Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Old Gumper

I have a friend who hates the big blustery Aussie shiraz style - he prefers old style euro wines. Well, sometimes you just have to wait. Take this wine, uncovered from a corner of my "cellar". A mid-price fruit driven new world wine that you would think should be drunk within 5 years. But the Hamilton, Gumpers Block, Shiraz, McLaren Vale, 1997 would fool many in a blind taste. It's still quite opaque but has the bricky rim that gives away it's age. On the nose it's all dirty socks - those of you who love stinky nosed wines, this is right down your alley. On tasting it, first comes tobacco with a hint of black fruit, followed by, of all things, green peppers and spice. This is definitely more on the vegetal side unlike it's fruity youth. And it's a revelation with roast chicken - smooth and elegant.
Overall, a good wine, especially with food.
So, try shoving a few bottles of those thick bodied fruit bombs away for a while, they don't cost much and you might be surprised (a complex euro "food" wine like this would cost you at least double). It ran for about $20 or so 10 years ago, newer vintages are similar in price.
I'll let you know what we think when we do a blind head-to- head of my last bottle of this vintage with a newer one.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Count Chocula and Dr. Jekyll

Well, back to reality. Reality is, we Plebes drink $10-20 wines most of the time...I seem to have been spoiled over the holidays. But, if these two characters are everyday wines, maybe there's something to look forward to after all. "Count Chocula" is the Chocalan, Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenere-Merlot, Reserve, Maipo, 2004. Black in the glass, there is a huge blackcurrant jam nose. On tasting, your palate is whacked by an unapologetic raspberry-blackberry fruit bomb followed by a little coffee and, yes, bitter chocolate! Full bodied and concentrated, this is a real teeth stainer. I rate it "good". An absolute steal for $14. Don't expect to age it, though - the next day it had lost a lot of oomph leading me to believe it that it's at its peak.
Now for Dr. Jekyll. A friend at the wine shop recommended the Jekel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Arroyo Seco, Monterey 2005. Nice colour, not as dark as the Chocalan. Medium bodied with nice bright black fruit but a little one dimensional...lacks depth. Light smooth tannins tempered by a spiciness with a moderate finish. This a "good" wine also, I guess the price is right for a California cab at $17. Would I buy more? Well, my answer to that question was to go out and buy a half dozen more Count Choculas....

Monday, January 21, 2008


How often do you get to celebrate birthdays? Once per year, so better make it a good one. Natch, that includes some fine refreshment. And it doesn't get much better than this.
The teaser to start was one of the most expensive Canadian red wines you can buy - the Mission Hill, Oculus, Okanagan 2003 from B.C. It's still too young but we want to try a bottle per year to see how it develops. Plum compote nose. Chewy, tannic, full bodied but smoother than last year, it seemed a little straightforward at first yielding dry black fruit. However, with a bit of bread and cheese mushroom and coffee notes became apparent. I still think this hits the "wow" factor but will be better in a few years. Struggles for value at about $60/bottle, but you Canucks out there have to sacrifice a bit and try out these kind of wines - they might surprise you with what Canada can produce.
Unfortunately for the Oculus is got compared to the Torre Muga, Rioja, 2003. "Wow" right off the bat. A fantastic nose of warm fresh toffee. Plush and teeth coating, this absolutely attacks your palate with rich fruit. I remarked - "this is like a double Oculus". The best wine I have tasted yet this year? Pricey at $78, but you're not going to get this kind of class much cheaper.
Next I pulled a bottle of Bordeaux to try. I bought this bottle of Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux, 1989 at the winery in 1991. Good job we drank this one now - check out the cork on the bottom photo - it was just hanging on without leaking! The wine was fine, though. Bricky colour as would be expected. Gorgeous aromas, earthy but the berries are still there - I could breathe this forever. Supersmooth silky forest flavours. Wow. Enough said. This reminds me why I buy and store Bordeaux. How much does it cost? - well, it's priceless unless you shop at auctions. Just hope your friends have deep cellars.
For the slab of beef served at dinner some kind old soul brought a magnum of the Kenwood, Artist Series, Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997. Full bodied and smooth also, it is perhaps a little less refined than the Prieure Lichine. But it had more fruit plus some chocolate flavours. Wow!! (am I getting sick of saying that? No...!!). Can't do a value judgement as this one is not available for buying either...).
The last wine up was the one that probably shouldn't have been opened - our palates had taken such a pounding it was difficult to do it justice. The Pesquera, Reserva, Ribera del Duero, 2003 was also pretty damn good. Mossy, forest nose. Deep and dark fruit with hints of cola (!?! - my taste buds were really reeling). Wow.
So, there you have it - a perfect evening.
(and no, the Dow did NOT get opened - that goes back into the cellar to be enjoyed at a later date).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Living up in Canada we NEVER see wine for less than $7 a bottle and even at less than $10, it is rarely considered "OK" by me and only once in a blue moon as "Good". So, what you can get elsewhere (especially in France, Spain or Argentina) right from the grocery shops is pretty well unbelievably cheap and often actually good. And, believe it or not, you Yanks are not too badly off either. Just go to "Trader Joe's", a great chain store operation that sells half decent stuff. They even have their own wine line, marketed under the Charles Shaw label for $2 a bottle. That's not a typo. TWO bucks. Therefore it's often called "two buck Chuck". This is bulk wine from California that they must buy for almost nothing; the bottle, cork, label, shipping, etc must cost at least $1.50 per bottle, so they're practically giving it away. Now, don't get carried away - they bottle most of the major varietals and most of it is horrid stuff, but, for some reason, the California Shiraz , 2006, rises above this. It is actually a "good" wine!!! Light berry aromas and really good fruit on the palate, this is medium bodied and an absolute steal for two bucks. I could drink this every afternoon! Hey, try it - whatyagotta lose? 2 bucks! (and you can always cook with it).
Now, this is not all they carry - I even saw a bottle of Caymus Special Select on their shelves (for over a hundred bucks...). However, I picked up a bottle of Bordeaux that costs over $20 at home for only $11. From the highly regarded 2005 vintage also. The Chateau de Seguin, Cuvee Prestige, 2005 has nice colour but a shy nose. Dry, tannic but balanced with black fruit and green peppers, this is a teeth staining Bordeaux at a steal of a price. A "good" wine. I'm glad I bought lotsa futures of the '05 vintage, coz if this is what you can get for $11, whoo -hoo!!!


Sunday, January 13, 2008

New Year's Eve and the Magical Bucket

This just has to be the most fun wine cooler bucket you can get. If you're not sober, of course! You can stare at it for, well, minutes as it glows different colours. Wow.
Now (rubbing my hands with glee) comes the night's wines. And, best of all, we were in L.A. so the prices are U.S. and CHEAP!!! First up was a cracker. The El Vinculo, Crianza, La Mancha, 2002 should not be this good. It comes from the rather pedestrian appelation of LaMancha in Spain. Luckily we had had this in a wine bar in Madrid years ago on the local sommelier's recommendation and enjoyed it then, so when I saw it I snapped it up in the LA wine shop. A somewhat soapy (yes, soapy) vanilla nose leads into a soft, silky but full bodied fruitcake and fig rich wine. Sultry. Wow. A steal at $25.
The Ridge, Lytton Springs, 2005 is a blend but mostly zinfandel. Fresh berries on the nose. Plush but medium bodied blackberry smoothie with hints of coconut, especially on the finish. A "good" wine, but I prefer their cabs. Not worth the $28.
The J.L. Chave, St.Joseph, 2003 is a bit of an anomaly. St. Joseph's are from the northern Rhone, are made from Syrah and are usually not as deep as this example was. Smoke, coriander and leather on the nose, this is a full bodied chewy piece of leather with a long, smokey finish. Very old world in style, it needed a BBQ'd duck to smooth it out. Wow. An absolute steal at $26.
Next was the Amancaya, Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, 2006, a combined Rothschild/Catena effort. It was a "good" wine, on the old world side of the fence (for Argentina), price was about right at $17.
The evening finished in fine style with a fantastic Sauternes, the Chateau Coutet 2003, and a nice alternative to Port, a Banyuls from the southeast of France.
Thank you, Maria and Neil, for hosting the wonderful evening.
Cheers!! And may this be a great new year for all of you!!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Holiday Roundup, Part Two

Off to the races on Christmas day with two old world wines - First up was a Burgundy, the Francois Charles, La Combolte, Hautes Cotes de Beaune, 2001. Stinky nose on this one, it is almost transparent in the glass. Light bodied with tangy red berries, quite elegant. This is a "white meat" wine. I rate it "OK", mainly because I am not a big fan of Burgundy. If you are, you'd probably call it "good". No clue how much it costs, but I'm sure it's overpriced like most Burgundies.

On to the Rhone. The Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape 2003 is from a very hot vintage. I expected big things from it. Instead, we got a pale coloured, light bodied wine that tasted of warm licorice. Disappointing as a sipper but in the context, it went well with turkey; that earned it an "OK" rating. I'm definite this was overpriced.

Okay, enough with the disappointments? I hoped not so I cracked a bottle of a multi-award winning wine (ho-hum....), the DeBortoli, Vat 4, Petit Verdot, 2005 from Australia. I usually love petit verdot. Big mistake. This has a blackberry nose with a heavy dose of white chalk. On the palate is blackberry hard candy, but not too sweet, mixed with that same chalkiness evident on the nose. Still, it tastes fake. Short finish too. Oh well - what do you expect to get for $17 you say? more than this!!! My rating: "OK". Value - poor.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Holiday Roundup - Part One

Ho ho ho!! While away for the holidays managed to try some stuff not available from our local wine monopoly (aka the "SAQ" - the "societe des alcools du Quebec for those of you who live in the free world). Prices for these wines are as paid in BC, Canada. First up was the Luigi Bosca, Reserva Malbec, 2004 from Mendoza. Mocha blueberry nose with hints of coffee and a thick, almost syrupy mouthfeel. Classic malbec on the palate - pomegranate and blackcurrants. A "good" wine, "okay" value at $23. Taking a turn for the worse we tried the Bianchi, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, also from Argentina. Now earlier versions of this wine have made Wine Spectator lists with scores of "90". This vintage is however challenged - somewhat harsh mouthfeel with quite the vegetal flavour profile (especially green peppers)...this is not very pleasant (tastes like the grapes didn't ripen, which shouldn't happen in Mendoza). An "okay" wine, waste of money at $19. Now, you want value??? Try the Pascual Toso, Malbec 2006 (also from sunny Mendoza). This isn't even a "reserva" wine but yields a medium bodied but generous mouthful of pomegranate (confirmed by chewing on a handful of those pomegranate seeds seen in the glass above) mixed with currants that ends on a spicy note. A "good" wine, and the best $13 malbec I've had yet. Buy it all.
The next two wines we tried had the ubiquitous high ratings scribbled beside them (one got a "91" by Parker, the other a "90" by the Wine Enthusiast or Wine Advocate or some other Wine Snob magazine. So, what did we plebians think? The Bodegas Ercavio, Tempranillo Roble, 2004 was a deep ruby colour with concentrated, almost pure backcurrant flavours complete with tartness on the finish (ever had a not-too-sweetened blackcurrant crumble? the flavour profile is identical). I bet Parker loved it's "purity". Guffaw. Might as well eat blackcurrant crumble!!! If you like new world "fruit-but-nothing-else" wines, this is up your alley, and not too pricey at $19. If you hate the style, you'll hate this and consider it a waste of dough.
The Chateau Pesquie, Terrasses, Ventoux, 2004 is a medium ruby colour, medium bodied, soft and velvety with leathery undertones. A "plain jane" good wine, played off the turkey admirably, but how a tasting pro gave this "90" points is beyond me. Okay value at $17.
Lastly, had to try this one because of it's name - the same as our hostess for Christmas dinner!! Sarah's Blend by Marquis Phillips of Australia. Sorry, forgot the vintage, I think it was '04. This is fairly complex stuff - black fruit on the nose but also cloves and cruciform veggies. Vanilla is added seamlessly to the flavour profile. This is a full bodied in-your-face effort. "Wow". Worth the $24 too.