Tag Archives: wine

Italy 2017 – Secondi – Bolgheri

12 Nov

 

That’s me striding with purpose (a raging thirst) into the town of Bolgheri

When we last met our intrepid traveller, he was sipping Vernaccia di San Gimignano and asking the universal traveller’s question, “What the hell are we going to do tomorrow?” Oh yeah, head to Bolgheri.

Day 2 – Bolgheri

The plan was to wander Bolgheri and then head to the beach at Marina di Bibboni. It was about a 50 minute drive from Volterra, Without a map or GPS – only 10 minutes longer. Yes, I’m the guy in the Fiat calmly driving the round-a-bouts twice. Did that ruin the day? Never. If you read my first instalment, you know that getting lost can be… not exactly fun, but interesting. Plus, it’s a character builder. First, I’ll tell you a little about Bolgheri as a wine DOC.

Guado al Tasso

DOC Bolgheri and DOC Bolgheri Superiore lie south of Livorno between the Tuscan hills and the coast, near the village of Bolgheri. The DOC isn’t big (1200 hectares – 40 members of the Bolgheri Consorzio) but it is mighty. Many of the first Super Tuscans came from Bolgheri with Sassicaia (first made as such in 1968) being the most famous. In fact there is a DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia which requires 80 % Cabernet Sauvignon, aging for 2 years, 18  months of which has to be in 225l barriques. Wow, that’s prescriptive!

The distinguishing thing about DOC Bolgheri red wines versus other Tuscan DOC’s/DOCG’s is the use of Bordeaux varieties (allowable % in brackets): Cabernet Sauvignon (0% – 100%), Merlot (0% – 100%), Cabernet Franc (0%-100%), Petit Verdot (0% – 30%) and Syrah (0% – 50%). they also continue to grow Sangiovese (0% – 50%). It’s hard to keep up but just think that most of these wines feature the Bordeaux Big 4 potentially supported by Sangiovese and Syrah. Of course, wineries can make wines somewhat outside these restrictions but they’d be IGT Toscana wines not DOC Bolgheri. Confused? Bolgheri labels that you might know include Guado al Tasso, Tenuta San Guido, Satta, Le Macchiole, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Podere Grattamacco, Campo all Sughera, Poggio al Tesoro, Gaja Ca’Marcanda, and the list goes on.

There is still a wee bit of controversy about the use of traditional ‘Bordeaux’ grapes instead of autochthonous (wine geek speak for ‘indigenous’) grapes in Italy – Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Barbera, etc. While I agree that there already is enough Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in this world, there are two compelling reasons that I’m a ‘yeah’ to Bordeaux in Tuscany: 1) the wine is really, really good; 2) everywhere else does it, so why dis Bolgheri. And did I mention, it’s really good?

Sassicaia

Although reservations to visit may, in fact, be needed in many wine regions in the world, reservations really are the exception. When we were in Napa, you needed reservations for Duckhorn, Quintessa, and Caymus, for example. But many other wineries accommodated you as a walk-in. Similarly in Niagara, Languedoc, and much of Tuscany. These wineries have adequate tasting rooms and sell much of their stuff from the cellar door. Well, Bolgheri don’t roll like that, baby. I guess Tenuta San Guido doesn’t want a busload of seniors from Goderich, Ontario working their way through a case of Sassicaia one taste at a time. Then buying a few sachets of lavender and staggering out to the bus.

In this environment, the one casualty of playing it ‘by ear’, other than a poor rendition of Smoke On The Water, is that you might not be able to taste at some wineries. Hell, you might not even get in through the automated gate. We did have a reservation at Le Macchiole but it cratered. So, we wandered around anyway – dropped in to Guado al Tasso, Relais il Beserno (unbelievable place), Tenuta San Guido – nice chats but nary a drop of wine. I was getting thirsty. In my Lonely Planet it talked about a wine bar in the little town of Bolgheri where you can taste just about anything that comes from Bolgheri. As if. So, we wandered into the town and found the sign below out front of Enoteca Tognoni! Seriously?

You are reading that right, wine peeps. Ornellaia and Sassicaia by the glass! And, you can get tasters of it too – 5cl or 10cl. Friends, there is a bit of a downside to having this type of selection and, in Italian, that downside is called il conto.

The inside of Enoteca Tognoni is crazy cluttered with wine bottles, stacks of half-opened wine cases and amongst all that, tables to sit, taste, and eat if you wish. It’s atmospheric. I’ll give it that. Service was exceptional. We had a very knowledgeable woman who took time to give us a selection that fit our palate, pocketbook, and understanding. She stood by us and explained each wine – who, what, particularities, vintage, etc.

A chaotic but thrilling wall of wine at Enoteca Tognoni. Glad I don’t have to do inventory

Here’s the thing. Is it expensive? Yeah. But, will I ever have another chance to taste these wines together? Probably not. So forget il conto and taste! One flight tasted out like this –  2012 Arnione €35 from Campo alla Sughera. Made from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, and 20% Petit Verdot – powerful, balanced and still early in its development. This carried the day for me. I know that the Merlot here was just one of many players but it shone through – cherry and mint. Smooth tannins, deep wine. Loved, loved this wine! The 2013 Castello Bolgheri €50 is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. It was strictly cellar material – fruit hiding behind tannin and acid. Nonetheless, it was powerful stuff which seems to be the theme here. I wish that I could figure out where it might end up. The last of this flight 2013 Aldone €48 from Terre dei Marchesato is all Merlot. It did have a real Pomerol feel to it. Dusty, tannic and needing a load of time in the cellar. It opened a bit over time. Well, 30 minutes. Another wine worth mentioning – 2011 Cont’Ugo €35 – 100% Merlot from Guado al Tasso (Antinori). And for the Cabernet Franc fiends out there, I tasted Le Macchiole’s 2013 Paleo Rosso €70 – 100% Cab Franc. Stunning! Still hiding out a bit but what a wine. These may all seem a bit on the expensive side but significantly cheaper than comparable Napa Bordeaux stuff.

The flight above-mentioned

So, what did the Sassicaia by the glass cost? €40 is all. A tasting of 5cl (1.7 oz.) was  €14. If you have to ask on the Ornallaia, you can’t afford it. I’ve had them both before – snobbish yawn. So, stuck to wines new to me.

Did we get to the beach? We did. This wine stained wretch snoozed in the shade (wonder why I was sleepy) and my Mediterranean companion soaked up the sun. And, then it was back to Volterra. We went a different way. By design? Not really. We just kept heading to Volterra by road sign and then visually. Hard to miss Volterra when you’re anywhere within 40 kilometres. Then back to Podere San Lorenzo for nibbles and wine.

Spring-fed pool/pond at Podere San Lorenzo

I learned something in Bolgheri. I rail against big wines that are too oaked, too thick, too fruit forward, and/or just too much. And yet, I loved the wines that I tasted in Bolgheri and they weren’t shy, subtle, restrained efforts. They weren’t blockbusting behemoths (quoting Parker here) either. Likewise the wines that I love from Priorat – they too are largish. I may have to just admit that the issue of size isn’t as important to me as I let on sometimes. Maybe, “Size doesn’t matter,” he says, always the contrarian. Thoughts?

Cheers.

Bill

 

A Canadian Quickie – The White Daily Slosh

9 Nov

So, what is a Canadian quickie, you ask? The funny answer probably has something to do with parka zippers, a station wagon, and a Canadian Tire parking lot. Not that I’d know anything about that. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

But, what I mean here is that I’m sending out a few ‘quick’ recommendations for the November 11th release and they are all Canadian wines.

I recommend the Flat Rock Cellars stuff a lot. The 2016 Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling #578625 $24.95 has crept in to my basement and taken up residence with the last few vintages of this same cuvée. It’s about as solid a dry Riesling as the region produces. You notice I said ‘dry’. The rating is ‘medium’ but I find that this wine carries such a dose of acidity that you don’t notice any residual sugar. On the sniff it gives off a little petrol but, after a swirl, mostly peachy vibes. Quite a rocky, minerally, and spicy wine in the mouth. Medium + finish.

Another Niagara Riesling on offer is the 2013 Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling #557165 $17.95. This winery is another that has been featured here a bit but mostly for their spectacular Reserve Baco Noir – a classic take on a grape that most people haven’t had, IMHO. Here the Riesling does exhibit a bit of sweetness but nothing cloying and more about what the grape gives than by design. This wine isn’t quite as insistent as the one above. It kind of pleads its case rather than shouts at you. Maybe better suited as a sipper than Nadja. More citrus as well. Powerful label art – well done.

Last but not least is the 2014 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay #148866 $28.95. Prince Edward County is about as cool climate as Chardonnay gets. This wine exudes that character – restrained, not overly oaked but expressing some wood effects on the finish, in particular. Clean, acid on the gargle and finish. Apples and citrus on the sniff and swallow. Love it!

Have a great weekend. Cheers.

Bill

Remember – The Red Daily Slosh

8 Nov

Remembrance Day is this coming Saturday (November 11th) and it’s time to give thanks and appreciation to those that have served and those that continue to serve our country. I have been blessed to have been born a white boomer-generation man in Canada. I’ve never been conscripted or required to fight in a war nor have my children. I have been able to keep a roof over my head, I can walk the streets of our cities and towns without fear any time of day, my healthcare is always there when I need it, and generally speaking my nation’s hockey team wins more times than it loses.

I didn’t earn this good fortune. It was bestowed on me by the generations that came before through philanthropy, creativity, industry, and, yes, by serving militarily. We all have family heroes in this latter regard. Take time this Saturday, if not every day, to give thanks to and remember these heroes. Wear the poppy proudly!

Phew, “That was a little heavy for a wine blog,” he says while dabbing his teary eyes and slurping his wine.

Before I start on this week’s (November 11th) release I want to alert you to three wines from previous releases.

I’m a sucker for Iberian wine. I particularly like Lopez de Haro Crianza as an everyday Rioja – relatively inexpensive ($14.95) and tasty. Their Reserva is now on shelves. The 2010 Lopez de Haro Reserva #357335 $18.95 is a bargain at this price. A criticism of Rioja might be that it’s a bit over oaked. And some can be way too woody or vanilla.  This carries quite a bit of cedar on the sniff and in the mouth. I like this style myself if the wood effects realize some balance with the fruit and the structure. This wine does. It’s soft – pretending to be much older than it is – I had to check its ID to truly believe that it’s as young as a 2010. Upside? Ready to drink now. Downside? I don’t see this lasting any more than five years or so. If you’re looking for a great sipper or dinner Rioja and you don’t want to spend for the Ardal below, pick up a few of these.

Another wine to seek out is the 2015 Two Hands Angels’ Share Shiraz #9480 $24.95. I have spoken of these guys before. You may have seen their Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz which makes a regular appearance at the mother ship. Or, their ‘Garden Series’ wines which used to frequent my cellar but have slipped into a price range that has caused me to hesitate. They make a variety of Shiraz’ crafted to reflect the region. This one is from McLaren Vale. The Two Hands house style is reserved, elegant and sophisticated. This one is all that. Spicy, dark berries, and cola. A superb Shiraz for lamb – tannin to cut the fat – spice to match usual lamb seasoning. Don’t waste it on just sipping, as I did. Get some food to the table and pop the cork. In this case, I mean twist the cap.

A nice value pick is the 2015 Falernia Reserva Carmenère #269175 $14.95. Interesting, Carmenère smokey. At this price point worth a few bottles to have for weekday sipping. Easy drinking Chilean red.

Now to the release.

Referenced above is the 2006 Ardal Reserva #167700 #22.95a product of the Balbas folks. I flogged the eponymous Balbas last time out here. This is a bit more substantial – a heavier wine. It’s balanced, typical Ribera del Deuro, a sense of minerality, slate on the sniff, and a decent finish. The fruit is a bit darker than you might expect. Probably due to 20 % Cabernet Sauvignon. I mean how can you go wrong with this wine? Unlike the Balbas, this will withstand some more time down below. I will test that theory by putting some down and seeing what happens. I tried that last time this vintage was out and……….well, it’s all gone. My solution to this continuing problem is to buy more wine to cellar. Or, I could use some restraint…………..nah, I’ll just buy more wine.

Have you ever had a wine that scored  as high as 99? Well, now’s your chance. The 2014 Corte Medicea Athos #475996 $28.95 is an IGT Toscano that was given a score of 99 by Annuario dei Magliori Vini Italiani. A IGT Toscana designation usually means some variation from the Sangiovese-first or winery management regime applied in Tuscany for many specific DOC’s and DOCG’s. I tried to find a winery website to see what’s up but to no avail. I know it’s from the Montepulciano area but that’s it. This is a big wine. And that’s not just the 5 pound bottle it comes in. It overflows with thick creamy dark fruit. Solid but integrated tannins and a good dose of acidity. It is a food wine. If you’re thinking Tuscan, I’d say roast pork or wild boar. Love the boar (sometimes available at the Covent Garden Saturday market). The wine needs some time to open up a bit. So, sit on it or decant for a few hours. And, make sure guests see the red “99” medallion on the bottle when served.

I’m always trying to get people to take another look at Beaujolais. Most people of my generation’s first experience with Beaujolais was Beaujolais Nouveau or the generic ‘flower’ label of Georges DuBoeuf – fresh, fruit forward, and fun. Nothing wrong with that but if this is it for Beaujolais, you might not take it too seriously. Too bad really. I love Beaujolais! I have more Morgon down below than US wine. Now, I know that I need to do something about that but just sayin’. This week, there’s a Beau from Moulin-a Vent, my second favourite cru Beaujolais.The 2014 Stéphane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Moulin-a-Vent #368134 $21.95 is a great example of what this area can magically create. Very substantial wine – extremely age-worthy (5 plus years, easily). Typical of Moulin-a-Vent, the wine has loads of structure supporting the red fruits of the Gamay – depth and complexity worthy of a stew such as coq au vin. This isn’t your bistro Beau but I guess I’ve stressed that enough.

Wines that I haven’t had but will check out:

2104 Ridge Lytton Springs #982413 $64.95 – a benchmark Zinfandel in most years, this one is effusively reviewed (94+) by Antonio Galloni who I seem to share similar tastes with. I used to get this once in awhile when I wanted a classy, classic Zin. The price had started to scare me away but this year might be an exception.

2014 Demogenzon DMZ Syrah #404202 $16.95 – this Stellenbosch winery pipes Baroque music throughout the vineyard. I mean, the Goldberg Variations would have to help this Syrah, wouldn’t they?

2015 Viñedo de Los Vientos Catarsis #514158 $16.95 – a wine from Uruguay. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tannat, and 30% Barbera. What a weird blend. I’m curious.

Cheers.

Bill

To check availability, simply click on the link for each wine (stock number and price), drop down the city menu, choose your burg and then click Find Stores to see inventory near you.

Italy 2017 – Prima Parte – Volterra, Volpaia

3 Nov

We did a bit of a wander in Italy in September that had all sorts of little bits but also some wine. I’ll deliver the wine highlights in instalments. This is the first.

When we travel, we self tour. By that I mean that we don’t do ‘escorted tours’. We pencil a few things but that’s it. We get up in the morning and decide what we’re going to do. We drive ourselves, book all the stuff we need, including: flights; trains; accommodations; wine visits. So, I plan big time. I spend hours on-line checking out TripAdvisor, individual web sites, flight information, prices – taking a sip of wine, he goes on – Lonely Planet recos (love Lonely Planet but why is it?… Lonely, that is?), talk to everyone I know that has been where we are headed, and print out every relevant document that we might need; all inserted into a nifty blue plastic folder.

Last time we went to Italy, I left the folder at home (well-crafted story here). That time we arrived at Pearson without any flight information, hotel information, car rental information, receipts for things already paid for. We were essentially flying blind, pardon the pun. But, it all worked out. Lesson: you don’t need half the stuff you think you need for travelling. I found out all I need is your passport, a credit card, that damn smartphone, a fantastic memory for details, an understanding partner, and some other stuff that I can’t remember right now. But nonetheless, this time I left with full folder.

Fast forward to Florence airport – Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola. Have you been? It’s a bit of a “site under development” right now. I’m sure when they’ve finished the updates and improvements, it will be great. As we left the baggage claim area, we wandered around in circles for a while until we came to what looked like it might be a security zone, We couldn’t figure out where the way out was. We finally corralled a security guy – “Dove è l’uscita?”and he pointed at  a very large sign over a set of automatic doors that read: Way Out. You know, the doors that people were streaming out of. Umm, that simple, eh? I guess the lesson is – it’s OK to be a follower.

Hopped in our little rental and sped to Volterra. Did the full trip sans maps and GPS. That’s right – no road maps for 2 weeks. An adventure every time we set out. Some times a What a great adventure! and others a Oh shit another adventure!

Volterra

Volterra is a walled town that is not a big tourist draw. I’m not sure why because we visited “must see” San Gimignano, which is almost next door, and it wasn’t any more beautiful, interesting or historical. In fact San Gimignano was a pain in the ass tourist-wise. Flooded with bus tours and picture takers. Selfies? Ya think?

Laneway in to Podere San Lorenzo

Arrived at our agriturismo – Podere San Lorenzo (picture above) – a beautiful smallish place with fantastic staff, food, quarters, environs just outside of Volterra. Highly recommend it. Remember how I studiously plan, check, re-check, etc. Well, we arrived at Podere San Lorenzo and met Simona, a wonderful woman who checked her register and said, “I’m sorry but we don’t have Dufton here.” There was a time when I would have become apoplectic, shit myself, and demanded to see the manager (perhaps not in that order).

But, despite the 20 hours lack of sleep and general travel angst, I quietly and slowly rifled through my folder and triumphantly pulled out an email that I had exchanged with them with confirmation of the 6 nights’ stay. I would be vindicated! After Simona reviewed the email, she slowly pointed to the dates that I had confirmed therein. They were the same dates when we were going to be in Sicily – starting 6 days hence. I had mistakenly booked two places a thousand kilometres and a 90 minute flight apart for the same 5 days later in the month!

Guess what? I was fine with it (not completely true). At least The Director didn’t have to bring out the defibrillator. But Simona checked through their bookings and said that she would move someone else later in the week and we could have an apartment as promised for the 6 days. Phew. I needed a glass of wine right then. Hmmm, what pairs with sheepish?

Of the 6 days in Volterra, only two were dedicated wine days – which isn’t nearly enough.

Wine Day One – Chianti Classico.

Chianti Map courtesy of http://www.italianwine.com

Wine regions are somewhat economically and politically devised and regulated (if you want to get a history on this, the book Wine Politics by Tyler Colman is a great read). And primarily for these reasons, there are several Chianti zones that you’ll see on labels. The most common ones are Chianti Classico which is roughly the original 1716 Chianti zone. The others are Chianti Rufina (elegant and ageworthy), Chianti Colli Senesi (value and fun), and Colli Florentini, among a few others.

The Classico zone began around the towns of Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina, with Greve added later. The towns of Radda, Gaiole and Castellina have the suffix ‘in Chianti’ added to their names now. Want to hear about the varietal restrictions, label nomenclature, regulated vineyard practices, required vineyard uniform, grooming restrictions, secret handshake, etc.? No?

Castellina in Chianti

Where was I? Oh yeah – a day in Chianti. We trekked to Castellina in Chianti. Remember – no maps or GPS – so only two times turning around. OK, three times. But no harm – no foul. On these explores, I am inclined to be definitive. So, when I think that we are lost – there’s no telling me otherwise. We are ‘absolutely’ on the wrong road. I mean absolutely! I want to turn around right then. And, if I think we are on the right road, I drive for miles before I can conceive that we are heading in the wrong direction. The good news? I know me and have come to grips with my fallibility. Just you don’t mention it.

2013 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva

Castellina in Chianti – a pretty village on the top of a hill looking out over a spectacular valley strewn with vines and olive trees. A cool little spot with loads of noshing, shopping, and sipping opportunities. There is a neat wine shop in Via delle Volte, a tunnel that runs under the village wall just as you enter from the car park. The shop specializes in Chianti Classico and Super Tuscans. They had a wide selection of tasting opportunities (they had a large WineKeeper dispenser) – Brancaia Il Blu, Veneroso, Oreno to name a few that I sipped. It was early but it’s never too early, yeah? I picked up a bottle of 2013 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva €21 just in case. Love Brancaia and this wine didn’t disappoint. Although drinking well now – could use another three or so years. For those of us in Ontario, there is the 2015 Brancaia Chianti Classico #519173 $24.95 a Chianti from Radda worthy of your consideration.

We left Castellina in Chianti and drove to Radda in Chianti. It’s another village on the top of a hill overlooking vineyards and olive groves? It never gets boring though. The headquarters of Chianti Classico. Lunched in a road side cafe by the big cock. Oh stop it!

The Chianti Classico Symbol to be found on the neck band of most Chianti Classico and at this piazza in Radda

Volpaia

On to Volpaia. Ah, Volpaia. If you had to go to only one Chianti winery, this might be the most impressive yet unsullied one that you can find. I’m not saying that the bigger, grander spaces like Passignano or the spectacular Livernano aren’t impressive. This just seems less ‘designed’, if you know what I mean. Volpaia is a village, not far from Radda, that is solely owned by one family. The whole village has been turned into a winery, a very small agriturismo with bistro and cafe. There are only 15 permanent residents who are tasked with care taking mainly. The reason I chose Volpaia as a destination was that it’s hard to get here and my only experience with their wine. I had a near flawless bottle of 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva a couple years ago and was eager to see the operation – why was this wine so superb? Now, I know. The hills around the village are farmed either by the family or contract families who have been supplying the Volpaia winery for 50+ years. Many labels are organic and in Italy, I’ve found, organic does make a positive difference.

One of the many small barrel rooms

We wandered around the village to the deconsecrated church cellar (full of barrels), the many prior residences with either barrels, olive presses, or stainless steel fermentation tanks, there’s a wine duct that runs throughout the village. It was reminiscent of Gratallops in Priorat where doors opened on to narrow streets to reveal full-blown winemaking operations under residences. It is pretty cool. Forget the castles, chateaux, reception centres, this is what I love about wine – you can fancy the peripherals up but it doesn’t replace solid vineyard management, established vineyards, and expert winemaking. Our guide was superb. Suffice to say that she was very knowledgeable and conversant in several languages. And, she had a definite fashion sense that permeates all of Italy in my experience. I’ll talk about that vibe when I post on our time in Firenze.

The wines?

2016 Bianco di Volpaia €8 A great start to a tasting. Crisp, mineral on the palate. Made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grown at 2,000 feet above sea level. Perfect early evening sipper.

2016 Prelius – Vermentino €8.50 A wine made from grapes grown near the coast in Bolgheri. Organic. Fresh, carrying the Vermentino fruitiness that we came to appreciate while in Italy. Solid wine for sipping and with fresh seafood.

Volpaia Library Wine Cellar

2015 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico €12.50 This is what we’re talking about. Pure Sangiovese fruit on the gargle and the medium finish. This is a fresh, pop and pour wine. From grapes grown 1,000 to 1,750 feet above sea level – perhaps some of the highest Sangiovese in Classico. At this price, it’s a steal.

2014 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva €20 This was my favourite wine of the whole tasting. Perhaps the vintage but I think that this is a well crafted Classico in a ‘classic’ style, if that makes sense. Aged for 24 months, the wine shows the effects of barrel aging in the leather and vanilla on the finish. Fruit supported by integrated tannins and a beautiful vein of acidity. Restrained and elegant. The 2010 vintage was Wine Spectator’s #21 wine in their Top 100 of 2014.

2013 Castello di Volpaia Balificio €36 This is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet from older vines (circa 60 years). Although this was perhaps bigger in mouthfeel than the Riserva, it was a bit more reserved (pardon the pun). International in style, it seemed a bit out of place for me. It clearly was a well made Super Tuscan but, in the midst of this magical village, I preferred the more ‘naturally’ Tuscan reds. Perhaps back at home it would have shone.

2012 Vinsanto del Chianti Classico €21 375 ml Since The Director doesn’t drink reds, our guide offered her some of this sweet delicacy. It was almost Port-like – nutty, spicy. From their web site – “The healthiest and most beautiful bunchers (sic) of Malvasia and Trebbiano were harvested in October. They were then hung up to dry on rafters in our Vinsantaia, a huge attic where the grapes are dried and the vinsanto stored, so it is effected by all the changes in temperature. By February the sugar content was high enough to press the shrivelled grapes. The highly concentrated must was then left to ferment in small oak casks where it was allowed to mature for a full five years.” I liked it a lot in spite of myself.

We returned to our Volterra abode with a stash of wine and sat out on our terrace overlooking the landscape below with some young Pecorino, local cherry tomatoes, crackers, and some Vernaccia di San Gimignano. All in all, a great day.

Cheers.

Bill

http://wine.volpaia.com

Tom And The Rainbow Daily Slosh

24 Oct

It’s been a sad month or so for music lovers, hasn’t it? This one was so unexpected. “Well let me get to the point, let’s roll anther joint. And turn the radio loud. I’m too alone to be proud”.  I have it loud as usual.

I’ve been absent from the wine recommending crowd the last three months. Just my usual hiatus as I try and figure out if I can keep going. It takes real dedication to drink this much wine. Let’s give the October 28th release a try and we’ll see how it goes.

I’ll start with a few repeat recommendations. How much of the 2005 Balbas Reserva #085183 $22.95  did the mothership buy? I’m guessing a million cases although I’ve told myself a thousand times to stop exaggerating. Regardless, I have purchased this stuff in multiples as a “New Arrival” or part of a “Release” on numerous occasions over the past three years. I’ve recommended it every time. You can’t get a solid Ribera del Deuro Reserva of this age for this price anywhere. It’s a no-brainer. If you want to read my previous reviews they are here, here, and here. It’s still so ready to drink – expressive and balanced. And, yes, if your friends aren’t impressed by my enthusiastic endorsement, then you can flash the ’93’ from Wine Spectator sticker on the bottle.

Another repeat is the 2016 Miraval Rosé #342584 $22.95. I know that the weather has turned and many of us have tuned up the quintessential Canadian male 5th appendage (oh behave). I’m talking about the snowblower. But rosé isn’t just for summer. I keep a few bottles down below for sipping or even with a meal that pairs well – buttered popcorn, sea salt chips? – even in the colder weather. Past review here. Owned by Brangelina and worked by famille Perrin, I wonder how the celebs are going to split this community property. Have you taken sides on this break up? In our house, we cheer for Brad but I think that’s a function of Angelina’s weirdness (Billy Bob Thornton, really?). At least that’s where we are until I’m forced to read new revelations in the National Enquirer at the check out line. Speaking of which, the Enquirer tells me that Marilyn Munroe and Elizabeth Taylor were lesbian lovers. It’s going to be hard to get that picture out of my head. In my mind, Liz is Butterfield 8 Liz and Marilyn is, well, Marilyn. Say no more.

Ever had Torrontés? No, it’s not the city in Ontario that my AutoCorrect insists it is. It’s a white grape and wine that is Argentina’s answer to the question – “Name a wine that is yuuuge at home and hardly available abroad.” My ‘go to’ is Susana Balbo’s take but this one is cheaper and does the trick. The 2016 Zolo Torrontés #183913 $14.95 is big on the sniff with a hint of the citrus, lip smacking stuff to follow. Perfect with cold shrimp, smoked salmon with capers, or (not being an oyster lover) I bet with oysters. Or just sip on its own. Clean and crisp but not sharp edged. A nice surprise for your guests.

Another repeat – the 2015 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel #942151 $29.95 is returning to the shelves. I recommended this previously here. A friend who actually reads this site (yes, there are people that read this site), responded with purchase and a quick note to me that he y esposa enjoyed the wine. Shout out to J & O. Do you enjoy Zin? I mean there are the usual suspects led by the always tasty Ravenswood Old Vines. But, do yourself a favour and step up to this brilliant wine. This is loaded with character, power, and life. “Yet”, he adds, not the confusing jumble of darkness and heat that many entry-level Zins offer. It’s a sophisticated beaut.

A fellow blogger wrote a nice post on the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon. Shout out to Michelle at Rockin Red Blog. You can read her take here. If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ll know that I love many wines from that region. And, I’m excited that one of those guys is being released again this weekend – 2015 Château Saint-Roch Chimières #119354 $19.95. This is pure Roussillon. A result of hot summer days, dusty roads, lavender fields, and careful winemaking. A Grenache/Syrah/Carignan blend, it starts with the Grenache on the sniff and the swish – some heat, jamminess, and dark fruit. The Syrah on the finish shows some spiciness. This is a superb value only discounted to $19.95 perhaps because of the lack of caché that the AP Côtes du Roussillon-Villages carries. The herbal quality and spiciness would pair well with a lamb tagine – and that’s saying something about this wine’s spicy complexity.

From the “Previous Release’ file, there is a great red from Toro in Spain that you need to pick up – 2012 Terra d’Uro Finca la Rana #424135 #18.95. Before I talk about this wine, why don’t they just say $19.00? I think I speak for all of us when I say that we get that this wine is essentially $19.00. Just saying. OK, the wine. This is from Toro which means that it’s serious and oh so Spanish. No mistaking the origin of this. Mostly Tempranillo – so a bit of a Rioja or Duoro vibe. More stoney and less woody than Rioja. An attractive mustiness (is that just me? Not the mustiness part, although I can get musty, but the attractive part – love the mustiness) and some darker fruits on the sniff. I read where this is aged in used French oak barrels but there’s nothing to indicate such – loads of anise particularly after it’s gone. A real steal at this price. Don’t buy just one.

This might be a good time to load up on some bubbly. Not bubbly as in mixing-something-fizzy-with-orange-juice bubbly. Or, “Man, I’m a bit whirly” bubbly. But, substantive, classy, “Wow” bubbly. This is a hit with The Director who is a Chardonnay hound. Could be that it has some Chardonnay in it but I think that’s only part of the equation. This is smooth without being creamy – crisp, tightly knit bubbles like a good Champagne, apples – made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Aligoté. And consistent year-in, year-out as pointed out by Michel Godel in his review. I recommend it almost every time I see that’s it’s on offer. You can read my last one here and the one before here. Almost forgot, it’s the Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant de Bourgogne #991562 $19.95. I’m stocking up at this price.

There are some high priced beauties coming to shelves, as well. Headlined by the 2014 Sassicaia $216.95, the 2012 Antinori Pian della Vigne Brunello di Montalcino $62.95, and the exquisite 2010 Tedeschi Capitel Monte Olmi Riserva Amarone della Valpolicella Classico $79.95. And the Sassicaia is under $217!

Cheers.

Bill

Rehabilitaion Lives – Buy Frescobaldi

20 Oct

I wasn’t going to do this but. I mean, it’s Gord Downie we’re talking about. “There’s no simple explanation for anything important any of us do”.

We’ll eulogize Tom Petty next time.

I was reading a recent Wine Enthusiast and lingered on the last article. It was a great story about a visit by Amiee White Beazley to the island of Gorgona off the coast of Tuscany. Gorgona is a penal colony. A real penal colony where bad guys are isolated from the Italian population to do penance for whatever crime they’ve committed.

Gorgona

The deal at Gorgona is that the Frescobaldi family has a vineyard and winery there. It’s built on the remnants of an historic vineyard. The vines and buildings have been rehabilitated with the manpower and support of the inmates of the island. Although the Frescobaldi family lead the whole operation, the article tells us how involved the guests of the state are in the day-to-day operations – training to become vineyard managers, winemakers. And, how the work has forever changed them. I don’t say that off-hand. I mean it. They are changed. People can and do change if given the opportunity and kept away from firearms, reality television, and FoxNews.

I’m second from right in back row

As some of you know, I used to work in the corrections system. I left. Offenders have since pleaded with authorities for a sympathetic ear and an empirically-based approach to their rehabilitation. Can we just get some love and mercy (channelling Brian Wilson)? Anyway, this article touched me – took me back to an early passion and a heartfelt belief.

We used to have correctional farm operations in this province. I worked at an institution that had a woollen mill, an abattoir (misplaced optimism that a murderer or someone who pulls wings off flies would benefit from killing cows?), vegetable, livestock, and grain operations. I didn’t stay long enough to see the kind of change that this article talks about. However, having worked on farms, I can attest that it does change you and for the better. It provides a connection to the land, your place in it, and the onus of stewardship on us all. It humbles you. Despite the hard work (or perhaps because of it) getting your hands dirty in a tomato patch or baling hay is damn near spiritual. And yes, somedays, I hated spiritual but am glad I experienced it.

So, to honour Fescobaldi’s commitment to and investment in change, I’m reviewing the available Frescobaldi products in our market today plus a few I tasted in Italy last month.

A little history first:
(From Frescobaldi website) “The history of the Frescobaldi family starts over a thousand years ago and is closely connected with the history of Tuscany. At the high point of medieval Florence, the Frescobaldis spread their influence as bankers, earning the title of treasures (sic) to the English crown. A little later, with the flowering of the Renaissance, they became patrons of major works in Florence, such as the construction of the Santa Trinita bridge and the Basilica of Santo Spirito.

The family has always looked to develop and celebrate the diversity of Tuscany’s terroir. Being proud owners of some of the greatest vineyards in this region they have always sought to maintain the identity and autonomy of each property.”

Basilica di Santo Spirito

Cool, that part about the Basilica of Santo Spirito. When we were in Florence in September, our flat backed on to the Giardino di Palazzo Frescobaldi. And was a stone’s throw from the basilica. We dined al fresco on the Piazza Santo Spirito in front of the basilica. Isn’t that the beauty of Italy? All the cool stuff around you all the time.

As mentioned above, the Frescobaldi holdings are wide and varied, and include: Tenuta Castiglioni; Tenuta Remole; Castello Pomino; Castello Nipozzano; Castello Giocondo; Tenuta Ammiraglia; Gorgona; among others. Iconic labels include: Mormoreto; Giramonte; Montesodi; Masseto; Ornellaia (with Mondavi); and, Luce della Vita (with Mondavi). We’ve probably all quaffed a bunch of their wines. Hell, you couldn’t go wrong stacking your Tuscan racks with just their stuff. So, let’s get to the tasting!

In no particular order (and, as always, these were not samples – no inducement provided by Frescobaldi or their agents – I do this just for you):

2015 Frescobaldi Campo al Sasso Rosso di Montalcino #429415 $21.95 Rosso di Montalcino is wildly variable in quality, in my experience. This had a mustyish nose which got my heart racing. Crystal clear ruby red – really pretty wine. This wine opens with a burst of acidity. It put me off at first but over time, it tamed down significantly and you get the pure cherry fruit, clean mouthfeel and a medium finish. This would be a great pairing with a simple tomato/basil pasta. But, let the air out of this for awhile.

2015 Castello di Nipozzano Montesodi (2012 is available in limited supply at LCBO #304501 $51.00Enjoyed this at the Dei Frescobaldi wine bar in Florence (a story for later). This 2015 was surprisingly mature for it’s age. It might have been the wine bar situation – being open for awhile. However, it oozes leather/tobacco both on the nose and on the swish and swallow. I love that vibe. Dried berry fruit reinforcing the aged quality – oak integrated. A big wine. A really big wine, actually.

2014 Terre More Ammiraglia Cabernet Maremma Toscana IGT €8 (N/A at LCBO) This is a Cabernet-based red wine from Maremma which is in the southwest corner of Tuscany, near the coast. I’ve always viewed Maremma as good value but also quite variable in quality. The rule for using the Maremma nomenclature means that the wine is at least 85% of the variety on the label. Well, you could definitely pick out that fact without instruction. Straight forward Cab. Faint nose (but tasted in a tumbler not proper glass)- cassis on the swish – no oak effects – light to medium body – some lingering hint of Tuscany but can’t tell you what – maybe style rather than substance on that point. Matched our early evening cheese board, olives, and bread.

2016 Albizzia Chardonnay Toscana €11 (N/A @ LCBO) Like the one above, first night in Tuscany wine. A light to medium weight Chardonnay. Definite citrus nose. Peach in the mouth with some slight butteriness on the finish. Very good effort. A great sipper – maybe you’d want something a little more dynamic for food.

2007 Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino (2012 is available at LCBO in their Essentials program #650432 $52.95When you join CellarTracker, you’re asked to identify your dream wines. Brunello is one of mine. It just represents so well. It’s usually wise beyond its years, extremely food friendly or just fine being your friend, and always provides me an image of a seasoned (read: old) Italian gentleman standing at a cellar door with an inviting smile. I adore it. This 2007 was at a perfect age to create that image. Just starting to brown around the edges, tobacco on the nose with some cherry pie peeking its head out as well as some fumes indicating the power lurking. In the mouth, it replayed the cherry pie emphatically with some funk, liquorice, and leather. All in all a very elegant, balanced wine. I buy a few of these each year and wonder when to open. I’ve been too early (tannins really chewy and hard to get to fruit) and too late (flabby). I hit a home run with this one.

2014 La Vite Lucente #747030 $34.95 A Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon bend this qualifies as a Super Tuscan. And before the purists ‘harrumph’, I agree that not all Super Tuscans are ‘Super’. And, many aren’t that ‘Tuscan’ either. Well, put away the daggers. This is both. And both in a big way. My notes on the 2013 suggest musty cherry aromas – solid replay of the cherry with cola and liquorice on the swish and swallow. Medium finish. The Tuscan part is the restraint. I feel like they could have hit us over the head with ripe fruit – heavens knows it’s warm enough to ripen the fruit pre-harvest. However, there’s a veneer covering the fruit component, it’s fruit last not first – the nice acidity which I associate with Tuscany.

2015 Castello di Pomino Bianco #65086 $19.95 This is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. It’s a superb sipper. Think sitting on a piazza with a plate of charcuterie, fresh tomatoes (I know there are always fresh tomatoes with me), olives, bread and olive oil. Perfect match – enough weight to carry the meats and enough acid to cut the fat of that meat and olive oil. Enough fruit to battle the tomatoes and lift the flavours of the Chardonnay. I’m not a big fan of Italian white wines but the three profiled here are ‘mighty fine’ which is a wine professional’s term. And, I’m a professional, so don’t try it at home.

2015 Benefizio Pomino Bianco Riserva (N/A @ LCBO) Enjoyed this wine at the Dei Frescobaldi wine bar in Florence. Not sure what the price might be here but I’m thinking…….high. This is a small production Chardonnay blend. Moderately oaked, apples and citrus on the nose – butter and peaches on the finish. A very sophisticated wine. Very, very nice. We sipped it with nothing other than conversation. But, I’m thinking this is a food wine – chicken, pork, mild to medium cheeses.

2015 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni #145920 $21.95 OK. I’ve promoted this wine from the beginning of my on-line life. This is pure Italy at a reasonable price. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese that leans toward a truly Tuscan wine. All that to mean that the Sangiovese is present enough that you’ll know where this wine comes from. The style is medium body, streak of acidity that provides a bit of bite on the first sip, and moderate tannins. Fruit is red – “No shit Bill, it’s a red wine’ – but what I mean is that it is cherries and strawberries. Some leather but no real evidence of major oak. Easy drinking, interesting wine.

I’m taking a deep breath here. Ok, on to the next. The 2013 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rùfina #395186 $29.95 brings a classic vibe to the path we’ve been on here. Put your hand up if you remember Chianti as the wine in the basket (candle to be applied later) that was weak, variable in quality and perfect for the third bottle of the night. I see some hands up there. Well, this isn’t your second year university Chianti. It exudes ‘old’. It screams ‘traditional’. There’s a solidness to this wine. It’s a wine for grown ups (wonder why I like it?)  – elegant, sophisticated, and settled. No one is going to take a sip of this and fall over in ecstasy. But give them a second and third sip and they will fall in love. I read a review of another vintage and they used the term ‘honest’. That pretty well sums it up. Great, great food wine.

I know that I’ve been absent from these pages. I will be posting a bunch of stories in the next few weeks on our Italy trip and about some great wines coming to the mothership.

Cheers.

Bill

Geology Meets Wine Geek – John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines

24 Aug

When I was a grade school student, one of the most chilling assignments was the book review. Chilling in that you knew the teacher had read it – so you couldn’t Coles Notes (Cliffs Notes for my US friends) it. And, because in some cases you had to read your work in front of the class. A real knee knocking experience. I swore off book reviews since. Well, I’m throwing away that pledge to give you a little gift.

I’m travelling to Sicily next month to do a bit of a wine wander. So, to better understand the place, among other reads, I asked for John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit, and Power for Christmas. And Santa obliged.

First I need to tell you a little about growing up in my house. It explains why this book might hold some extra allure for me.

My father was a soft rock geologist and worked plotting and trying to understand the earth so that his employer could find and extract oil. He clearly was committed to his discipline. I know this because….

Yup, that’s a wadi!

When we would take a trip to visit grandparents, travel to the cottage, or take a short jaunt to a neighbouring community, my father would pull over on the side of the road and point out features in the landscape. As a type of higher level instruction, he would have us tromp through the field to an area and would ask us what we saw. It didn’t take long before we were identifying wadi (“There’s a wadi, Dad,” from the back seat), hummocks, and homoclinal ridges among other formations. At the cottage, he and I walked on the Canadian Shield and I learned about its age, its origin and the nature of the igneous rock that made up it’s beauty.

So, when I read a review of John Szabo’s work, I had to have it.

Although I am not through the book in it’s entirety, I can tell you how thrilled I am to be learning a bit more about the connection of the history of the earth’s crust to viticulture and great wine.

Mount Etna

Now, if you’ve had a bunch of wine and paid even a little attention, you know that wines that come from certain areas – areas known for harsh, almost un-arable conditions where vines struggle – are staggeringly powerful and distinct. My personal experience includes sipping an Assyrtiko while gazing out over the barren, windy, hot and rocky landscape of Santorini. “How does any wine come from here, let alone something this special?” Nothing quite like it. Or, enjoying a Taurasi near Pompeii almost in the shadow of Vesuvius. There isn’t really anything that compares.

Szabo says of volcanic wines, “The best examples, like all great wines, seem to have another, or at least different, dimension, a common sort of density that can only come from genuine extract in the wine, not alcohol or glycerol, or just tannins and acid, It’s a sort of weightless gravity, intense, heavy as a feather, firm but transparent, like an impenetrable invisible force shield of flavour that comes out of nowhere but doesn’t impose itself……………..It can be gritty, salty, hard, maybe even unpleasant to some, but unmistakeable.”

And, although I thought I knew why they were special, I was kidding myself. It is a lot more complex and technical. But, given my childhood lessons on igneous rock, I should have known that.

Assyrtiko vines of Santorini

Szabo’s book examines wine regions as disparate as Napa/Sonoma, Macaronesia, Pitigliano, Campania, Soave, Sicily and, yes, Santorini, among others. He tells us how the earth’s crust is currently composed, the geological history of that land, the continuing impacts of volcanic activity. Most importantly for wine geeks, he tells us what the wines take from all that, what grapes flourish, who makes the most of it, the people, and the glory of it all. I know. Glory is a pretty absolute and unequivocal word. I meant it as such.

I won’t go into detail or give away the plot (although I think I already have). Suffice it to say, that the book is a master class in the intersection of volcanic geology and wine. It’s a big honking book. It could serve as a coffee table book. It has utterly spectacular photography – vineyard porn. But, don’t leave it sitting. Pick it up and get up to speed on regions of the wine world that will captivate with their story and their wine. Then get thee to the mother ship and get some of these wines to experience what the fuss is all about!

I know all about that last part. This book has already cost me a bit of cash propping up my meagre cellar with more Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici and some Etna Rosso. I’m looking to dig a little ‘weightless gravity’. If you know what I mean.

Cheers.

Bill

FYI – Volcanic Wines is available through Amazon. John Szabo’s coordinates are:

http://www.johnszabo.com      @johnszabo

Rediscovered Foods – What We’ve Been Drinking

28 Jul

2017 – Dock View North Early Evening

I know. It looks idyllic and it is. But don’t try to sit down there and admire the view for anything longer than three minutes unless you’ve brought a transfusion. The twin engine mosquitoes love early evening.

I have rediscovered a food that I had all the time when I was a kid. I mean it didn’t disappear; it’s just that I didn’t eat it anymore. And we’re not talking fluffinutters here – real non-childish foods. And now – I’ve fallen in love with it again. This happened to me this summer. I’ll tell you all about it later in the post.

Then there’s wine. What did we drink this past few weeks. In a nutshell – really really good shit. Here are just a few.

I bought a bunch of Bordeaux Futures over the years. Always hard to determine when to pop the cork. One of my faves is Château Duhart-Milon. The vintage that I brought to the party was the ’06. It needed a lot of time to get ready – so I decanted for about three hours. Enjoyed with Rye and Ginger Steak – rib eye steak marinated in Canadian rye whisky, fresh ginger, and thyme. This wine delivered on the promise of Bordeaux. A dustiness of red and black fruits supported by a backbone of tannin. Medium to full-bodied. Smokey but still closed off enough that I’ll wait on the other ’06’s..

The friend that I travelled to Priorat with brought the 2014 Torres Salmos #450734 $31.95. This is made by the large Torres operation – although in Priorat it’s difficult to impose a mass production approach and, I believe, they have tried to reflect the region in this wine. Wow! If you’ve never had a Priorat Garnacha/Cariñena wine, you are getting a detention. If you have, you know the power of these wines. They are unmistakable. We sniffed nd sipped this and both agreed that this is Priorat. Heightened alcohol and fruit galore from the Garnacha. Colour, stability and backbone from the Cariñena. It was great with a pork tenderloin.

In our market, we don’t get very many wines from Emilia-Romagna. It probably has as much to do with customer recognition as anything else. I mean everyone knows Tuscany, Piedmont, Venezie but Emilia-Romagna might be a bit foreign to them (pardon the pun). We popped a cork on the 2014 Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon #225086 $27.95 and revisited this region. Despite its vintage, this had the nose of a wine dominated by an aged Sangiovese – cherries, leather. It wasn’t as big as a Super Tuscan tends to be; less International and more Old World – gutsier – I liked that. Some barrel characteristics without any creaminess or vanilla – solid tannins. Italian evening bistro wine. Great food wine.

Summer evenings scream, “Pinot Noir!” We enjoyed the 2012 Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir #510842 $37.75 from Oregon. Oregon, New Zealand, and Ontario Pinots are my favourite New World takes on this grape. They tend to be leaner and more powerful and mineral than others I’ve tried. This one stuck to that script. Blackberry, tea, and earthiness on the swish and swallow – medium plus finish. This might be a bit more soft (or, as they say in grammar class, “softer”) than what I’m used to from Oregon. Might be that it’s evolved and tannins have integrated. But, what a treat.

One last mention – 2013 Alto Moncayo Veraton Garnacha #173211 $27.75. These guys make great wine and, despite this one being their least expensive, it is perhaps my favourite and, yes, maybe I’m influenced by price in that assessment. 100% Garnacha, this is huge – Priorat-like – in experience and alcohol (15.5%) – warm in the mouth with fruit front and centre. Vines from 30 to 50 years of age at 300m to 500m. Rich, chocolate, anise, big mouthfeel, intense black fruit. Glad I have one more left.

That rediscovered food?

When we barbecued, my father would charge up the charcoal using about enough starter fluid to propel a Gemini rocket. Before he dropped the lit match on the grill, he had to dress in a  flame retardant suit. Singed eyebrows weren’t uncommon. The food tasted like it had been dipped in kerosene. I believe to this day that my father, an oil man who worked 37 years for Imperial Oil (Standard Oil of New Jersey), was just trying to contribute to the bottom line by going through a liter and a half of starter fluid per meal.

And, when we barbecued, my mother would put out freshly sliced garden tomatoes, spears of cucumber, and………..wait for it……..fresh garden radishes. Big, hot, beautiful radishes. And, we sprinkled salt….hell, we poured salt on to our side plates and dipped the radishes into the salt for every bite. Pure heaven.

And, until this past few weeks, I hadn’t really done that for a long time. Oh, I’d purchased radishes (probably grown in a hot house far away) and sliced them into a salad. But, I hadn’t had locally grown radishes, sprinkled with salt. Man, makes me want to get up and have a couple right now – the burps are a bit of a unforced error, though.

The other thing is green onions (scallions) with the same salty treatment. Always at the table in the summer of my youth. Beautiful.

So, if you don’t have your own garden patch, get thee to a market somewhere near you and get some locally grown, big, red, sassy radishes. And, ignore the #fakenews about salt being bad for you. Douse these little buggers in salt and enjoy. I’m thinking the wine to pair – is whatever you’re already drinking because nothing will really pair with them. Maybe best to stick to beer – that’s what dad had – Old Vienna.

Cheers.

Bill

Too Few Friends – The Rainbow Daily Slosh

27 Jul

When I was away, I found out that I only had two rosé friends. That’s very close to 100% of my friends, BTW. Unless you count the imaginary ones. I have a mess of those guys.

I had taken a bunch of rosés to the cottage but had only two takers. And you know what that means? I had all those rosés to myself! The only problem? Among them, I had brought the 1500 ml bottle of Bertrand’s Côte des Roses Rosé (above). It’s a big bottle – good news. The bad news is that no one would pitch in and help me drink it. And, it doesn’t fit upright in the cottage fridge.

So, once opened, you have to finish it – normally not a problem for the undersigned. But, accidents happen on the water when alcohol is involved. Story for another day. So, no big, beautiful bottle of rosé for me. Lesson learned.

The corollary is that the cottage is not the place to experiment with wine for guests. If your guests haven’t heard of it (Arneis, Melon de Bourgogne, Mencia), don’t expect them to prefer it to wines/grapes that they are familiar with no matter how much they trust you. And, when you’re the host, you give guests choices and bend to those. Not everyone wants to ‘try’ something when they’re sitting on the dock getting mellow and sun burnt.

Last weekend’s (July 22nd) LCBO release is entitled “Old Favourites + New Favourites”. It’s about Old World and New World wines – where they intersect and where they differ. At the mid-to-high end of the price spectrum, there are some absolute stunners. In the mid-price stunner category is the 2014 Luca Malbec #167312 $34.95. This wine is made by Laura Catena so you can count on attention to detail, expression of place, and experimentation with traditional practices.This comes from high altitude (3500 feet) both well established and newer vineyards. It is fresh yet doubles down on first impact – broad, full darkish fruit and, although the alcohol is middle range (13.5% ABV), it has a bit of heat. This is a food wine. And, remember it is an Argentine food wine – so, think grilled burgers, steaks. This proves the point that all Malbecs are not created equal.

A more reasonably priced red is the 2014 Papale Linea Oro Primitivo di Manduria #261784 $22.95. I’ve recommended this before in other vintages – most recently the 2013. You can read that review here. Made from the Primitivo (early ripening) grape which is Italian for Zinfandel, it carries a lot of the same characteristics understandably. Puglia is a hot place – grapes get ripe and this is reflected in this wine – fruity, big flavours, alcohol starting to get a bit high (14% ABV). This vintage has more of a dried fruit experience like a Ripasso does. Great summer evening or autumn wine.

Despite the rosé discussion above, I’m not shying away from them. This week, the 2016 Domaine Maby La Forcadière Tavel Rosé #701318 $18.95 is a typical Tavel – darker pink (check the pic out), more red than salmon. It’s fruit forward with heft that you don’t usually experience in a crisp, refreshing Cotes de Provence. That does sacrifice some of the refreshment but it’s a great food wine – acidity on the finish and even a little tannin peeking through. Great value Tavel!

The previous release (July 8th) has a must buy from Piedmont – the 2015 Fontanafredda Raimonda Barbera d’Alba #023135 $16.95. This is a lightish, bright red with cherries and spice in the gargle. Almost too easy to drink – dry, fun, and fresh. Think bistro red and you’ll have it. If you think all wines need to be big and brawny, skip this. Barberas can be quite variable in quality. But no worries of being underwhelmed here. I bought one of these to try and am headed back for half a dozen more.

Also from the July 8th release is one of the most opulent wines that I’ve ever had at this price point – 2015 Bastide Miraflors Vieilles Vignes Syrah/Grenache #320499 $19.95. Maybe it’s my Grenache/Garnacha addiction but so what? But, it’s more Syrah (70%) than Grenache (30%), you say. Well, I love Syrah too. No serious wood treatment so pure ripe fruit on the nose and the swallow. Some of the telltale Roussillon notes of lavender and other scrubby stuff as well as some pepper on the medium length finish. It scores high on the GSS (Good Shit Scale) – between Really and Really Really. This wine reminds us that although Roussillon brings us mass production wines, it also makes wines like this one – crafted with integrity.

Just a quick recommendation on an available  sparkling that I’ve mentioned a bunch of times – the Bailly-Lapierre Pinot Noir Brut Cremant de Bourgogne #420984 $23.95. If you can’t afford to buy Champagne, I believe the next best thing in sparkling wine is Cremant de Bourgogne (unless I’ve said something else in an earlier post – in that case, I’ve changed my mind). This is made from Pinot Noir and although not as dry as the fabulous Louis Boillot Perle d’Or that I recommend from time to time, it’s dry enough and the wee bit more lends creaminess. The Pinot comes through on the finish for me along with lemon peel. Exceptional cuvée!

Saw the HBO documentary about Bowie’s last 5 years and listened to his last album – Blackkstar when I was doing the final edit on this post. Man, he was special. Enjoy this video. The definition of cool. And, check out the song Dollar Days on Blackstar on whatever streaming service you use – pure Bowie.

Cheers.

Bill

 

Porcupine Leading to Drinking Alone

25 Jul

A loon captured in front of our cottage by my cousin’s talented photographer wife, Brenda Dickie

Just returned from three full weeks at the lake. No wireless, no television, just sports radio and expensive data through my iPhone. So, haven’t been following the news – wine news or world news. Although I’m guessing that The Donald did something to get Daddy’s attention.

So, how about a story from the wilds of Muskoka?

You can hear the echoes on the lake: the lonesome whippoorwill (homage to Hank Williams); the haunting call of the loon; the laughter of children swimming; and then there’s THE SOUND.

The sound might remind the untrained ear of someone dragging a hammer claw under the floor of your abode. Or, a small jet aircraft revving on the runway prior to takeoff. It occurs only at night while you sleep. It’s loud, the vibration moving up through the floor, through the bed frame, through the mattress and into your bones. The Director lies sleeping. I, on the other hand, leap from the bed a la the man in the Christmas poem to see what is the matter.

Most would wake and yell, “What the hell is that?” I, however, in a matter of seconds, know exactly what ‘that’ is and simply say, “Oh shit, the porcupines are back.” Yes, folks porcupines can plague even a seasoned cottager like yours truly.

A porcupine pre-glue sniffing

What the heck do porcupines do that makes that sound, you ask? Well, they gnaw on the striated beams that support our cottage with their humongous sharp teeth. Striated beams are made by gluing together a zillion strands of wood. They are as hard as steel.

Years ago, the porkies gnawed right through the floor of our cabin (an abode since torn down) and through the hole, you could see their beady little eyes blinking as they tried to extract as much salty glue as they could from the plywood. That’s right folks – porcupines are glue addicts (Editors Note: They love the glue because plywood glue has salt in it – they crave salt). Imagine the strung out porky retired to his little whatever it is he lives in, bending over a small paper bag of hard won glue, taking a big sniff, and saying, “Far out man, that’s good shit,” as wisps of resin float about his little prickly face.

This last time, I got out of bed and proceeded to pound on the floor over the area where I surmised the porky sat. I yelled, I pounded, I stomped, The Director slept. Seriously?

Eventually, the big fellow – I just noticed that I’ve assigned a gender to this creature. Let’s see – the animal’s a pain in the ass, has no ambition, is glue addicted and up drugging at 3 in the morning – of course, it’s a ‘he’. Where was I? Oh yeah, he crawled out from underneath the cottage and waddled up the path and into the woods. Phew, it’s over. Back to bed? Unfortunately I’m not built like that. Once up – I’m up – really up. That’s a surprise?

This brings me to the wine. You knew that I’d get there. My challenge? Pairing wine to three in the morning in your pyjamas and Googling on your phone “how do I get rid of a porcupine?”

What did I do about the wine? Decision tree on pairing: no food – just empty calories at that time of day – unlike the alcohol, wink, wink; palate a little muted by snore breath; heart racing because, although I know the porcupine isn’t going to burst through the door and begin shooting his quills shouting, “Say hello to my lil’ friend,” I’m just a little anxious; and most importantly, I don’t want to upset my whole three weeks of wine planning by taking a bottle out of turn when the mothership is a one hour drive away.

You might say – how about Port? Too nutty and heavy. Or, maybe a cup of tea? Tea? You think I drink tea? Red wine? Naw, too intense.

As it turned out, there was an open bottle of Chardonnay in the fridge. It’s a familiar label in this market – J. Lohr Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay #258699 $19.95 . It’s a great value Chardonnay with some oak but nothing chewy or over-buttery. Ripe, round and medium weight. This night a glass went perfectly with my frantic internet search for creative ways to rid myself of a beast. OK, it was two glasses.

How can an animal survive with a glue sniffer’s approach to life? Well here’s how, the only predators that porkies need to fear up here are Subarus – the official car of Muskoka. They just go about their business without a care in the world. You can shoot them or poison them and I don’t have the heart for either. So, I’m stocking up on the J. Lohr and learning to live with it.

So, if you’re up in the night with a bit of anxiety and some homework to do, I’m suggesting a medium weight Chardonnay. It doesn’t solve your problems because that, as we all know, requires Scotch. But, it sure beats tea.

Or, might you have any suggestions from personal late night experience?

Cheers.

Bill

Confession – it was two and a half glasses!

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