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A great Malbec, if…

27 Oct

20111027-004317.jpgHumberto Canale Estate Malbec 2008
Alto Valle del Río Negro, Patagonia, Argentina

So, this is a new (to me) Malbec from the most southerly wine-growing region in Argentina. Patagonia lies more than 990 miles (1600 kms) south of the much more famous Mendoza and is a considerably cooler climate than the major regions to the north. In the early 20th century, Humberto Canale imported vine cuttings from Bordeaux and established the first commercial winery in the region^.

I found myself with a bottle of Humberto Canale Estate Malbec 2008 from that most southerly region and wondered about how it might differ from wines from its northern Argentine neighbours. When I finally got around to opening it, I found a complex, nuanced wine with blackberry, cocoa, mint, smoked meat, and a host of other intriguing flavours. The profile and structure reminds me more of premium high-altitude Mendoza wines than the ubiquitous fleshy, sweet-fruit reds that currently flood our wine shops. So, is this a great-value wine? Good question, as I no longer have pricing info. I’ll get back to you on that, but for now, I will say that this is either an excellent sub-$20 wine or a less-exciting buy, it’s value inversely related to price.

Lingerings of VPIWF: More Malbec wines you should try

24 May

Malbec: VPIWF left me somewhat smitten with the grape.

Malbec, also known as Auxerrois, Côt, and about 1,000 other synonyms, is a black grape variety that tends to produce inky, violet-black, tannic wines. The thick-skinned variety traditionally used to add colour and tannic structure to Bordeuax wines has found a home in Mendoza, Argentina, where it is used for everything from rosé wine, to simple, mass-produced red table wine to supremely rich and concentrated luxury wines of world-class calibre.

The main aromas of Malbec include cherry, raspberry and plum, dried fruits, blue flowers like violets, coffee and chocolate, leather and balsamic. Ageing in oak contributes vanilla aromas and flavours.

Doña Paula ‘Paula’ Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina $16.99
Lighter-bodied than expected. Varietally correct nose of plum, dark berries, violets, tar and spice.  Satisfying fruit, well-balanced acid & tannins. Excellent value.

Bleasdale Second Innings Malbec 2007, Langhorne Creek, Australia $17.99
Expected a full-force plush Aussie fruit bomb, but this wine is actually quite elegant and well-structured for the price. A food wine, to be sure, with acid and tannin for red meat and subtle Langhorne-esque herbal notes.Bodega Sottano Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina $19.99
Big nose on this one: all the requisite dark berries and fruits, plus licorice, root beer, tar, violets, earth and cracked pepper, all of it distinct and concentrated, but perfectly balanced.  The fruit is mouth-filling, the tannins soft and long, and the acidity provides just enough zing to invite the next sip. Serious Malbec for $20.

Luis Felipe Edwards Family Reserve Malbec 2008, Colchagua, Chile $19.99
The lone Chilean offering stands up to the Argentine competitors without denying its origins.  Chile’s Malbec wines offer fruit, spice and aromatics in a leaner, meaner package. The LFE Family Reserve has an intense, Cabernet-like nose of dark fruits, brambleberry tart, black currant black licorice, tar, toffee, mint, dill and subtle floral notes. The palate is a super-concentrated melange of sticky-sweet fruits like blackberry preserve, a bright berry acidity on the mid-palate and grippy bittersweet chocolate tannins on the finish. Dispite its weight and dense black fruits it remains more austere, less ‘obvious’ than most Malbecs. One step left from Argentina on the Old World:New World spectrum. *My value-for-money pick. I’ll buy this again!

Finca Decero Remolina Vineyard Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina $25.99
Talk about “Old World meets New World”, this is one solid Malbec that shows its feminine side with swirling floral notes and lifted aromatics.  The structure is sound, yet delicate; the fruit big, yet soft. From a young vineyard (Decero means “from scratch”) high in Mendoza, this producer shows real promise.

Mapema Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina $26.99
After 34 years as chief winemaker at Catena, Jose “Pepe” Gallante is now making world-class (and well-priced) Malbec for his new venture “Mapema”. The high altitude, fresh air and intense sun of the vineyard in Consulta, Mendoza have contributed to the formation of a profound Malbec.  Twelve months in new French oak has produced a wine with aromas of black cherry, combined harmoniously with fine notes of chocolate and tobacco, a rich fruit character, and smooth tannins.

Reviewed: Catena Alta Chardonnay (2007)

23 Apr

Catena Alta is the benchmark for premium Argentine Chardonnay

Bodega Catena Zapata
Catena Alta Chardonnay 2007

Mendoza, Argentina
14% alcohol/volume
$44.99 at Everything Wine (not available at BCLS)

Sourced from Adrianna vineyard at 5,000′ (the highest in all of Mendoza) and a small portion from Domingo at 3,700′, Catena Zapata’s Alta Chardonnay is the benchmark for premium Chardonnay from Argentina.  100% barrel fermented, with 50% new French, and aged sur lie for 12 months.

This wine is remarkable from start to finish, beginning with an aromatic  and complex nose of pear and apricot, almond and lemon cream.  Subtle hints of white flowers and warm, smoky notes follow.  The palate is full and concentrated, with citrus, honey, vanilla, nutmeg and toast. The wine has a wonderful viscosity, mouth coating and pleasantly creamy, but with an exciting streak of minerally acidity that leaves me wanting more.

This wine is everything I love in Chardonnay and is near-perfect now.  Still, it shows much potential, and will reward careful ageing until 2014 at least.  At $45 CAD it’s not for everyday quaffing, but compares very favourably with other Chardonnay wines around the $50 mark, from any region.

see also: Catena Rules Argentine Chardonnay from Stephen Tanzer’s Winophilia.

Reviewed: Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz Viognier (2005)

13 Apr

The iconic producer Wolf Blass has been making some of Australia’s best, and most-awarded, wines since its inception in 1973.  Early on, Wolf Blass recognized the marketing value of a range of wines in distinct tiers, from everyday to luxury.  Right in the middle of the 8-tier range lies the Gold Label:

The wines created for the Gold Label range are an ever-evolving proposition: emerging varieties, groundbreaking techniques, and the most progressive regional styles are incorporated into the range as they become available. All vineyard parcels are kept separate until final blending and bottling and production levels are dictated by vintage quality. [1]

I recently tasted the 2005 Adelaide Hills Shiraz Viognier from the Wolf Blass Gold Label series of wines:

Wolf Blass Wines
Gold Label Shiraz Viognier 2005

Adelaide Hills, Australia
15% alcohol/volume
$33.99 at Everything Wine (not available at BCLS)

Beautifully bold colour in the glass with a black cherry core and a ruby/violet meniscus.

The nose is intense and Shiraz-dominated, with big, bold blackberry pie filling, cassis, wood smoke, and cured meat. The Viognier offers only a touch of a violet/floral component and hints of dried peach and apricot jam.

The palate is full-bodied and lively, with brambly berry jam, spicy sausage, cherry cola, anise, menthol and white pepper. The finish is long and sweet, with subtle tannins and good acidity. It has the structure to age longer, but must be very near its peak at this point.

I greatly enjoyed this wine with wild mushroom, herb and sherry soup, but it would also be delicious with lamb dishes, duck sausage, and other earthy, rustic fare.

For more information on Shiraz/Viognier blends, from Côte-Rôtie to Australia, check out the new post by Bitch Casserole‘s Ruby Bricks.

W(h)ining: Australia Learns by Rôtie with Shiraz-Viognier

13 Apr

Three Rhône wines, one from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, that are all blends of red and white grape varieties.

I remember the first time I stumbled across an Australian bottle brandishing the Shiraz-Viognier label, and in my youthful ignorance, I was thrilled to have discovered what I thought was a whimsical Aussie conception.  Mixing red and white wines?  This must be a new idea!  After the initial embarrassment of eagerly sharing my brilliant discovery with a wine-guru confidante, who informed me of my mistake, and then eventually acquiring some formal sommelier education of my own, I came to learn that blending red and white wines, and often cofermenting the different grapes,  is a French winemaking tradition.

For many wine neophytes, like myself some years ago, French wine is a bit of a mystery because it does not label grape varieties, although this is changing to meet demands of new world consumers.  The Rhône valley, in the South of France, produces many blends of both red and white varieties, including some familiar Côtes-du-Rhône wines, and the Côte-Rôtie is only one of several Rhône appellations renowned for them.  In fact, the Côte-Rôtie is the original Shiraz-Viognier producer; these two varieties are, indeed, the two grapes of the appellation, but here the red variety goes by its original moniker, Syrah.

Three wines from the Côte-Rôtie, all Syrah-Viognier blends. The Rostaing (center) is worth $140 and the two Guigal wines (right and left) are both over $450 each.

While there are many Côtes-du-Rhône bottles available at varying prices at most wine shops, Côte-Rôtie wines available in BC are not for everyday sipping.  Also bear in mind, reader, that only some wines from the South of France are blends of both red and white varieties, if this post has influenced your shopping list.

Most red and white blends, like Shiraz/Syrah-Viognier, contain only a small amount of white, and French wines follow strict regulations; AOC law permits only 5% of white wine in Côtes-du-Rhône red blends, for example, and Côte-Rôtie Syrah-Viognier wines can include as much as 20% of the white variety.  But just a touch of Viognier goes a long way.  This unique variety typically adds a delightful perfume of stewed apricot and floral notes and softer palate to red grape varieties… Read more…

W(h)ining: Aromatic Whites and a Toast to the Spring Season

25 Mar

I was delighted to pour a flight of three aromatic white wines on Sunday to celebrate the first day of spring.  I was a bit apprehensive, though, that many of my tasting-bar customers would be less than excited by the offering of all white, off-dry wines.  But the intense fragrance and vibrant, mouthwatering, palate of wines poured from unassuming, Alsatian bottles, pleasantly surprised many folks who might normally shy away from this style of wine.

I’ve noticed that a majority of consumers drink only red, or very little white, and almost everyone, it seems, is afraid of a touch of sweetness in their wine.  I’m not sure if it’s the memory of sugary, flavourless, mass-produced American White Zinfandel circa 1980, or the surprisingly explosive sweetness of that first sip of quality icewine, but it seems to me there is a general reluctance to try off-dry, or, as many people mistakenly call them, ‘sweet’ wines.  An off-dry wine, unlike a sweet wine such icewine, late harvest wine, or port, has just a touch of residual sugar, and, if made to my liking, a good amount of mouthwatering  acidity to balance the sweetness; indeed, this is precisely the difference between an exquisite off-dry Gewürztraminer, and an unpalatably cloying wine of the 80s blush variety.  Acidity in off-dry wine is kind of like a squeeze of lemon in a recipe; it brightens the flavours of the wine, adds a bit of tartness to balance the sweetness, and provides a clean finish to a round palate.

Now, to answer the obvious question I’ve neglected thus far:  What is an aromatic wine?  Wines that are considered ‘aromatic’ exhibit an intense nose, or fragrance, of flowers, fruit, and spices that come from the grape itself, Vinification, by contrast, or the winemaker’s tinkering, produces what we call the bouquet rather than the aroma of the wine.  The bouquet of a Syrah might exhibit characteristics of vanilla and smoke from the oak barrels it is aged in, for example, and its aroma might show luscious black fruit and white pepper.

Some wine varieties (or grapes) considered aromatic are Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, and Pinot Blanc, although wines from these grapes do not always exhibit the intense nose characteristic of an aromatic wine, and sometimes wines can be aromatic even if they’re not made from grapes that are typically considered ‘aromatic.’

The wines I poured on Sunday, however, were all exceptional examples of aromatic wines, and perfect for welcoming the spring season, with their bright aromas of fresh fruit and flowers. Continue reading

What Joe’s Digging: Aussie Grenache

6 Feb

Grenache Noir grapes

Every so often I get on these kicks where I get a bit obsessive about a particular grape or region or producer.  These days I can’t get enough Grenache. More specifically, I’ve been sipping a number of Australian Grenache wines – and enjoying them quite a bit.

While not considered a “Noble” variety, Grenache is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world and an integral part of wines from the Southern Rhone, especially Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.  Grenache is also widely planted in Spain, where its known both as Garnacha and as Alicante, and also pops up in Italy as Cannonau.  Australia is the only New World wine region where Grenache has taken a serious hold, and where some of the world’s best examples are now produced.

In the glass, Aussie Grenache wines often take the appearance of Pinot Noir: pale strawberry-red with subtle violet hues.  Aromas, too, lean towards the light, and delicate.  Bright red berry, floral notes and hard candy are common.  The palate, however, is another story: big, rich mouthfeel is commonplace, and alcohol contents above 14% is the rule.  This dichotomy is what currently attracts me to these wines.  Light, bright and elegant for summer barbeques, but with enough fullness and complexity to stand up to grilled meats and the hardcore red-wine drinkers that eat the grilled meats. Continue reading

Reviewed: Calvet Reserve de L’Estey Medoc (2005)

12 Jan

Calvet Reserve de L'Estey Medoc 2005

Warm and very dry, 2005 was one of the greatest vintages of recent decades in Bordeaux.  So, I was happy to discover a case of ’05 mixed in with the 30-odd cases of 2006 Calvet Reserve de L’Estey Médoc we received in the fall of 2009.  I picked up a bottle and stashed it for the holidays, only opening it recently.

My expectations were not particularly high.  First, this is not a premium Bordeaux:  at $25 it comes in at the value end of the Bordeaux spectrum (in BC).  Second, J. Calvet is not a producer best-known for ultra-high quality wines.  Third,  Calvet is actually a Saint-Émilion producer.  This wine, a Médoc, must be made from purchased grapes – certainly not their ‘flagship’ product.  All my hopes rested on the vintage:  it’s ’05, so it has to be good, right?

Well, it was pretty good.  Bright red cherries and red currants introduce themselves on the nose, followed by chocolate, dill, anise and hints of earth.   The palate follows a similar pattern, with bright, ripe fruit up front,  moving into dried herbs, cocoa and long tannins.  An approachable and very quaffable Bordeaux from an excellent vintage.  Now to try that “B” vintage ’06 to compare…

At last check, there were a few ’05 left at Everything Wine (North Vancouver), and plenty of 2006.  $24.99

An $1,100 Flight to Flavour Country

19 Nov

my first Grange!

While I wasn’t lucky enough to enjoy the wisdom of host Chris Sharpe, working late last night did result in the reward of sampling the heels of the wines from his Ultra Premium Tasting.  If you happen to have $1,100 you need to dispose of, these five wines will do the trick nicely. All are available at Everything Wine and prices listed are current retail.

Quinta do Vale Meao 2005
Douro, Portugal

Touriga Nacional (40%), Touriga Franca (25%), Tinta Roriz (25%)

This wine’s nose is charming and gorgeous, with concentrated ripe red berries, pretty floral notes, earth and tar.  The palate is bright and lush, with red raspberry, sweet cherry and peppery spice. Complex, exotic and hugely appealing, I would gladly drink this wine daily – and with just about any fare. This doesn’t strike me as a wine that would fare well in the cellar, but with luscious fruit like this, who wants to wait anyway? $109.99

~

Achaval Ferrer Finca Mirador 2006
Medrano, Mendoza, Argentina
Malbec (100%)

From a 12 acre vineyard at 2400′ asl harvested to 0.75 tons per acre. The colour and aroma seemed to indicate a wine with some maturity, with it’s slightly brick-hued rim and subtle earth scents.  That illusion was soon shattered, as the palate bursted with bright red and black fruits, fresh and ripe with mouthwatering acidity.  Suprising, but delicious nonetheless.  I’d definitely leave this one in the cellar another half-dozen years. $119.99

~

Numanthia Termanthia 2005
Toro, Spain
Tinto de Toro (100%)

From an 11 acre plot, 2600 feet above sea level, planted with 100+ year old ungrafted vines, the yields were well under 1 ton of fruit per acre. The wine was barrel fermented and received the ‘200% new oak’ treatment for 20 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. It is big, tannic and extremely ageworthy. ~ erobertparker.com

A wonderfully complex nose, with layers of black cherry, sweet cassis, blackberry, caramel, licorice, mineral, toast and tar.  I went back two or three times to take it all in before taking a sip.  When I did, I received a powerul mouthful of rich black fruits, baking spices and a mess of fine tannins. Structured enough for a decade or more of cellaring, but a wonderfully unique and enjoyable wine now. Maybe the best Tempranillo I have tasted. Fantastic. $259.99

~

Shafer Hillside Select 2004
Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, California
Cabernet Sauvignon (100%)

Incredibly rich, from the sweet cassis and vanilla-oak nose to the silky mouthfeel and super-long and textured finish.  The Hillside exhibits opulent black cherry, chocolate, graphite and oak.  32 months in 100% new French oak lends a silky, sexy, layered palate and a flawless finish. This wine is beautifully intense – one of the most pleasurable sips I’ve had in a long, long while. $325.99

~

Penfolds Grange Bin 95 2004
South Australia
Shiraz (96%), Cabernet Sauvignon (4%)

…grown to very special vineyards in the Barossa and McLaren Vale, with a component from the distinguished Magill Estate site in the Adealide Hills. Grange remains as Australia’s most famous wine, a peerless wine of historical significance, officially listed as a Heritage Icon of South Australia. Above-average winter rainfall led into a promising vintage, characterised by mild conditions up until February, followed by warmer weather conditions throughout March and April. Penfolds South Australian vineyards fared well, producing wines of elegance and intensity. Matured for sixteen months in exclusively new American oak hogsheads. Alcohol 14.3% ~ PenfoldsGrangeForSale.com

My first Grange!  Tauted as one of the greatest vintages of Australia’s most prestigious wine, the 2004 Grange might never have had a chance at living up to its $600AUD pre-release price. Concentrated ripe black fruits, cherry cola, smoked meat. The palate is very concentrated, but still bright.  I expected more – more tannin, more acid, more fruit, more alcohol.  But this wine is not for drinking now – it is all about 10 years from now. $424.99

Whisk(e)y Files: Forty Creek

29 Oct

forty creek

Forty Creek Premium Barrel Select Whisky

I’m only just recently getting into Canadian Whisky, but this has been an early standout.  For only $25 (BC), Forty Creek offers a great sweet oak nose reminiscent of maple syrup (how very Canadian) and a rich, sweet and dangerously smooth palate with flavours of vanilla, apricot, cinnamon and walnut.

Pioneer of the Year Malt Advocate Magazine, New York City
Double Gold Medal San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Gold Medal Monde Selection, Brussels, Belgium