deborah Paskus was the winemaker there after establishing herself as a Chardonnay Ninja in Niagara. To get an idea of the quality of their Chardonnays, I quote Jancis Robinson, “We have served them blind to wine professionals with top white Burgundies and, quite literally, amazed and astounded our friends.” High praise indeed. The 2013 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay ($27.95) was in  perfect balance with just enough oak peaking through – acidity on the finish. They craft Pinot made from Niagara grapes as well as those from their own estate. I did prefer their 2013 KJ Watson Vineyard Pinot ($34.95) which hails from Niagara. Their 2012 Closson Chase Pinot Noir ($29.95) prepared me for the general structure and character of the County Pinots that I would be experiencing the rest of our trip. Lean, powerful, minerally, and earthy. You never think, “Umm, that’s ripe.” More Oregon and Burgundy less California.  http://clossonchase.com/

The Old Third Tasting Room

Tasting Room – The Old Third

The Old Third

The tasting room staff at Closson told us about a winery that I hadn’t heard of – The Old Third. It’s just down the road from Closson, easy to find. What a cool place. Big open to the roof barn with a tasting room and another area that could serve as a sit-around-and-chat-room – a large open window looking out across the vineyard. The guy who was staffing the room was across the road hanging out when we arrived. It’s all pretty laid back. This winery also specialized in Chardonnay and Pinot with a Cabernet Franc and traditional method cider thrown in for fun. Loved the 2013 Pinot ($42.00) – minerally, lean, powerful and dusty. Really a ’boutique’ winery with small batches of wines from fruit grown on the estate.  http://www.theoldthird.com/

Keint-he Gamay Noir

Keint-he Gamay Noir

Keint-he Winery and Vineyards

On to another well reviewed winery – Keint-he. Did I mention that at almost every winery, we were the only ones in the tasting room? Speaks to timing, I guess. A while back, I had a Keint-he Chardonnay that was made in the County from Niagara grapes, but never their county wines. Have to say that the Keint-he wines seemed to hit the right note for me. The 2013 Portage Chardonnay ($25.00) was all local with a bit of oak thrown in to please those that like a bit of butter.The 2011 Portage Pinot ($20.00) made from County fruit was similar to the Old Third ones above – lighter but still lean and muscular without heaviness – mineral elements, particularly on the finish. If I had to say one red fruit, I’d refuse, there wasn’t any obvious berry peaking through. Although, I seemed a bit muddled after a day of tasting, which I don’t mind – it keeps it interesting and that’s what GPS is for. Right? They have a 2013 Voyageur Gamay Noir ($25.00) from Beamsville Bench appellation fruit. It is tangy and, what’s the word I’m searching for?……….oh yeah, ‘good’. Needs a bit of a chill to bring out the fruit. Not as dark as a Moulin-a-Vent but not as fresh as many other New World Gamays either. I liked it a lot. http://www.keint-he.ca/

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Pizza Time

Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard

Now, if you asked around, lots of wine geeks know of Norman Hardie and his story. Studied at the University of Dijon, sommelier at The Four Seasons, and itinerant wine worker, he traveled the globe learning about the agriculture that is the magic behind the sip. He discovered the ubiquitous limestone and clay in The County and established Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard in 2003 with a planting of Pinot Noir. Subsequently, he’s increased to plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris as well. He purchases grapes, including Riesling, from Niagara and other county sites. This winery has a cool wood-fired pizza oven and a great patio (that’s it above) for sipping and just relaxing; which is exactly what we did.

The wine? Well, if you’re a fan of mineral-driven Pinots and Chardonnays, this is the place for you. The Pinot that took my breath away was the 2012 Norman Hardie Cuvee ‘L’ Pinot Noir ($69.00). It’s made from Niagara and County grapes fermented separately and then later blended and allowed to knit together in old French oak, Understated, elegant, dark fruits and a looooooong finish – ready for years in the cellar. The 2013 Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir ($39.00) is a fine example of County reds – first sip seems overly restrained. Second sip starts to build and then as you finish the bottle (did I just admit that?) you notice the depth, layering and a refreshing quality to the wine that wasn’t there at the beginning. Nice to have a wine with lower ABV too (10.9%).

Norman Hardie also had the only Riesling we tasted in The County. A blend of Niagara and County fruit. The 2013 Norman Hardie Riesling ($21.00) bone-dry, needs some time to develop – and that might as well get done in my cellar, eh? What do the critics think of Norman Hardie? “The Chardonnays emerging from Hardie’s small vineyard in Prince Edward County…..are laser etched with acidity, minerality, and the sort of originality that we once thought only Burgundy could deliver “ Matt Kramer http://www.normanhardie.com/

Rosehall Run

The last winery we hit was Rosehall Run. If you’re hungry, they have a food truck that serves, among other things, donut holes dusted with cinnamon or lavender. Yummy. The wine? Well, I loved their 2012 Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cuvée County ($29.95). Cab Franc in cooler climates sometimes – wait, almost always – carries a green pepper, vegetal nose and taste. This one didn’t. It was all fruit and dirt. Did I say I loved it? The 2012 Rosehall Run Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay ($29.95) was the favourite of The Director. Apples and a creaminess that surprised us a bit as we hadn’t experienced that profile on the trip. http://www.rosehallrun.com/

gilead3

66 Gilead Distillery

66 Gilead Distillery

We ate at The Hubb in Bloomfield (see below) the first evening and as we finished we asked our server, Lindsey, what we should do the next day. She became quite animated and said, “Why don’t you come and see me at 66 Gilead, the distillery? I work here for breakfast in the morning and then I’m at the distillery from about 11.” So, how could we refuse that invitation? We trundled off to taste hard liquor, arriving at about noon. Yes, a bit scary. Lindsey welcomed us by name to the 66 Gilead tasting room. It’s in a restored farmhouse surrounded by barns, implement sheds and free range chickens. They have artwork, old vinyl, house-made bitters, and tasty treats for sale. It’s all very cool and laid back. My oldest son, Nathan, is a gin hound. On most visits, he helps himself to my gin as the front door is closing behind him. The 66 Gilead Loyalist Gin ($43.95) is interesting. Using botanicals grown in the area and a little touch of local hops and lavender, the gin is ultra soft. Dangerously so. Juniper does not dominate as it does in most other gins I’ve experienced. I had to get him a bottle. The LCBO carries this but in limited availability. They make a pine vodka that struck me as an acquired taste – didn’t care for it. But, the hit of the visit was the Wild Oak Whisky ($68.95). This had a definite Bourbon vibe. Styled with 47% alcohol it disappeared during a recent trip to the cottage with a friend. Funny that. They also fashion a maple whisky, rum, and a sporit distilled from sake among other spirits. For the maple whisky, they take a used whisky barrel and fill it with maple syrup, let sit for 6 months, drain, fill with whisky and let it sit for a good length of time. Viola. I didn’t try the whisky but the maple syrup was awesome! This was my first trip to a craft distiller. I will have to make a point of looking them up when I travel. If you get to 66 Gilead, say hi to Lindsey. http://66gileaddistillery.com/

Our trip to The County was fabulous. It is such a personable place. And, wherever you are, you can feel Lake Ontario’s presence. Not wishing to compare apples and oranges but, if you’ve been to a long established ‘tourist’ wine region, you’ll have experienced the other end of the spectrum. That doesn’t imply a lack of sophistication in PEC – far from it. It’s just a different vibe, an excitement about the possibilities and about being part of something unique. More interactive and, dare I say, friendly? I appreciate that difference. In The County, you can count on bumping into people that you saw at the restaurant the night before, served you at a winery and are now working part-time in a store where you’re picking up a gift. And, bless their hearts, they recognize you too. The wineries are all very close together – biking distance (not that we biked) and have friendly, knowledgeable staff. And, if you pick your time, you could be the only ones wasting theirs.

Additional tidbits:

We ate at The Hubb in Angeline’s Inn in Bloomfield. A bit noisy but the food was well prepared and inventive. Good wine list and by the glass (I had a Gamay from Lighthall – needed a slight chill – but perfect with the fish) – mostly local as you would expect. Countylicious menu $30 prix fixe 3 course meal. Enjoyed ceviche, beet salad, pickerel, a veggie pasta dish and great desserts. Highly recommend. http://angelines.ca/the-hubb-c16.php

We also ate at East and Main in Wellington. A bit more bistro-esque. Good selection of wines – mostly local. The wait staff was a woman from a tasting room we visited the day before. Countylicious menu prix fixe 3 course meal $35. Highly recommend. http://eastandmain.ca/

We stayed at The Century House B&B in Bloomfield. You guessed it. A lovely century home with spectacular gardens. $120 per night. Highly recommend. http://www.centuryhousebandb.com/

Be Careful – The Red Daily Slosh

1 Apr

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I’ve been following March Madness on the tube and have seen quite a few commercials concerning pharmaceuticals – mostly dealing with erectile dysfunction. I hadn’t made a connection between basketball and that particular malady. All I can think of is that it must have something to do with the constant dribbling.

It’s interesting watching the different approaches to what’s allowed on these commercials. Up here, you see men skipping down the street in the morning with a Viagra logo floating over their heads but no mention of erectile dysfunction or what, in fact, Viagra has done for them. They just feel friggin’ fantastic, wink, wink. Or alternatively, they tell you what problem you might have (40% of men in the world have ED), suggest that you talk to your physician but give no product name just a website to find out more www.getitup.com . Arriving there, you guessed it – Viagra.

South of the border, it seems they can say everything about erectile dysfunction and the drug as long as they tell you that your personal health situation precludes you safely taking it. “If you’ve ever had the feeling that someone doesn’t like you, you’ve misplaced your house keys, or you’ve had a stiff neck, consult your physician before taking Viagra. If you experience erections lasting longer than the God of your choice intended, stand down, sip some wine, and modify your Power of Attorney. Do not take a selfie.”

So, I’ve decided to provide my own caution for my recommendations. It will be included at the bottom of this post.

Let’s get started.

allegriniThe April 4th release features wines from Veneto. So, let’s start with a ubiquitous wine from that region – 2011 Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre #672931 $24.95. I guess what I mean by ubiquitous is that I seem to see this wine all over the place. Other bloggers talk about it, restaurants carry it, I turn the corner at the Masonville LCBO and there’s a stack of it with a shelf talker by Natalie MacLean (92, if that means anything to you). Well, it’s either pretty solid or it’s an exceptional feat of marketing. The former is true. This is a consistent performer. Rich (there’s a bit of raisinated grapes added post first fermentation) and layered. One time you pick up the dried fruit and the next you swallow a gob of fresh black cherries. It’s pretty cool. Great wine with cheap Italian fare – spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs, sausage pizza. Friday night before the blue pill?

donatoniAnother but less expensive wine utilizing dried grapes is the 2011 Donatoni Massena Appassimento #332403 $16.95. Some of you shy away from Old World and, in particular Italian, wines because you sense a sharpness, thinness and/or just too much acidity. I could argue that you are just wrong but what’s the use? Instead, you need to try these appassimento wines.  In fact, anything that uses dried grapes or spent must to deepen wines – as in Ripasso, Amarone. This wine is great value – brings dark red fruit aromas and flavours with all sorts of spiciness and depth. Finishes long and satisfying. I like this wine all by itself. But, then again, I like a lot of wines by themselves. This would be great sitting-by-the-last-fire-of-the-cold-season wine. Spending quality time discussing Bill C-51 and the potential fate of Omar Khadr. Who am I kidding? How about recapping the day and snuggling? Remember: Snuggle Responsibly.

In this market, we are barraged at the mother ship with far too many selections of cheap New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Most LCBO’s dedicate about ten feet of shelf space in the US section and at least that much in other New World aisles columbiuacrest combined for these wines. You know the ones I mean – stylized foot imprints, skinny girls or little dresses , and fuzzy animals on the label. Heavy, off-dry, woodified crap – a technical assessment. So, it would be easy to write off cheap, New World Cabernet. Well that would be wrong. Every vintage it seems that there’s a great cab or three from Washington that goes against that theory (think H3). This week, the 2012 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon #240093 $17.95 arrives in stores. This is from the Chateau Ste. Michelle powerhouse. I’m a little guy….guy but these Michellians do a pretty good job of churning out mass produced wines with appeal at reasonable prices. This one is sophisticated for the price point. A luxurious mouthfeel but with enough tannin and a tangy finish to provide a few edges, particularly on the finish – plenty dry enough. It’s straightforward and simple in a good way. I’d want to have this as a sip and nibbler primarily – friends drop in, hostess gift, Easter dinner at my place (hint, hint).

frontariaWho says that I never recommend a wine under $18? I’ve nailed it twice already this week. Here’s a trifecta and going real low. Where have I heard that phrase, “Going Low”? #insidejoke The 2009 Quinta do Portal Frontaria #324533 $13.95 was a wine I tried when Duoro was the New Wine This Week – that’s a fun weekly exercise carried on by obsessive wine geeks. This was a huge surprise. I was gobsmacked. Taken aback. Dumbfounded. This is an Old World wine with New World ambitions – round, smoothed out, settled by time in bottle. Dark fruit. Nice heft, full-bodied for $13.95. To quote Jeff, The Drunken Cyclist, “Whoa.” Please pick it up – good wine, great price. Whoa.

Wines that I want to try:

2012 Carmen Grand Reserva Carmenère #439166 $17.95 – like the one below, I’m going on past performance here. Carmen’s Carmenère is usually good good. Deep, smoky and sturdy – backbone of tannin just intentional enough – long finish. Hopefully this vintage doesn’t disappoint on that promise. Shout out to the Joukowsky Institute Carmenère Club.

2013 DeBortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir #015511 $19.95 – I love Yarra Valley Pinot and I’ve had DeBortoli’s different Pinots many times – love their take. Usually fresh, red fruity and just enough tang – dignified, if that makes sense. Stand and chatter Pinot. I want to give this one a try.

drinkresponsiblyCaution: If after consuming wine, you experience any of the following, step away from the wine immediately: believing that The Maple Leafs don’t need a total rebuild; mistaking Zero Mostel for a non-alcoholic Piedmontese wine; calling the red wine you’re drinking – ‘cabaret’ sauvignon; or, and pay attention to this one – thinking that a fourth bottle makes sense.

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 winesearcher.com 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.

Bill

Holiday Advice – Part Deux

19 Dec

Last year I featured Bing and Bowie as an awkward couple. This year I thought we’d examine another unusual pairing. Think about it. Arguably the best female voice of all time and the guy who gave us Delilah – a song about an angry man stabbing his g/f in a fit of rage. Talk amongst yourselves.

This is the second part of three posts offering some recommendations for wines a little out of the ‘daily’ range. The first installment can be read here.

Pinot Noir

gravityPinot Noir may be the most personal of all wines. Some like them lean and under the tank top – muscular, others like ’em softer and round. I’m in the first camp. So, here goes. In Ontario, there are many great local pinots. You could start with 2012 Flat Rock Cellars ‘Gravity’ Pinot Noir #1560 $29.95 an earthy, darker-than-pinot, fruitful wine. Bigger on the nose than usual for this wine – probably 2012 showing through. Lovely wine. Another Ontario gem is any pinot by hardiepnNorman Hardie. Prince Edward County, Norman Hardie in particular, instills a very different take on pinot than Niagara. The 2011 Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinor Noir #125310 $39.00 is a cherry tea stained long drink of pinot. What does it remind me of? Earl Grey tea – it’s tea alright but not the same. This is pinot but not the same as pinot. Complicated but worth getting to know. I’m heading to The County in the New Year and can’t wait to visit some of their exciting wineries.

Oregon has a very classic take on pinot. Lovely stuff. But, we are disadvantaged with limited selection. I couldn’t find any that had anything but a scattered availability in the province. I read other bloggers that talk about the breadth of choice they have with Pinot Noir in America. Alas, we have many more Burgundy available – which means we can go broke early and often. However, a non-Sonoma ‘go to’ calerapinot for me is Calera – which we do have. The 2012 Calera Pinot Noir #933044 $33.95 is a great introduction to a world of California pinot that isn’t ‘one-dimensional’ like the lower priced entries seem to be. I find you need to stretch the budget a bit particularly with pinots. Calera has several single vineyard offerings too that we get each year – the Jensen Vineyard being my fave and a wine that you don’t want to open because it just gets better and better with time. The one above is their entry level and is ripe, red fruity, earthy, and very accessible. Good value.

rdbgcIf you prefer a more Burgundian take and you don’t want to get a second mortgage, I’d suggest a bargain cru – Beaune Teurons 1er Cru. I call it my ‘Go To Cru Crew’. But, I see that there are but a few available. Another time. So, what to splurge on? Well, the 2012 Roche de Bellene Vieilles Vignes Gevrey-Chambertin #240242 $56.95 is dark and a bit wild but easy to understand, if that makes sense. I bought a couple and mistakenly opened one right away to find, as I knew that I would, that it wasn’t ready for prime time. Duh. Buy this for someone that has or is building a cellar.

akaruaAnd no, I didn’t forget New Zealand pinot. There are a bunch but let’s get some focus. The 2012 Akarua Pinot Noir #79541 $37.95 is a lovely Central Otago pinot. It’s not shy with red fruits and a lovely seam of acidity. Extremely food friendly. Go ahead and splurge on this one. Low risk – high reward. The minty, herbiness would match a sage turkey perfectly. I think that I’ve just talked myself into it. Damn, I hate when that happens.

Pinot recap – all but Roche de Bellene ready to drink and all good matches for turkey dinner.

I headed up these sections by varietal. But, I probably should have simply provided some whites, reds, rosés and bubblies instead of going the varietal route. Well, live and learn. At least tying Chardonnay to Pinot Noir makes some sense. Right?

Chardonnay

mersoleilOaky chards don’t get a lot of love these days. But, I still like them if there’s some balance and I don’t have to pull slivers of oak out of my tongue. A biggerish Chardonnay is the 2011 Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay #958975 $34.95. It is decadent (so, delete the “ish” above) with a hint of butter and some citrus on the nose but pure tropical fruit and butterscotch in the mouth and on the finish. We like the buttery ones here and this is a staple down below – that would be my basement. It works with creamy chicken stuff and the turkey if it’s not a spicy treatment but more trad. If you want to buy local, pick up the 2011 Tawse Daniel Lenko Vineyard tawsedlchardonnayChardonnay #344796 $44.95. This is made with grapes from the old vines at Daniel Lenko. I’ll tell the story of my visit to Daniel Lenko another time. Suffice it to say, the place is unique among the array of wineries on the bench. Blend Lenko’s grapes with the Burgundian leanings of Tawse and you get a Chardonnay that’s a bit more Old School than the one above. Pure tropical fruit and apples on the nose joined with some of the oak induced butter and vanilla in the mouth – a mineral echo on the finish. Love it. The Mer Soleil is Janis Joplin; the Tawse – Joan Osborne. Both great styles – substantial, full of flavour and nuance, just different.

Classic white Burgundy is around but scattered availability. It can be pricy. If you want to partake of the classic Burgundian Chardonnay, I’d suggest two approaches: Chablis (minerally, stony and crisper – lovely stuff – look for 2010) and Meursault (a little rounder, nuttier, and deeper – pricier as well). I haven’t tasted any of those that I see on-line and, frankly, there aren’t many. Ask a consultant at the store for advice if this is your leaning.

Now, I’m off to The Morrissey for a craft beer (or two). Have a great weekend!

Part Three: first of next week

(Not Really) Previously Unexplored Wineries – Flat Rock Cellars

31 Oct

flatrocktm

First thing I’m going to do? Change the title of this series from “Previously Unexplored Wineries” to “Sometimes Previously Unexplored and Sometimes Regularly Explored Wineries”? “Wineries ‘n More”? Not quite? “Wineries-o-Rama”? I know, it needs work. I’ll get my crack marketing team to blue sky it, socialize the concept, and prepare a few story boards for our consideration.

The reason I need to change the name of the series is that today I’m going to talk about a winery that I have visited and ‘explored’ on several occasions – Flat Rock Cellars.

Flat Rock Cellars was started in 1999. However, the owning/managing family Mandronich have been involved in viticulture for quite a bit longer. Flat Rock’s vibe is eco-sensitive, fun, small-batchy, quirky. They are clearly tied to the land – their spot on the bench – and take care to ….take care. Although they don’t have biodynamic or organic certification, you can relax. They employ a low-impact approach to their business, from geo-thermal heating to gravity-flow processing. They have Estate, Reserve, and single vineyard wines. Although there’s a gewurtztraminer line and the syrah below, Flat Rock is primarily pinot noir, chardonnay, and riesling – grapes that do well in cool climes. So, if you’re first and foremost a Bordeaux varietal guy or gal, take a pass. Flat Rock came to my attention and stayed there, in part, due to my love for Nadja. We’ll talk about her later.

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The Perch

On an early fall day, we arrived somewhat sated after a lunch at On The Twenty (scallops, for me) in Jordan Village. If you’ve never, you need to…..dine at On the Twenty, that is. It’s a special treat. But, Flat Rock beckoned and we answered the call. Well, answered the call after we (we as in – not me) shopped a bit in Jordan. Flat Rock’s reception building (pictured above) is a hexagonal perch on the side of the escarpment looking out over the valley below and on to Lake Ontario and, as their website points out, a vista extending to the bright lights of Toronto on a clear evening. It really is a great place to sit and sip. I’ve been there several times and it was always quite busy. This time we lucked out as there were only we two until some interlopers arrived. Ted greeted us and we immediately found out that we knew some of the same people in #lndnont. You see Ted lived in London and used to be in the entertainment business – the technical side. Those that grew up watching Polka Dot Door will be excited to learn that Ted toured with the Polka Dot Door touring company; working as part of the legendary Jones’ crew. I’m betting a solid member of IATSE. For those from regions that don’t get TVOntario (most of the world), Polka Dot Door was a children’s staple when I was plugging my boys into television to educate them (read: babysit). Star of the show? Polk-a-Roo – an actor dressed up as an unrecognizable animal who could only say, “Polk-a-Roo, Polk-a-Roo.” I know, I can’t figure out how it stayed on the air either. Anyway, Ted was our very capable guide through the wines of Flat Rock. The tasting room is a large, very open room with glass on all sides. It has a bit of an industrial feel – wood and steel – open displays of their wines. So, if you just want to walk around and discover on your own, it’s easy. After we got the, “Oh yeah, we know him too.” And, “London still sleepy?” out of the way, we waded into the wines.

The wines:

If you’ve been reading me for a while or received my emails before I went high tech with a website, I’m Breton you’ll remember that I’ve recommended Nadja before. Did you catch the erudite literary reference? No? Too nadjasurreal for you? Hmm, that didn’t catch either? Nadja is the name of the vineyard that’s immediately south and slightly above the reception building at Flat Rock. It is planted to riesling, I think exclusively. Every year, the Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling seems to get a bit better – vine age? We tasted the 2012 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling #578625 #19.95 (availability extremely limited – 2013 now available through winery). These wines are always dry, clean, and seamless. This vintage brought some peaches with the usual citrus. Not so much on the nose but in the mouth and on the swallow – battling a good dose of juicy acidity. A lovely wine and maybe the best vintage of this I’ve had. Although it could just be that it’s the last vintage that I’ve tasted. My bet is that it’s gracefully cellarable for ten years.

We know that The Director loves her oaked chardonnay and Flat Rock makes a few iterations. The 2010 Chardonnay #681247 $16.95 was the oaked chardonnay that they were pushing. I mean Ted was pushing – to demonstrate their judicious use of oak. This is the same wine as their Good Karma Chardonnay (with Good Karma, Flat Rock donates a portion of proceeds to the Ontario Association of Food Banks). Well, the wine had typical chardonnay aromas of apples, some citrus. The buttery apple pie tendency with oaked chardonnays was cut a bit on the finish with some bite. Well balanced effort for this price – not overly ripe or buttery. I’d say this is a bargain for those that like an oaked chardonnay but want it food friendly as well. And the bonus? It’s a ‘local’.

 

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View from the reception building balcony

Flat Rock has a rusty shed on their property. So rather than seeing it as an eye sore or actually fixing it up, they decided to name a line after it. That’s what I need to do with my garage. Create a trademark with it. Then I wouldn’t have to clean it. I’m thinking ‘Duffswines Cluttered Garage Pages’? Anyway, as far as I can tell, this is the premium line for Flat Rock chardonnay. The 2011 Rusty Shed Chardonnay $20.25 (this vintage not available at the LCBO but the 2012 #1552 is in very limited supplies) is a more sophisticated take on oaked Niagara chardonnay. Not that the one above is clumsy (the 2010 entry level one above was the one we bought a few of, actually). It’s just that this seems a little more integrated and settled – minerality more evident too. Oak treatment subtle and complementary – not showing off on its own. If you’re oak more front and centre – select the regular bottling. More subtle and integrated oak – this is the chardonnay you’ll want.

Rogue_LogoMy familiarity with Flat Rock starts with Nadja and ends with pinot noir. However, they had a syrah that I hadn’t ever had and I just needed a tiny sip to realize that syrah doesn’t need to be shiraz in Ontario. The 2011 Rogue Syrah $35.20 (only available at cellar door or on-line) leans much closer to Saint Joseph than Barossa. If you like the latter, you’ll miss that shiraz jammy fruit with this syrah. This is leaner. It carries some herby stuff and darkness on the nose and was quite closed in the mouth. Tannins evident. Now, I’m not sounding too positive but quite the contrary, I liked this a lot. It seems to need some time in bottle or with a decant, I’m thinking that the dark fruit and herbs (coffee?) that made their presence felt on the nose will start to emerge. Distinct european feel. A powerful wine. My preference would be for this to sit for a while longer. Matching to an herbed pork roast, is what I’m planning.

frpinotFlat Rock Pinot Noir is available at the LCBO as part of their Vintages Essentials program. It’s always around waiting on any occasion to twist a cap. Oh yeah, all Flat Rock still wines are sealed with Stelvin screw tops. The vintage we tried was the 2012 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir #1545 $19.95. This cherry red wine smelled of red fruits, tasted like red cherries and carried some grip and a little spice on the finish. This puts in a regular appearance in our house and cottage as a sipper or with some pinot-matching food – chicken, fish, hummus, Kernels (that mix of cheese and caramel, in particular). It’s an accessible pinot at a fair price. Interestingly, I saw a bottle of this very wine in the Bottles store in Providence, R.I. last January. Nice to see some Ontario wines getting out and about.

Flat Rock has several pinot noirs from specific blocks within vineyards – Pond Block, Summit Block, Bruce Block. I tried the 2011 Flat Rock Bruce Block Pinot Noir $29.95. If I had a sophisticated palate, I’d wax eloquently about the subtleties of terroir and how each wine is impacted. Although that isn’t likely to happen, I’d swear that this one has been crafted with Clone 115 – evident in the darker colour. OK, I read that on-line. This wine was not ready-for-primetime yet IMHO. Great red fruit on the nose with some earthy notes – pushed with some coolness out of the glass. Coolness, as in – no heat from elevated alcohol. This wine has ABV of only 12.3%, which is a nice change from some other North American pinots that push 14%. But much of that aroma didn’t replay in the mouth. It had gentle but substantial tannins that, I think, would balance out over time getting out of the way for the fruit and earthiness. Hard to say.

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Tasting Room

That’s all we tasted on site (it was our third winery, with one still to go). But, over this past summer, I have enjoyed 2013 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé #39974 $16.95. This pink is deep and strawberry good. At first sip, you might think that it’s a bit off-dry, particularly if like me, Tavel is your thing. But don’t rush to conclusions and have a second glass – I think that it’s not so much off-dry as it is fruitful. Patio? Too late in the year? How about in front of the fireplace with those shrimp things you’ve been planning to make.

I’ve also enjoyed the Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir #001560 $29.95 but haven’t had the 2012. The 2012 vintage hits the stores on November 8th. In the past, a solid pinot that presents as ready to drink and is typically, for me, a bit earthier, deeper and more complex than the ‘regular’ bottling or my experience with the Bruce Block.

Other wines in their line include: Crowned and Riddled – two sparklers; Red Twisted and Twisted White – two blends; an unoaked chardonnay; a late harvest and a regular off-dry Gewurtztraminer; a regular bottling riesling; and, a Rogue pinot noir. Have not tasted any of them.

Flat Rock has a Wine Club –  Club On The Rock – which provides access to limited wines, library wines, and early access to general release wines. It also holds some events at the winery. One of the events is Ed’s Tour – where you get a tour and private tasting with the winemaker, Ed Madronich (requires a minimum of 4 peeps – anyone want to go with me?). You can join or buy wine on-line at http://www.flatrockcellars.com . Head to the website for some videos on Flat Rock which I couldn’t play as I was told I had “blocked plug-ins” which sounds quite dire. Do I need to see a doctor?

I know that I always tell you to get to a winery near you. But, this time you need to consider that winter approaches and festive occasions demand good wine and a story about a winery visit. Well, I made up that second part but wouldn’t a winery story be a good conversation piece during one of those awkward annual moments with that insufferable wine geek Uncle Bill?

Go visit Flat Rock and tell Ted that I sent you. Samples, Ed?

Other wineries in the Previously Unexplored Wineries Series

Kacaba, Megalomaniac, Pondview, Colaneri, Sue-Ann Staff, Westcott

Next Winery – Southbrook

Images courtesy of http://www.flatrockcellars.com

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Westcott Vineyards

15 Oct

 

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Two weeks ago, I penned a post on winery stumbling in Niagara featuring, in that post, Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery. You can read that post here. This is another in the Previously Unexplored Wineries series.

One of the great things about wandering in Niagara is the surprise discovery. For me, it’s usually a wine. But on this day, it was a whole winery. Wine communities tend to co-promote. At first glance, it’s counterintuitive. A car dealership doesn’t tell you that you’ll find a great SUV at another dealership, do they? Well, my experience in several wine regions of the world is that wineries are supportive of each other. The effect of cross-pollination of staff, families, and winemakers? They all party together? A small community experiencing symbiotic bliss? Or, maybe they just want you to find what you like and are only too willing to point you in that direction. It’s Miracle on 34th Street Kris Kringle-esque. Let’s hope that doesn’t change. The alternative is a tasting room with shady staff leaning in and whispering, “Hey, dos guys up da road? Dare pinot? It’s cut. Dey cut the pinot with syrah. You can’t trust ’em. Ours is puuure Niagara pinot. Good sh** (wink, wink)” Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, being referred to Westcott Vineyards. We were tweaked to its very existence by Ted, our personal sip and spit tour guide at Flat Rock Cellars (which I’ll feature later in a post). Ted told us that Westcott made mostly pinot noir and chardonnay, both in a pretty assertive style. Umm, who likes assertive chardonnay? So, we had to wander over to Westcott which is in the same neighbourhood as Sue-Ann Staff’s and Flat Rock Cellar – maybe a kilometre away.

wextcott barn

Westcott Vineyards is a family run winery. When we were there Victoria and Garrett Westcott, daughter and son of the owners, were in the tasting room. Well, in fact, they were the only winery reps in the tasting room. What you need to know is that the concept at Westcott is natural, uncomplicated with a bit of rusticity thrown in. The winery and tasting/sales room is in a restored barn (picture above) that we were informed was moved from another location. Long harvest tables made with reclaimed wood and cement floors. It would be quite toasty when the fire is on. And, similarly to Sue-Ann Staff’s, it really presents the wine as agricultural produce not alchemy. I didn’t see farm implements but I had a feeling that they were lurking somewhere not too far away – gravel drive which is de rigeur in Niagara. Their website and personal sales pitch is focused on ‘small’. They don’t make a ton of wine and they allow the vintage to dictate what they can get out of the vineyard. No attempt to make every vintage taste the same. They get winemaking assistance from a Bordelais.

 

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Westcott Tasting Room

Before I get in to the wines I have to mention the boat. Their trademark and many of the references in the names of wines have to do with a restored boat found on the shores of a lake in Quebec at a family cottage, I believe. It has some historical connection to someone famous as well as to the Westcott family but I had already been to three wineries before this and had ditched the pen and paper; so the details escape me.  The boat is one of those grand old wood craft that plied the lakes of Muskoka, Quebec and New England during the heydays of cottage and resort development. This one – and I saw pictures – is spectacular! Well, anyway there’s a very important connection to the boat and it’s people. I just can’t remember it. Note to winery webmaster: put a word or two about the boat on winery’s web site.

Victoria took us through a tasting. Again, there’s a tasting fee here but refundable with purchase.

The wines:

Westcott_2012_Estate_Chardonnay-124x3592012 Estate Chardonnay $26.00 – Although this wine has had some time in oak (ferment and age) it doesn’t present as oaky in the glass. Lots of apple pie though – classic oaked chardonnay nose. In the mouth, the oak is faint and the apple replays with an assertive finish – a hit of acidity. Some creaminess but not a big chardonnay. Nice sipper for me. Dinner wine for The Director. ABV 13.5%.

2012 Estate Pinot Noir $30.00 – I was expecting this to be one of those big 2000’s California-style pinots after Ted’s claim of assertiveness. But, I was surprised at how restrained it was. Now I find that after a lengthy day tasting, my palate, which is a bit sketchy anyway, gets lazy Westcott_2012_Pinot_Estate2-124x359and maybe I need wines then that are unlike what I’ve been tasting before. So, I question myself when a wine doesn’t translate from swish to sip. But this wasn’t that. This seemed to be asleep, if that makes sense. This wine had some great things going on in the glass (earthiness, bushes, and strawberries) but it didn’t translate in my mouth. This usually means for me that it needs air or time in bottle or both. It, unlike the chardonnay above, carried some heat from the modest ABV of 13.5%. I think that this wine will start to show it’s best stuff in a few years (3 – 5) or two innings of post season baseball in the glass.

Westcott_2012_Reserve_Chardonnay-124x3592012 Reserve Chardonnay $29.00 – This chardonnay was more serious, maybe austere, than the Estate. It held somewhat the same flavour profile fruit-wise – maybe some tropical notes added – a lot more integration of the oak – more balanced. The oak didn’t so much stand out as simply provide the foundation for the fruit. It was more restrained than I had expected. I would favourably compare this to any other oaked, upper-tier Niagara chardonnay. I noticed on their web site that this has a little less alcohol (13%). Top drawer effort for oaked chardonnay lovers. But in no way did we think it over-shadowed the Estate – just different. We, in fact, purchased the Estate. Maybe because of my pinot noir choice below. Weary wallet syndrome?

Westcott_2012_Pinot_Reserve2-124x3592012 Reserve Pinot Noir $46 – I hate it when my favourite wine costs the most. So, why was this my favourite? Well, first of all – the aroma in the glass had pronounced dirty stuff. I love dirty stuff. Oh behave, let me clarify – dirty stuff, for me, as in smelling or tasting like a musty shovel of loam – kind of. I know that most wine geeks would use earthy instead and dirty is not a desirable aroma or flavour, so maybe I’ll switch to that from now on. A friend of mine has told me that he doesn’t fancy pinot noir because of the ‘earthy’ stuff. I love it because of the earthy stuff! This wine delivered more on that earthy nose than the Estate. It opened quickly and had pronounced red fruit in the mouth. It delivered on Ted’s claim that Westcott pinots were assertive. I liked this a lot. Unfortunately for my bank account, they had plenty in stock. I would have opened one of these for Thanksgiving dinner but want to leave them to figure out what they’ll become when they grow up..

There are several other wines on offer at Westcott – a rosé (Delphine), an unoaked chardonnay (Lillias), and I believe they just released a sparkler (Violette) using the charmat method. At press time (always wanted to say that), there is no availability of their products at the LCBO. You can purchase their wines at the cellar door (call 905-562-7517 email info@westcottvineyards.com ahead) or on-line at http://www.westcottvineyards.com/shop/

Glad Ted gave us the heads up on Westcott Vineyards – a great addition to my Vinemount rotation. Get thee to a winery near you!

Images courtesy of the winery.

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