Tag Archives: Spain

Ludwig Von Dufton and The Rainbow Daily Slosh

20 Jan

ludwidvondrakeRiding on the train yesterday, I sat across the aisle from a couple of youthful academics. They conversed the whole 2 and a half hours about their field of study. Seriously – all the way. No let up. Did I say that they didn’t stop? I squirmed, I tried to turn them off, but it just dragged on and on. And, then I thought, “I wonder if two wine geeks sitting together on a train discussing the very critical issue of wine closures would piss off other passengers?” I mean, we’d need more than 2 and a half hours but I’m just using it as an example. Closures! Really, really important stuff.

corksI thought of my insufferable soliloquies at dinner parties about some arcane piece of wine junk as people’s eyes glazed over. And I realized – hey wine geeks – no one gives a shit about this stuff but us. Like the academics, we are submerged in our very, very important world. And, I got a little piece of perspective on that world today. That being said, let’s get real – corks or Stelvin are the only closures – and Stelvin only if you don’t require cellar time (air quotes) or the seductive pop of a cork.

The January 21st release has a few wines that are of interest. gassierThere’s a rosé that I’ve recommended before – 2015 Gassier Sables d’Azur Rosé #033621 $16.95. This is a typical pink from the Côtes du Provence – dry, snappy, medium-bodied goodness. I know the freezing rain outside doesn’t scream – “ROSÉ” but regardless, pink is good for occasions other than just sitting in the sun munching pan com tomate. I’m thinking, you arrive home after a hard day (of which I don’t have anymore – hard days, that is) to find a quiet house and only a few things to nosh – bread, olive oil, and olives. What to drink? Hey, if you’ve been paying attention, it’s this crisp cherry treat. Even if you haven’t any bread, olives or olive oil………well, I’d drink this by itself with the lights out and Barry White on. Correction of tense: I have had this with the lights out and no food but paired with Astrid Gilberto and tearful nostalgia. Maybe I needed to share. Perfect match.

tragicallyhipA few months ago, I suggested that I was buying a wine to celebrate the Tragically Hip’s last tour. Not sure if you watched the last concert in Kingston but I did. It was emotional – all I’m saying. I did buy and drink the wine too. The wine? 2015 The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Grand Reserve Red #411595 $24.95. This is pure Niagara. A blend of Bordeaux grapes – Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Merlot. This is an endorsement of the belief that Niagara Bordeaux varieties need a little cuddle time – blending. This is much lighter than you’d expect. Subtle, dark fruit, structured for a longer term, and a bit dirty as would befit The Hip. I’m keeping a bottle or two down below to celebrate The Hip and Gord Downie at an appropriate time.

Have I told you that I love Beaujolais? Duh. We had company over the other night and I opened a bottle of Morgon – Jean Michel Dupré Vieilles Vignes de 1935 Morgon #440297 $19.95. They loved it. Perfect sipping wine on a cold descombeswinter evening. I got a bunch of it. This week, there’s the 2012 Jean-Ernest Descombes Morgon #946186 $21.95 from Georges Duboeuf. This wine is a keeper – it can cellar for at least 5 years rounding out some of the zip it exhibits now. Complexity is somewhat oxymoronic for many Beaujolais but this one carries some leathery stuff while not abandoning the fresh red fruits both on the sniff and swallow. It’s interesting. Given that it’s approaching Super Bowl time, I’d say a perfect Super Bowl sipper with onion and sour cream chips. Pretzels?

honoroCheap wine that I might recommend is hard to find. When I do find something that lands in that space, it’s usually an Iberian wine. I recommended the cousin of the 2015 Honoro Vera Monastrell #167684 $13.95 a couple times before. That’s the Garnacha (#432997 $12.95). They are both super value wines. The Granacha is a bit more round, easy drinking. But, the Monastrell is a beaut at this price too. Very peppery, big flavours and a Jimmy Durante nose. Intense. Way more wine than $13.95 deserves. They both have ultra cool labels too.

susanabalbocsThis release has a focus on Argentina. And when I think Argentina, I think Susana Balbo. Well, I think Buenos Aires, gauchos, Torrontes, and beef but I also think Susana. Then again, I’ve got a crush. What do I see but 2014 Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon #260919 $19.95? This is a drink now, crowd pleasing cab sav. Typical of the variety, medium to full-bodied – little cassis, little blackberry. Want a ‘go to’ for company? Stand around or dinner? This is it.

expressivoThen, also from the Balbo stable, there is the 2014 Benmarco Expressivo #263517 $39.95. This is exquisite. Crazy complex and furry. Needing a few years to sit in the bottle deciding what it wants to be when it grows up or a couple hours of decant minimum. This is what South America can craft from Malbec. It’s the Argentinean equivalent to Montes’  Purple Angel Carmenere which means it’s friggin’ great. Or for another option at high class Malbec, there’s Laura Catena’s 2014 Luca Malbec #167312 $33.95. It’s not in this release but still out there, I think – elegant and deep.

I just noticed that the labels for this week’s recos are crazy cool. Could I have been influenced by the labels alone? Nah – but the closures, absolutely.

Cheers.

Bill

Quick Picks – The Rainbow Daily Slosh

10 Jun
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Bill’s Cool Socks?

I’ve had very little time in the last week or so to attend to my writing. What with sorting my sock drawer, drinking wine, grooving a faulty golf swing, drinking wine, solving the puzzle that is Elbowgate, drinking wine, and watching the Trump-a-mania drama, I haven’t had a lot of time. Hell, the last one is a full-time job if CNN coverage is any indication. A train wreck really and I can’t stop rubbernecking. What about you? Seriously.

But, I wanted to provide a couple quick recommendations for the June 11 release at the mother ship:

Two medium-bodied Washington wines are solid picks:

majesticThe 2013 Diversion Majestic Red #446997 $18.95 is a red blend – can’t seem to find the varieties utilized but am assuming there’s Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon as the biggest component. Fresh, earthy, lightly oaked, and decadent. Great summer evening wine.

sevenfallsmerlot2011 Seven Falls Merlot #420711 $19.95 is medium-bodied and chocolatey goodness. I used to do this regular or semi-regular wine tasting at the place I worked for. There was a person who attended almost every one that could sense chocolate in anything from this Merlot to Champagne to balsamic vinegar. At first, I thought it was a peculiarity of her palate. But later, I realized that she was just projecting her addiction to chocolate on to the wine. “I get a lift of Lindt in the glass with solid Ghiardelli 70% cocoa on the finish.” This wine as the one above would be a nice summer evening wine.

Just a quick aside: if you have never tried wines from Washington State and I know many of you haven’t because I see a lot of nodding heads out there, it’s time. The state makes some of the most structured Syrahs, bold Cabernet Sauvignons and solid Rieslings that come from south of the border. At the LCBO, there are always lots of Charles Smith’s offerings (Velvet Devil Merlot, Smith & Smith Red, Smith & Smith Chardonnay, Kung Fu Riesling, and occasionally his ‘K’ Vintners stuff) plus the Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest stuff that I’m always hawking. Start there and see what I’m talking about.

LAURA'S2012 Creekside Laura’s Red #117960 $19.95 a blend of six varieties, I tasted this at the cellar door. Creekside has a fantastic reception facility with great nibbles. Check out my recommendations on visiting that area here. I find this wine to be joyful. I would usually save that descriptor for a lighter, perhaps bubbly wine. But, in this case, I like that it’s local (feeling a little joy there), expressive (joy is building), and so drinkable (Level 11 joy reached – time to open another?). Although you could match this to many dishes, I like it neat.

nadjaStaying in Niagara, there is a bottling which I get every year – the Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling #578625 $24.95. I haven’t tried the 2015 which is this week’s feature, but I can bet that it is dominated by a streak of acidity that’s juicy and stoney. Great citrus and foodability built in. Plus, I’ve cellared this for anywhere from 5 – 10 years with nice development.

nemesisA Shiraz used to be my ‘go to’ back when I started this journey of wine exploration. It was reasonably priced, interesting and always available. Lately (as in the past 5 years), I haven’t been partaking in the Aussie take on that grape much. Not sure why – just don’t seem as interested as before. This week, though, there’s a Shiraz that I love. I think the fact that it’s more subtle, interesting than some of the other efforts. The 2013 Zonte’s Footstep Baron von Nemesis Shiraz #212936 $17.95 is a dry, spicy, powerful Shiraz perfectly suited to lamb, burgers, something burnt with a bit of fat. Swirl and sniff this beauty. Go ahead, I’ll wait – sniffing noises off stage – there you go – complexity even for a nose as large and unsophisticated as mine. I’m not fond of big with no point. This has a purpose – it’s your pleasure. I reviewed another Zonte’s Footstep offering here and the 2012 Nemesis here. A consistently excellent label.

delhommeauWhat would a summer late-afternoon-evening-sit-outside-with-friends-and-nibbles be without a Muscadet? OK, it would still be fine – even without all the hyphens and Muscadet. But it would be best with a bottle of über chilled 2013 Michel Delhommeau Cuvée Harmonie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine #164624 $16.95. This isn’t quite as crisp as most Muscadets. It has a bit of roundness, ripeness to it. Sur Lie means the lees are not filtered out adding depth. This one demonstrates that. If you’re a score chaser, this didn’t score 90 (88) but it’s 3 and 1/2 fishes on the duffswinesscale®. For the uninitiated that’s pretty fine.

cotodeimazI’ve been drinking the 2010 Coto de Imaz Reserva #23762 $22.95 by the case the past………..well, would you believe month? OK, past weekor so…………..and not quite a case but still too much. This was the first Rioja I ever bought by the case. I like it in most years and love it in the rest. If you were to roll up all your great Rioja wine experiences and then sip this, you’d say, “Yeah – that be it.”. Pure old school Rioja. Sandalwood, cherries and beautiful tannins. If you can find some after I’m done – stock up. Thinking rockinredblog here but play Jimi Hendrix All Along The Watchtower while you drink this. Perfect pairing.

And, if I’m honest (and, “I’m nothing if not honest,” he smirked) I’ve been supplementing my Rioja fixation with a little (read: a lot) of the rosé. Particularly the 2015 Carte Noir Côtes de Provence #319384 $17.95. This is crisp, sunny, and has an almost salty character to it. I read somewhere (or I’m making it up) that wine appreciation follows a definite curve as people become more aware and grow older – from bubbly to sweet rosé to sweetish white to dry white to dry red to Champagne and then to rosé. Due to my lack of funds, I skipped the Champagne part but am all-in 0n the last one.

And, since no one not called ‘Bot’ could score any Hip tickets, here’s a treat. Listen to the love. Hard to imagine any other group getting this kind of reaction from a staid Toronto crowd. I can’t imagine what the farewell tour will be like. Tickets on resale at $1000 and up – crazy.

Cheers

Bill

Celler Devinssi – Gratallops – #SundaySips

8 Nov

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

billinvineyardsdc

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

Play Ball – The Red Daily Slosh

15 Apr

I love baseball. I know, I’m Canadian and that means hockey, hockey, hockey. Of course I played hockey all through my youth and early adulthood.. But, baseball is my true love. This weekend is my fantasy baseball draft. It’s a lot of fun. BTW, Duffs Tunas will triumph in 2015! Yes, my team is called Duffs Tunas – affectionately called The Tunas by family members. I inherited the team on the deathbed of my brother – true story soon to be made into a feature film. And, that team he had drafted in 1998 finished second last, if you can believe it. I couldn’t end his legacy with secondbaseballglove last, could I? So I picked up the mantle and The Tunas have been my responsibility for the last 16 years.

Back to the draft – an important issue is the beverage choice. For years, I stuck to beer. Lately though, I’ve felt that I need to wave the wine flag proudly and have taken some wine from the basement. It’s a dilemna. A couple of the guys are wine drinkers and some are not. If you write a blog, do tastings, etc., it’s assumed that you’ll bring something a-may-zing. And, perhaps something that no one has had before because you are so darn knowledgeable. But agonizing over a choice that most, if not all, participants won’t care about? I’ve landed on a Barolo for the evening before (oh yeah, it’s a sleepover) for pairing with a lamb stew. And, just in case it’s a spicier lamb stew (or not stew at all), I’ve got a back up – a Rhone Syrah. During the draft – Ontario Pinot. It’s always great to share a bottle of something tasty with friends and opponents. Wait……maybe I should switch out the Barolo for a Brunello? A CdP? Boone’s Farms Strawberry Hill? Damn, but it’s a high class problem to have, isn’t it?

pfvThe April 17th release features Europe’s Primum Familia Vini – that group of families in Europe that carry the history and glory of European wine – Mouton-Rothschild, Marchesi Antinori, Famille Perrin, Hugel & Fils, Miguel Torres, Joseph Drouhin, Tenuta San Guido, Symington, Pol Roger, Egon Müller-Scharzof, Vega-Sicilia. Interesting that the LCBO profiled the Wagner family of Caymus fame in the same release. What it did was show the difference in what constitutes a long run of quality in the New World versus the Old World. The Wagner clan have made many great wines for over 40 years and yet, they are relative newcomers compared to the PFV.

It goes without saying that, if you have deeper pockets, you can pick up some of the moderately expensive wines of these families – ’11 Solaia (Yaozza!), ’12 Château de Beuacastel (Whoa!), ’00 Warres Colheita Tawny Port (Suweeeet), ’12 Guidalberto, ’11 Alion, ’12 40th Anniversary Caymus, among others. But, this isn’t a splurge post and if I left it at those sips, you’d whine (read: bitch) and moan about how these wines are too expensive for you (mortgage, kids education, fixed income – excuses, excuses. You have a line of credit, use it). So, how about a solid inexpensive Rioja?

ibericos2The 2012 Miguel Torres Altos Ibericos Crianza #381046 $16.95 is an excellent value crianza. Sometimes I hear that the Riojas I recommend are too…cedary. I’m not kidding. People do say this. I mean can you have too much cedar? Clos de Sauna? Anyway, this one uses wood very judiciously. That being said, there is some evidence of oak – on a somewhat restrained nose that opens after a time in the glass. Some pepper, red fruit in the mouth. 100% Tempranillo. Grows better every minute – it balances up nicely. So, don’t rush it. I had this at the cottage and my notes will definitely be affected upward by the location – haven’t had a poor wine up there. Regardless of the cottage factor, it’s safe to say that this is a good wine at a great price.

bilahautThere are few producers that are a lock at almost any price. M. Chapoutier is one of those. The 2013 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Côtes de Roussillon Villages #168716 $15.95 will be familiar to readers of this wine drenched scribe. I have recommended the Bila-Haut – Vielles Vignes and the Occultum through several vintages. I’ve also enjoyed his Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas, and Saint-Joseph cuvées. I even have had his Portuguese effort, Printeveira – exceptional. But wait, there’s more – he even does Australian Syrah. I love M. And, yes, that’s Braille on the labels. Back to the Bila-Haut. This is a Grenache based experience – a little tanginess but tannins are gentle. Dark fruit and brush on the nose. Lip-smacking fruit and a medium finish. This is just so Roussillon. Picture sitting at a café along la Riviere Basse in Perpignan, ordering (in Catalan) a bottle of the Bila-Haut and pa amb tomàquet. The perfect end to a perfect afternoon wandering the vineyards. Or, open it at home with your own smashed tomatoes and garlic on bread. That doesn’t sound quite as tasty, does it? Pa amb tomàquet sounds better, yeah?

abadYears ago I pleaded with someone to give me a play on words to use with the grape Mencia. I guess my 16 readers got tired of helping me write the blog and went on strike. No, “This varietal is a real mensch.” Nada. It all started with this wine in a different vintage (2008). This good old wine – 2006 Abad Dom Bueno Crianza #244649 $15.95 has been laying on its side in the dark for 8 years, waiting for you. Just trying harder and harder to improve with age – kind of like me and my rapidly aging friends. Laying on our sides and trying. Snoring a wee bit and trying. This wine is made from Mencia and hails from Bierzo. It’s dry, yet the time has softened the tannins – not mouth drying, allowing the fruit to step forward – dark fruit flavours. It’s got power without being heavy – more medium-bodied. A little sediment. Great value. I have just talked myself into taking this to the baseball draft as well.

I’ll keep it at that as I want to write about some whites this week.

badiaOh, one more thing. If you do want to splurge on the Primum Familia Vini, take a stab at the 2009 Badia a Passignano Gran Selezione Chianti Classico #384552 $44.95. Just what we all needed was the Tuscans to come up with another designation so that the names of their wines could form full sentences. However, this is truly quite a ‘gran’ selection – a real step up in quality from their Chianti Classico Riserva. Cellar it or pop and pour with some air and country Italian fare. Great juice.

Now, on to baseball. Go Tunas!

Bill

Tapas Dance and the Daily Sloshes

23 Jan

After my reference to Spanish quality wines last time out, I see that this week’s release (January 24) just so happens to feature Spanish wines. A coincidence? I think not. The problem for me? Of the wines that appear that I’ve tasted, I can’t recommend them. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some possibly very good wines out there just that I haven’t had them yet. Nice problem to have – wines that I just have to taste. But it does leave me in a quandary: what to talk about this week. Well, let’s start with some Spanish wines that I’ve had recently that are available (but not as part of this release) and maybe a few wines that I’m looking forward to trying?

As I mentioned last time, we are travelling to Spain this year and in doing research, I’ve tasted a bunch of Spanish wines. We had a planning session this past weekend. Over tapas we debated the value of just hangin’ in Spain without all the checklist sight seeing. And, we were convinced that my friend and I should go over early to see some wineries in Priorat, Montsant, and Penedes before our wives joined us. I wonder who came up with that idea? A wine was brought for consumption that I hadn’t had in the past. Remember the Viña Real Crianza that I recommended? Go ahead and nod. It will confirm that you actually read this stuff. I’m touched. It’s very affirming. We had the Reserva from the same place – 2009 Viña Real Oro Reserva #94846 $29.95. This was a vinaoropowerful, ruby red wine with what I interpret as evidence of newer oak being used. Pronounced nose of cedar, brush, red fruit (plums raspberries), jamminess and tastes of spice, toastiness, and raspberries – moderate to long finish. Balanced and leaving us wishing there was another bottle. This was a special wine for us to have with the tapas that yours truly expertly crafted. When I reflect back on my notes for the crianza, which was a 2010, I penned thoughts like, “very tasty but maybe needs a little more time to develop”, and “ well balanced, smooth, and yet not overpowering”. This reserva, on the other hand, is ready to pop and pour now but would still develop for another 10 years I bet. And, there’s nothing shy about it now. A virtual Tower of Power. Highly recommend! In fact, if you’ve said to yourself, “Not sure that I could tell the difference between fill in the name of your favourite plonk and a more expensive wine”, you need to pick this up. You’ll never say that again (I hope).

monopoleWe started the evening with a white Rioja 2013 Monopole #66951 $16.95. Why didn’t I start with this part of the story – at the start? Not sure. This was an interesting “guess the grape” exercise because we really haven’t had much of the Viura grape before. Served with manchego cheese topped with guava paste and dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped with crispy bacon. Seriously. The wine smelled of Gewurtztraminer a bit – floral. Medium bodied and carrying the citrusness of Sauvignion Blanc. If it was the a second wine of the night it could have passed for SB actually. Yet, it was a bit rounder. A very nice wine. If you haven’t taken a swing at Viura, I’d say pick it up and enjoy like you would any other young, flavourful, dry white wine. Don’t over think it. Just chill and twist the cap.

The ‘other red bottle’ was a 1985 Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva that I’d had below for a few years. It’s not every day that I get to drink a wine this old (29 years for those without their phone calculator handy) and I IMG_0698was worried that it might be (Sophisticated Wine Term Alert!) ‘pooched’. Those unfamiliar with that descriptive term clearly haven’t passed their WSET Level 9! My basement outer wall is consistently dark, cool, and until they started infilling next door, still and quiet. My beauties rest and develop a real personality in most cases. But, there is always a chance that the pop is followed by a moan – something hasn’t kept well. That’s the risk and shit happens. This particular wine comes from a winery that I stock up with every year. It’s a good value Rioja usually around $20 for the Reserva. And, it’s fun comparing vintages. Really? Yes, wine geeks are weird. This 1985 looked just as expected in the glass – showing some browning on the edges and lighter than a young Rioja – throwing a bit of sediment swirling in the glass. It had a medium nose – think Sandra Bullock – of some kero and raisins. However on first sip, it was apparent – the power was gone. It tasted of dried fruits and some woodiness – not unlikeable – just faint. I wasn’t disappointed actually. It was a good experience for someone that doesn’t get to drink many truly older wines to see how things can develop. This was about 3.265 years too late but, hey, still consumable – which of course we did.

In an effort to taste as many wines as I can. Wait, that doesn’t sound very healthy. Let’s try this – In an effort to have as many wines to talk about as I can – much better – I buy and taste a bunch of wines that I’m hoping either stay in stock long enough or return later in the year so that I can talk about them. In this spirit, I picked up a bottle of the 2013 Rio Madre #354753 $14.95. It was nicely featured at an aisle end with a shelf talker proclaiming a high score (90) from an ‘expert’. It called my name. Yes, I’m influenced by the same marketing bullshit as everyone else, I’m afraid. But, in my defence, this wine was made with 100% Graciano, not Rocky but a grape that’s used as a blender in many Rioja wines (added to my Wine Century Club list). Let’s try it. Not sure about you but a synthetic cork just screams, “Mistake!” to me. I love the screw top ‘Stelvin’ closures but the fake corks just seem lazy and unnatural. My notes on this wine? “Meh”. It is an actual category on the Duffswines Cheatsheet. I wasn’t feeling the love that the expert reviewer did. The wine reminded me of a Garnacha in mouthfeel – low acid, lowish tannins. And, I like Garnarcha but this didn’t do it for me. Very floral in nose and on the finish which was short. Maybe it was the expectation not being met that put a negative on the wine. The good news? I have another down below that I will try much later and report back to the group.

Daily Slosh wines in this week’s release that I haven’t had but am going to pick up are:

2011 Casa Castillo El Molar #397190 $17.95 first I’ve never had a wine named after a famous Spanish soldier known for his extra strong teeth – he was (trumpets, please) EL MOLAR! Seriously, Jumilla wines are usually interesting and tasty. Plus, this winery’s entry level red wine 2013 Casa Castillo Monastrell #165621 $14.95 is a beaut and a true QPR red staple.

featherstone2013 Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling #080234 $16.95 I am always searching for a wine for my mother-in-law. She likes them off-dry (well, sweet) but I resist the sweet because, after everyone has gone home and The Director has retired, I end up finishing the bottle. I love off-dry Riesling. High praise for Featherstone lately and this wine should be no exception.

Splurge white – 2012 Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay #272005 $35.95 Thomas Backhelder makes wine in Burgundy, Ontario, Oregon and maybe elsewhere as well. His specialties are the Burgundian grapes – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I’ve enjoyed those made under his eponymous label and earlier efforts (Le Clos Jordanne).

Splurge red – 2012 Stoller Pinot Noir #401539 $31.95 an Oregon Pinot Noir is always a bit of a sucker pin placement for me. I have to go for it and take the chance that it’s consistent with my past experiences – complexity, power yet restraint, ageability, and some earthiness. It doesn’t always work out (like shooting for the pin) but this comes highly recommended by a fellow oenophile. Too expensive, you say? It’s cheaper than a dozen golf balls.

Have a great weekend!

Bill

A New Year and New Red Daily Slosh(es)

6 Jan

I wanted to start the year with one of my favourite songs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a video of Joni Mitchell singing it but Diana Krall is no slouch, if you knowwhatImean.

Happy New Year to everyone! With resolutions in hand or, if you’re like me, already discarded, it’s time to stock up. There’s a movement that happens each Jan. 1 called “Alcohol-Free January” or some such thing. Really? I admit that maybe cutting back or abstaining for a while never hurt anyone. But, if you have to give it a name and a month, you might need to consider the next 11 steps. And that analysis means? Bill is continuing to sip during this bloody cold month. What kind of wine blog would this be if I didn’t?

This LCBO release is called “The Smart Buy Issue” providing some value picks.

vinarealWe are heading to Spain with friends in September for a wander. Maybe by design or just luck, I’ve been drinking a lot of Spanish wines over the past year. Love them. So, it’s neat to see some come around again so that I can talk about them. Now, hands up. How many of you picked up the 2008 Ondarre that I recommended late last year? It was an especially tasty wine. And, I’m not using that wine snob description to impress. If you’ve had some, you’re already impressed enough. There is disproportionate value in the many DO’s of España. The Rioja,  2010 Viña Real Plata Crianza #657411 $18.95 is a perfect example. Its fresh red fruit comes through on the nose and in the mouth. Enough of a backbone to stand up to some food – seafood tapas – quite smooth. Where the Ondarre had a background of woodiness, this seems absent of oak effects – steeliness Great sipper.

laplaceHave I ever told you about my friend Andrew? I think that I have here. And, without giving things away, he loves wines from the Midi and Southwest of France. “Been there, done that, luv it”, he’d say. So, when there’s a repeat from Madiran, I have to give him a heads up. The 2011 Laplace Madiran #103705 $16.95 is a sturdy red that should go below for a few years. It’s made from the Tannat grape which if you give it an intuitive thought….go ahead, I’ll wait……yup, it carries a lot of tannin. You might call them rough wines but we call them ‘gutsy’ which is more endearing and accurate. This one is deep, dark and rich. Still lots of tannins peaking through and hitting you on the finish. But on second thought, I like it now but with some decant.

CastellodiMeleto_ChiantiClassicoDOCG_bottleThumb2010 is a great year for Chiantio Classico. I’ve had a bunch and almost every one has brought bright red cherries, some earthiness and if I’m lucky a little leather, violets, and grit. This week, there’s the 2010 Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico #332114 $18.95 to join that longish list. Balanced, medium-bodied and fresh – that cherriness on the nose and in the mouth – a little shy in that it isn’t a big wine. Don’t wait on this – pop and pour with friends (imaginary or real). A nice easy drinking Italian red to sip from a tumbler with bread, olive oil, and tomato something or other

And while we’re strolling around the middle of Italy, let’s look to Umbria. Yes, that’s Ahhhhmbria. Lovely sounding word. A great place for values and home to the pretty hilltop town of Orvieto – just heard some montefalcoOrvieto stories last week. There’s a grape there that we don’t see that often here but keep an eye out – Sagrantino. What a great name for a grape ………..or a Joe Pesci role. Anyway, this red grape carries a thick skin (go ahead and tease it. Water off a duck’s back) and has a load of flavour. This grape needs some time in bottle and we’re in luck because the 2008 Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva #357079 $16.95 is, obviously a 2008. This is big, dark and full-bodied with a personality of herbs – anise in the mouth. Just think of this bottle sitting in a cave in Montefalco seemingly waiting for your corkscrew (please tell me it isn’t battery powered), glasses, and friends. This is the beauty of wine from a region with a zillion years of history. A heads up – another from this stable – 2008 Villa Mora Montefalco Sagrantino #342394 $21.95 which is a beaut is in short supply at the mother ship. A step up in balance, intensity and purpose from the Rosso Riserva.

If you’ve tried these wines, let me know what you think. My email is in the right banner or leave a comment below.

Bill

 

Chicchitti, Bang, Bang – The Red Daily Slosh

5 Dec

alligator

I’ve just returned from a week in Florida where I enjoyed some quality time drinking wine, getting some sun, golfing, and, well, drinking more wine. My friend and I were unable to solve the important riddles of life but we did discover that, Holy Jumpin’, alligators are not as quick on land as myth would lead you to believe. The first or was it the second wine we opened was a Rioja – 2007 Montecillo Reserva and the room quickly filled up with oh’s and ahs. Well, maybe not oh’s and ah’s but, “This sh** is greats!” and “Wow, smell that – no, Bill, I mean really smell it.” Just such a pretty wine, powerful nose with loads of

montecillowinecedary, spicy interest. All grown up, solid, settled in. Medium-bodied, moderate tannins and acidity. Rioja Reserva with a little age like this one is just so dignified and satisfying. So, I decided to source it locally and to my surprise it is offered in the General Listings aisles at the LCBO. But what vintage? It wasn’t given on-line. So, I wandered out to Fanshawe and Hyde Park to pick one up. Now, being a wine snob, I had to get directions to the General Listings section – “It’s just past the ‘Barefoot Strawberry Blush’ aisle end display, keep going until you see the basket of boxed wine. If you reach the red velvet cake-flavoured vodka pyramid, you’ve gone too far.” I said that I was a wine snob. The vintage that’s on shelves here now is mostly the 2009 Montecillo Reserva #621003 $18.95 (with currency exchange, the price at Total Wines was about the same as in Ontario). Now, to try it. This wine isn’t as settled as the 2007. It comes across as a bit more restrained and carries more acid. I like it but will like a lot better after a few years down below. If you can find some 2007 – big recommendation. Update: I’ve just let the ’09 decant for 4 hours and it’s just now starting to open up. Definitely a cellar and finish the bottle candidate. BTW, the label looks black above but is, in fact, blue.

ondarrewineA wine with similar characteristics to the ’07 Montecillo is the 2008 Ondarre Reserva #723452 $18.95. This wine has a darker tone to its fruit and a little less woodiness than the ’07 Montecillo. But, it too is medium-bodied, a streak of acidity that softens a bit with air. These wines would be great to have on hand for the cooler months ahead and the time of year where company comes and expects a sip or two. A nice break in the party season from the same old, same old.

Part of feeling confident in choosing wine for a dinner out or at home is familiarity with the label, producer, grape, etc. That’s probably why, in my home town, every restaurant it seems carries McManis wines. People are familiar with them, confident in what they’ll get. In this case, I don’t get it – I’m not usually a fan of McManis at their price point – well, almost any price point. But, most folks like to stay on a familiar road. The corollary is that my susana_balbo_malbecopinion obviously matters little. But, what I can contribute is a few more labels that you recognize and feel confident ordering. This brings me to Susana Balbo. I haven’t mentioned Susana’s wines in a while but I didn’t cry. The truth is she never left us. Yes, you noted correctly – an Evita reference. I promise it’s my last when mentioning Argentine wine. This week her 2012 Susana Balbo Signature Malbec #079798 $19.95 arrives and I hope it stays a while. This is a superbly balanced wine for this price. I don’t mean all blended together like a smoothie when I say ‘balanced’. It’s just that there isn’t one voice yelling above the rest. It’s more a chorus where you can still pick out the altos, the tenors and the basses but not one dominates – harmonious. This is full-bodied with a bold nose of predominantly berry fruit. In the mouth, it holds some heat (14.5% ABV), a sticky tannin or two on the finish. It is just so tasty and warming. I loved the ’10 (reviewed here) but my notes on this vintage seem more effusive.

cicchittiwineIf you’re interested in seeing what some age can do for a Malbec pick up the 2004 Chicchitti Gran Reserva Malbec #155713 #22.95. I first picked this up seemingly years ago through the on-line shopping service of the LCBO. I left it a few years and opened the last one in 2010. It seems that the ’04 appears every year. This is grown up wine. How do you know if you’re a grown up wine drinker? You know you’re not a grown up wine drinker if:

  • When ordering wine in a restaurant, you’re torn between the Pinot Grigio selection and “No, wait – I’m having the featured cocktail – The CNIB Slurpy”, or
  • You can’t quite pronounce Rojaa or Sawveegnoon so you order the Meirlotte, or
  • Your best wine drinking memory is that Purple Jesus night during Greek Week, or
  • You’re thinking, “Wine? Not enough alcohol in it.”

Back to the Chicchitti. This is a deep dark wine with lots of stuffing left – no flab or stewed fruit – still fresh. More interesting in the mouth than the glass. Long spicy finish. I think it would keep for awhile longer but it’s yummy now. If you’re interested in shopping on-line for some smaller availability and premium wines, this is the link. It’s relaxing to spend hours researching wines on a MacBook screen. At least that’s what I tell my therapist.

An untasted suggestion:

I may have had the 2011 Rosenblum Zinfandel #031781 $19.95 from Paso Robles and failed to make any notes. It can happen. I’ve always liked this product in other vinatges. In any event, it’s hitting shelves this weekend. If you’re a zin freak and who isn’t, pick this one up. It’s usually big enough to carry some burnt meat or ham with crackling. Shelve the cab sav and pour this one. But remember it carries 14.9% ABV so no more than a bottle each.

Images courtesy of:

http://www.vintages.com

http://www.thesun.co.uk

 

 

Pais It Forward – The Red Daily Slosh

19 Nov

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

These recommendations are for the class of November 22nd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy of:

http://www.vintages.com

http://www.bodegasvalparaiso.com

 

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