Sunday, April 30, 2006

Beauty and the (not quite) Beast

This weekend was gorgeous, sunny and warm and the company was most excellent. So, I had to open a nice bottle of red, chose a highly rated aussie, the St. Hallet, Barossa Blackwell Shiraz, 2003. This was the beauty - a beautiful nose, beautiful creamy fruit, beautifully integrated tannins, overall a pretty elegant (for Barossa) yet still full bodied wine.
The Verdict: pretty damn close to a WOW.
Value: Not cheap at $29, but worth it.

While shopping on friday, something caught my eye - a box wine that promised to be more than tanker boxed plonk (box wine is usually pretty beastly stuff). The Banrock Station, 2004 Shiraz needed a tryout because when we go off on wilderness trips, we can't take bottles. Tetrapak boxes are a great convenience (light, pretty indestructible and burnable!) and because wine tastes soooo gooood out in the bush, even an OK wine becomes good. This one left a nice reddish tinge on the plastic cap (ha ha!) and smelled nice and fruity. On the palate it was unanimous - this wasn't a bad wine. Lotsa strawberry/raspberry fruit with very light pleasant tannins.
The Verdict: Good.
Value: at $14 for a one litre box, good.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Beer Week

Well, just got back from a week with the boys down south. We drank mainly beer in the 90 degree heat, especially since my brother Dave "loves" beer. Unfortunately, he prefers Coors Lite.... Nevertheless, did discover a new beer that wasn't bad, Yuengling (or something like that), a lager brewed in Pittsburgh.
I did manage to sneak a bottle of wine in - we were cruising for some food at 11pm and the only store open was a massive Walmart. I don't normally patronize that slaveshop that underpays it's employees (and this one had a sign out "now hiring, 55 positions open"...unbelievable), but we had no choice if we wanted to buy breakfast stuff (and beer). They have a little wine section of little interest except for a few possibilities; one caught my eye, the Ravenswood Vintners Selection Zinfandel, 2004 mainly because it was listed at $8.99US. This wine normally sells for 20 bucks in canada so it was worth a shot. It was a pleasant, fruity, light bodied wine with nice berry undertones and essentially no tannins discernable. Went down quickly split amongst 3 beer rebels.
The verdict: OK.
Value: Good at 9 bucks, ridiculous at 20.
Tonight, felt like a meaty wine so cracked a bottle of Montes Cabernet Sauvignon, oak aged, 2004 from Chile. Not much on the nose but a nice medium weight palate, typical Cab berry flavours with mouth coating tannins.
The verdict: Good, a "premium" mid-week wine.
Value: In the $15-20 range, so good value for the money. Would buy more.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Fancy Packaging

Hate to say it, but wine is a commodity and producers need to sell their wares, no matter how bad they are. This leads to "fancy packaging" trying to seduce the potential buyer with nice or trendy labels and some tired old cliches. I think I hooked a culprit tonight, although it was recommended by the LCBO's bi-monthly buying guide. The Rockbare Shiraz, 2003 looks good on the shelf, a minimalist but classy front label and then a hip picture of the crew responsible on the back. Hey, this guy in the middle looks cool - must make a young, vibrant wine. eh?
Well, there's nothing really wrong with this wine, but, then again, there's nothing really right either. An insipid sipper. Just goes to show, don't expect the wine to taste like the label!!! The marketing didn't stop on the bottle either - go to rockbare's website and if you want a good laugh, read their tasting notes of this exact same wine as you drink it - I have never seen such hyperbolic crap! On second thoughts, don't bother to drink this wine as that means you are buying into their trap and you are throwing your money away....
If I could make wine, I would be embarrassed to actually put my picture on something like this...maybe the cool guy should go back to wine school.
The Verdict: OK.
Value: Not there at $17.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Cool Carmenere

Chilled out with a cool carmenere tonight, from Calina, 2004 Reserva, from Chile of course. Why do I say of course? coz Chile is the only country which bottles carmenere by itself in any qunatity.
What is carmenere? it probably originated in France (it used to be used quite a bit in Bordeaux), but got transplanted to Chile way long ago and then people apparently forgot what it was - it was just assumed to be merlot coz it tastes a bit like merlot. Anyways, now the Chileans diligently bottle it without blending with other varietals and it does quite well by itslelf. This example is dark purple, stains the teeth and has a nice beefy, beety mouthfeel. Nothing special, but nevertheless well made and typical of the way the Chileans make this wine.
The Verdict: Good
Value: Not bad at $16.95.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Festival of Indulgence, Round One.

Well I finally got time to talk about some really nice wines that we recently tasted on a ski/snowboard trip to the BC mountains near Golden. Here is the skinny on the wines (minus the Chapel Hill shiraz which I talked about a few days ago and the first night's wines (see previous entries)). My three buddies Joel, Carlo and Wayne helped drain the bottles and add their two cents to the tasting notes.

The Clos du Val, 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, California, was sent over to our table by a very nice gentleman from California, name of Gary. Good skier, too. It was a bribe in order to get the bus to leave (back to Calgary) one hour earlier so he could catch his flight. This wine had quite the distinctive stink on the nose, we all agreed. Distinctive and unmistakable. A very full bodied mouth filling and interesting wine this was. The Verdict: Good. Value for the money - hard to gauge, I don't know the retail price. It cost $90 in the restaurant, so I think it would struggle to get a high value/price rating.

The Katnook Estate, Cab, 2002, Coonawarra was a star. A dense black wine, enticing pungent oaky nose, full bodied classic cab. The verdict: Good, bordering on WOW. Value for money: At 30 bucks, good value.

Sumac Ridge, Black Sage vineyard, 2002 Cab - we had to have at least one BC wine while we're here, and this one came highly recommended. A weak nose, initially tannic and austere. Got the thumbs down by Joel, I thought average but disappointing. The next day it really opened up and was quite flavourful. The verdict: OK, let it breathe and it scoots up to Good. Value for money: hey, at $14.49 (wines bought in Alberta can be quite the deal), this is Good value.

We had an Italian taste off one nite -the Caratan, Marco Felluga, 1998 was supposed to win - you know, expensive wines should beat cheaper ones... This had a excellent bouquet but fell flat on the palate. A smooth and easy drinker. The verdict: Good. Value: at $53, hopelessly outclassed. For comparison we tried the Masi, Brolio Campofiorin 1999. This was the opposite of the Caratan - weak nose but quite nice and full bodied on the palate. The verdict: Good. Value: beats the crap outta the Caratan at $25.99.

Next up was the Ballast Stone, 2001 Shiraz, Currency Creek (Australia). Nice nose, full bodied and delicious. This one was in the running for a wow but didn't quite make it - The verdict was Good. It is Good value for the money at $25.

Two Californian's were tested side by side. The winner was the Gallo (don't laugh - it wasn't in a jug and wasn't a "pink zinfandel"... these guys can make good wine when they want to) Barelli Creek Vineyard, Cab, 1999. Simply a very good, chewy, dense wine. This one gets a Good, and is Good value at $26.99. I generally find the single vineyard Gallos quite well made, would have no problem buying and drinking them if they are less than 30 bucks. Somewhat disappointing was the Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, 2004. Don't get me wrong, this is a very enjoyable pleasant wine, but not as good as the Gallo it went head to head against. The verdict: OK to Good. Value: not worth the money at $27.99.

And now, the star of the week - the Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Cab, 2001. This one kept getting chosen off the winelist, a surefire sign of respect. This was a lucious, juicy thoroughly enjoyable wine. The verdict was around the table a WOW. Value - this would probably sell retail for $25, so buy it all!!!

Thanks to my fellow tasters,


Monday, April 10, 2006

Wolf Blech

Time was when if Wolf-Blass was on the label, it was gonna be a fun wine to drink. Unfortunatley, since they were swallowed up in to conglomeratedom, the quality and fun factor has taken a turn for the worse. Now, I don't mean to say that Wolf Blass can't make good wine - they most certainly can, as their Black, Brown and Grey label wines clearly demonstrate. What has happened is that they have used their reputation to sell their cheaper wines to the unwary. What do I mean? well, the Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon used to be a no-brainer...pick up a bottle and enjoy. But, over the years, quality has declined - the typical Joe Blow still buys it thinking it is good, but in reality if you remember how good it really was, today's version is crap. But it still carries the yellow label...they should have sold this wine with a new colour label - maybe pink or something, then I wouldn't be able to complain about the marketing ploy. So, if you want a good W-B wine, drop the money and buy their best stuff.
The 2004 version has NO nose, and not much on the palate ("maybe a little bit of oak" was the girlfriends verdict). Barely passable, boring, nothing to bring you back to the glass.
The Verdict: crap.
Value for money: at $18.95, it's a joke.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Chapel Hill Experience

Well all you avid readers, the stars are aligned because I got to do a mini-vertical (albeit spread over two weeks!) tasting recently. I have returned from heliski heaven (where we experienced 160,000 feet of real vertical) back to the drudgery of WORK (you all know about that, eh?), but we did manage to polish off about 20 bottles of wine that week - I'll be giving the full report later, when I have time - including a real star, a CHAPEL HILL Shiraz, McLaren Vale, 1998. This wine had been sitting in my (sad excuse for) cellar for 5 years and like all well anticipated wines, I wanted to share it with my buddies for a special occasion. Even my biggest critic, the famous M. Cyr himself, was present to add his two cents worth...
A dense black wine with a tar stained cork emerged from the bottle. A wonderful hedonistic (I actually hate to use that word, since I hear it soooo often from that overrated jackass Robert Parker Jr.) aroma wafted up into our noses - ahhh, some oak to bite into we thought. Turns out the 27 months this wine spent in barrels was not wasted - this baby could stand up to the oaking. A full bodied beauty.
The Verdict: Good to Wow, mixed consensus of 4 tasters.
Value for the money: It cost perhaps 20 bucks 5 years ago, so as I say, buy it by the case (if you can find it!!!).
This brings me to tonights wine - wouldn't you know it (and this is where the stars had to be aligned), the LCBO had the 2001 version of the same wine when I went shopping yesterday. Opening the bottle, same dark stained cork, but the wine was not quite as opaque as the '98. A pleasant but definitely lighter nose. On the palate, a dwarf like version of the '98. Very pleasant, easy drinking, actually suits food better than the earlier vintage.
The verdict: since I live for dense chewy inky sippers, nowhere near the '98: just OK. If I hadn't had the '98 recently, it might have gone up to good...
Value for money: at $18.95, reasonable, but don't think I'd buy another. Lets wait and try the 2002.