Saturday, June 30, 2007

Not A Lot

I've yet to find a very good wine closed by one of those fake plastic corks. Although not intuitive, this is in contrast to screwtops, of which I have had a few good ones.
The Concha y Toro, Winemakers Lot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pirque vineyard, 2005 continues the trend. Nice packaging leads to a pleasant blackberry palate, but it's a little austere with a moderately tannic mouthfeel. Leaves the mouth quite dry. It did better with food.
I initially waffled between "OK" and "good" but ended up giving it a "good" rating because of it's food performance.
However, there's really no reason to buy it at $16 a bottle because for a few bucks more you can buy the Marques de la Casa Concha lineup of wines from the same producer - and these latter wines are clearly superior. If I was the winemaker, I'd put my name on the Casa Concha bottles, not this one!


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mendoza: The End!

Well, all good things must come to an end. On Day 6, for lunch, we paired a sidewalk cafe pizza with a $10 bottle of San Felipe, Malbec Roble, Maipu, 2005. Typical, generic malbec with a ripe fruity attack, medium bodied, good black fruit on the mid palate, fast fading finish. An "OK to good" wine by itself, but if you include value judgements....this, like the wines we were drinking all week, is astounding value.
For dinner, we ate at a trendy restaurant called LaSal. We started with the Enrique Foster, Malbec, Edicion Limitada, 2003. This bodega only makes malbec, and this is one of their best. They weren't kidding when they say limited edition - this was bottle number 0097 of a 1,000 case production. Rich black fruit on the nose, this is a full bodied A-1 wine. Bramble juicy palate and an endless finish (a poor finish is supposed to be a malbec flaw...these guys seem to have solved the problem). Wow.
Food wasn't too shabby either.
The second bottle we had to indulge in was a beauty called the Dolium, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, 2002. This spent 16 months in american oak. It has a dreamy nose that is about as aromatic as you can get with rich oak mixed with dark fruit wafting out of the glass. Soft but thick on the palate, full bodied, gorgeous vanilla oak - simply amazing. Wow.
Lunch on day 7 was at the best hotel in Mendoza - the Hyatt. The Angus beef was matched with the Chakana, Private Selection 2004, 60% Cabernet S., 20% Malbec and 20% Petit Verdot. With a 6000 bottle production run, I don't think we will see this in Canada. Bright berry nose, medium - full bodied, zesty berry palate with well integrated French oak - not overpowering at all. An elegant, long, chocolate finish.
Then, it's off to the airport for the long ride home. Check it out - they even have vines growing at the airport.
Lessons learned this week:
1. Argentina makes very good wine and it is sold for amazing prices locally. You can order the best bottle in most restaurants without even looking at the price.
2. Many of these wines you will never see north of the equator.
3. The food is excellent and also extremely good value.
4. These have to be some of the most scenic vineyards anywhere.

I think we'll be back.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mendoza, Day Five

Winter in the city - not bad when you can sit outside and enjoy a bottle (or two) of wine, eh?
And how about this hunk of steak? You thought this was a roast beef for 4 people? No way, we're in Argentina remember. This is the 18 ounce Lomo, and it is the first steak I have eaten that is so big that we had to order a second bottle in order to finish it. The first bottle was the Salentein, Cabernet Sauvignon Roble, 2003 from a multimillion dollar new Dutch owned winery in the Uco Valley. A spicy, berry nose with an ultrasmooth mouthfeel and silky, fine grained tannins. Black fruit and a long finish. A "good" wine, not quite in the "wow" category. The second bottle that we chewed through was the Luigi Bosca, Syrah Reserve, 2004 from the older, more established area of Maipu. This is a full blown, juicy, full bodied, shiraz in style wine. Almost sweet plums, very different in style from the Salentein cab. Wow.

Okay, I know you're tired of the views - but check this one out -
right after a snowstorm in the Andes.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Mendoza, Day Four

Yup, it really is this pretty in the vineyards down there. Day 4 in Mendoza I think I will always remember as the "Bonarda Brunch". We visited Finca Los Amigos and were treated to a magnificent day in the winter sunshine (20 degrees C) by the owner, the most gracious Swiss gentleman Peter Meuli. With no food in the belly (we slept in and missed breakfast) Peter opened a bottle of his Finca Los Amigos, Bonarda, 2006 which clocked in at a whopping 14.9% alchohol for lunch. This was a young, chewy, rich, fruity wine from 65 year old vines. Medium tannins, loads of berries and spice. Very impressive for such a young wine. And the wine kept coming!....Peter's dog, Lara, probably had the best idea by chomping on vineyard dog food - almost raisined supersweet grapes left over from the last harvest!

Peter then decided to treat us to his 2005 Bonarda which he had elaborated with the press you can see on the left...his eonologist was his vineyard foreman, Felix! This just showed me what the potential is in these vineyards -

this "home-made", old vine bonarda was dense black in the glass, with an incredible nose of blackberries. Intense blackcurrent jam with slighly rough tannins (it was aged in an old oak barrel) greeted the palate, with a noticebly tart finish. After one hour the nose opened up even more with hints of bacon. Wow. The best "home-made" wine I have ever tasted. Too bad the corks Felix used to seal these bottles will not stand up to aging...who knows how good this wine could have become.

Next up, back at Club Tapiz, they have a wine tasting every night. Because there were only two of us staying at the hotel, they only opened two bottles of wine for us. The Zolo, Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 delivered zesty tropical fruits, a nice break from all the heavy wines we had been imbibing. It was "OK". The Tapiz, Malbec, 2004 was distinctly different from the reserva malbec that we had had the night before. Medium bodied, blackcurrant fruit, soft, an "OK" wine.
Now, on to bigger things for dinner. And what a dinner we had! Walking into an Asada, Joel asked the waiter to bring the restaurant speciality. Well here it is - and delicious it was. And we ate the whole damn thing!!. To match it, we went into the restaurant cellar and chose a suitable foil (which happened to be the most expensive wine in there) - the Sophenia, Synthesis, "The Blend", (merlot, malbec, cab. s.) 2004 is from 4000 foot vineyards and boasts Michel Rolland as it's winemaker. Black as night, it is a brooding full bodied monster of a wine. We were drinking it way too young - this wine wants to go on and on but it's too closed right now. A good wine, going on to being a "wow".

(and thank you, Peter and Lara!)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mendoza Day Three

On day three we were picked up by a friend of a friend, Hector, who owns a restaurant in the town of Tupungato. Hector drove us around to several bodegas and vineyards. The first stop was a visit to the bodega at finca Koch where the winemaker, Valeria, took us into the bodega to barrel and tank sample last year's and this year's wines. The idea was to show us the difference between the wines of the northern Mendoza vineyards of Agrelo and the wines of the more southerly Uco Valley. They were tasted at cellar temperature (10 degrees celsius) so were quite crisp. The 2006 Malbec barrel sample (new oak) from Tupungato (Uco) was bursting with fruit and quite tannic. The 2006 Malbec barrel sample from from Agrelo was not as smooth, all three tasters preferred the Uco malbec. Other wines include the 2006 Cabernet from Tupungato (aged in a 2nd year barrel - was quite dry with hard tannins, tasted of strawberries and was quite good) and a 2007 Merlot from Agrelo that had only been in the barrel for two months (still sweet, but quite smooth). We then had two tank samples of 2007 Malbec from two different vineyards - was basically structured fruit juice. Valeria gave us a parting gift of her 2005 bottling that had not yet been released - a blend of 30% malbec/40% Cab sauvignon/20% merlot/10% Cab franc aged in a mix of 1, 2 and 3 year old oak; we brought it back to Canada and opened it together with about 10 other bottles given to us as gifts on the trip; for our group of tasters this wine was the clear favourite, being drained the fastest.
Then, time for lunch....Hector and his lovely wife treated us to local trout three their restaurant "McManus" - probably the best restaurant in Tupungato.
Served with lunch was the Koch Cabernet Sauvignon, Tupungato, 2003, a medium bodied wine that spent one year in new oak. It had fine, dusty tannins and dull fruit, although it opened up with time leading me to believe we were drinking it too young. In contrast, the Koch, Malbec, Agrelo, 2005 was fruitier and less tannic, more approachable and enjoyable than the cab. A good wine.
Dinner that night at Club Tapiz was fantastic. This "club" is a small hotel (7 rooms) set in a functioning vineyard with one of the top restaurants in the region. We tried the Tapiz, Malbec Reserve, 2004 with dinner - light berry notes on the nose, medium to full bodied palate, refined and elegant for a young malbec. Very smooth, a "good" wine.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mendoza Day Two

We're now in the Valle de Uco, that fertile plain just east of the Andes. And what's better than having lunch in a great little roadside restaurant where you can order the wine from a bodega that you just passed down the street? The Finca La Luz, Callejon del Crimen, Merlot 2005 turned out to be a pretty good lunch wine. Medium bodied, light oak, attractive nose, fruity...a solid "good" wine. The sun was shining, the food was good - so, just had to have another local bottle. Time for the highly regarded O. Fournier bodega to step up to the plate with their Beta Crux, 2003, a blend of tempranillo (not widely grown in Mendoza) and malbec. An interesting wine - complex and full bodied. "Good".
Check out the view from these vineyards that creep up to 5000 feet on the side of the the snot out of the scenery in Bordeaux or the NAPA valley. PS - everything is brown not green coz we're in the southern hemisphere and it's winter!!
So, of for dinner we went. Interestingly, many of the restaurants in Mendoza have a wine cellar instead of a wine linst - you go into their cellar and choose a bottle; in this particular restaurant ("Azafran"), the sommelier is on hand to help you with your selection. He steered us towards the Nieto Senentiner, Bonarda, Partida Limitada, 2002, one of the most expensive wines in their cellar (and it was still a quite affordable $60). We don't get a lot of Bonarda up here in Canada, so it was interesting to try. This was a medium-full bodied effort with tangy blackcurrants and silky moderate tannins. Definitely worth investigating this grape. A "Good" wine, just not quite my style.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mendoza, Day One

Just got back from an incredible trip that I advise all you wine lovers to undertake. I have toured and tasted in many wine regions in the world but I think this was the best for combination of scenery, nice people, food quality, cost and last but not least, the quality of the wines. We flew from Santiago, Chile right over the Andes to Mendoza (pronounced "mendossa") as seen above. There are two wine regions close to Mendoza city, the beautiful Uco Valley and the older wine producing areas of Lujan de Cuyo, Agrelo, Maipu and Barrancas.
It took exactly 90 minutes after arrival in Mendoza to find to best malbec we have ever tasted - the Familia Cassone, Obra Prima, Lujan de Cuyo, Malbec 2003 was an inky, intense, blow us away, "wow" effort, and we were told that the 2002 was even better. Just don't expect to find this and many of the other blockbusters we tasted this week in your local neighbourhood wine store!!
We then sampled a 5 flight malbec tasting at a wine bar, all were good. Then I had the best Cabernet Sauvignon I can remember having (which may mean I have a short memory or else it was bloody good...), the Vina Cobos, Bramare, Marchiori Vineyard, 2004. It was a caramelly smelling, rich thick chocolately concoction that was better than a recently drunk Caymus Special Select 2000 according to my tasting companion. Who was I to argue when confronted with such a nectar? This was tasted with the impressive Achaval Ferrer, Finca Bella Vista, Malbec 2004. Only 125 cases of this monster were made. It tasted of raspberries, cooked plums and marmelade. Brighter than the Bramare, it was also thick and rich with mouth coating tannins. The finish went on forever. These two wines were "WOW".
We then attended a tasting of the Dona Paula line of wines with their winemaker. Their Sauvingon Blanc, Los Cardos, 2007 was a very forgettable tart effort that was basically a barrel sample. The Chardonnay, Estate, 2006 was barrel fermented in new french oak and was crisp but short and acidic, not very pleasant. The Los Cardos, Syrah, 2006 had no nose to speak of, was very plain, an OK light sipper, no reason to buy it. The Los Cardos, Malbec, 2006 was another mass produced ho-hum effort, also just OK. A huge leap up was their Estate Malbec, 2005. Refined, full bodied and tannic. "Good". Then we were privileged to be the first to publicly taste their Selection, Tannat-Malbec, 2004 that was even better - fantastic, chewy and full bodied, the fourth "wow" wine of the day.
But wait, we were not over yet! Dinner was at a fantastic bistro called LaSal. Perfectly paired with a filet mignon that simply melted in my mouth was the Altos Los Hormigas, Malbec Reserva, 2005. A closed nose was followed by a full bodied, tarry, tannic wine that blows the early and mid palate away. It's only fault was that it was a little flat on the finish. Close to being a wow wine!
And then, finally, sleep...


Monday, June 04, 2007


"Ripe and solidly built, with dark plum and raspberry fruit layered with violet, mineral and licorice flavors. The fresh acidity keeps it all together. Drink now through 2008. 5,830 cases made. 90 points." --James Molesworth, Wine Spectator
Well, well when I saw this one for sale for $22 I figured it should be a no-brainer, right? Not so fast...ripe it is with zesty raspberry fruit, almost too much so. The only violet in it is it's colour - opaque with a violet rim. Licorice I can faintly ascertain, but everything is overpowered by that is so prominent that my mouth tingles for minutes after a sip. In it's favour, if you decant it for a couple of hours it settles down a bit. So, if your palate needs waking up, crack a bottle of this, boring it isn't.
I say it's a "good" wine, which doesn't equate to 90 points in my books. I wonder what would have happened to this one if it was aged in new oak for at least a year...

Friday, June 01, 2007

New World Trio

This week I thought I'd compare 3 reasonably priced wines from three new world wineries. I'll start with my favourite - the William Cole, Carmenere Reserve, Casablanca 2004. The owner is a dot-com millionaire who I guess is pursuing his new passion by making wine in Chile. This wine blows dense fruit right through your palate. Not complex, but a full bodied fresh chunky wine. A "Good" wine, and amazing value at $14. My next favourite was the Gemtree, Bloodstone Shiraz, 2005, from McLaren Vale in Australia. Another chunky fruit bomb, also in your face. If this had any complexity to it at all, it would be a really interesting wine. Another "Good", reasonable value at $19. Lastly (and leastly), was the "L" de Lyeth, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, 2004 from California. This is a medium bodied, more elegant effort than the prior two wines. It had light berry notes on the nose that blew off rather quickly. Was well made but kind of boring. In it's favour, it would match food better than those other wines (which I think are more suited to sipping). I'd give it an "okay" rating, would not buy more at $18 a pop.