Sunday, November 29, 2009

Minty Twins

Pillar Box is an Australian Winery that takes its name from the old style postal boxes...note the black slit on the label that corresponds to the slot that you put letters through. What that has to do with wine beats me. Anyways, we blindly tried two of their offerings, the premium black labeled Reserve (50% shiraz, 42% cab, 8% merlot) 2006 and the the mid priced Red labeled 100% shiraz, 2006. It was easy to tell them apart - the Reserve was just more intense than the Red.
The Red comes in at 15% alcohol. Shy nose with a faint whiff of ageing raw meat. Medium full bodied, it has loads of cooked fruit compote - mostly cherry. Firm. Finishes with camphor and eucalyptus, these minty flavours last about 30 seconds. Interesting wine, but awkward and will find few fans. This is tough to match to food. It's "OK", would not buy again ($18).
The Reserve is hot at 16% alcohol. Way too hot. Much nicer, more aromatic nose than the Red with some plums. Full bodied, it hits you with menthol and eucalyptus full bore. Very weird, because this is very unbalanced - the mintiness hides everything else, except the high alcohol. The mint just goes on and on - it's overpowering, meaning it has a huge finish (too bad it's not one you want to savour). Dense wine. Forget about it with food. The next day, after leaving it open for 24 hours and then decanting, and then chilling it down to 12 degrees, it becomes somewhat enjoyable. If you don't have this wine, don't buy it. If you do, put it away for 10 years and hope the mint blows off. $25.

Friday, November 20, 2009


GSM. Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre. The classic Rhone varietals. The Aussies have hijacked the blend and call it simply "GSM". OK, lets try one out. The Turkey Flat, Butchers Block, Barossa, 2006 is actually SGM, but what the hell. Sniffing intially reveals little, but give it time and faint blackcurrant aromas show. Medium bodied, spicy with sour cherries...not bad you might think, but it they actually taste like those cheap chalky pill sherbet type candies. This is not good. Long finish, but the wrong kind. The tartness makes it hard to match with food, but who knows, maybe try it with turkey. It is not a very enjoyable sipper. Way overpriced at $24. "OK" wine. If you have any, put it away for 5 years and hope the tartness mellows.Bodegas Lurton, Gran Lurton, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, 2005. Boy, these French Lurton brothers are sure full of themselves. "Gran" Lurton? They're that good? On the nose this wine shows black fruit with hints of mint. Medium bodied, round, supple mouthfeel, almost velvety. Silky, easy going tannins coat your teeth. Well balanced. Fruit driven with black and red currants. A very approachable cabernet, well made. Not a knockout, but good wine and OK for the price ($20). Lose the "gran" moniker, guys.
Robert Parker, 91 points. $16. Duh. Buy. The Spanish Las Rocas, Garnacha, 2006 is pure Grenache with a sniff of sweet dried strawberries. Medium-full bodied, pure juicy ripe black fruit drives this wine with a follow-up moderate finish. Generous and enough to keep you interested, but this is no 91 point wine. For 91 points I should be saying "wow" right away, and with this wine I don't. It is a good buy for sixteen bones, though.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


If you look closely at the label on the left, it looks suspiciously like the one I blogged about last you may be wondering, what the heck am I drinking that crap for again? Well, my friendly consultant at the booze shop caught my arm on the way out of his store and said - "You gotta try this stuff. It's the staff favourite". I laughed hard, explaining I had already spat it out in disgust the week before. But on closer inspection, this particular wine is 100% malbec, whereas the previous was a mix of malbec and tempranillo. OK, I'll give the folks who make Fuzion Alta Reserva 2008 another see if this line of wines is universally bad or if the blend is a one-off effort designed to offload some badly made wine. Faint hints of candy on the nose blows off after a while leaving not much to sniff. The palate is light, dried fruit preserves. It seems to thicken up a bit by the next day but is pretty uninteresting. However, this is actually drinkable, miles better than the Malbec-Tempranillo blend, an "OK" everyday plonk. $10. You get what you pay for here.
We tasted the Fuzion head-to-head blind with the Argento, Reserva Malbec, also from Mendoza and also from the 2008 vintage. Another weak nose, this one has hints of plums. Light, spicy, redcurrants is the taste profile. Not much body, plus it fades fast as it leaves the mouth. Again, nothing wrong with it, it's just not very interesting. Another"OK" wine, it beats out the Fuzion by a hair. $13. You can buy better for the price.
How is California Merlot doing? It's been a while, so we uncorked a couple to try. The Clos du Bois, Sonoma Reserve, Merlot, 2006 is from the Alexander Valley. Medium coloured with a nose of chocolate covered strawberries. Medium bodied, supple, candied maraschino cherries, with some spiciness adding a little complexity. This is "OK", more enjoyable than the two malbecs described above, but worth about half of it's $20 price tag.
The Toasted Head, North Coast, Merlot, 2006 is light-medium ruby coloured with a straightforward nose of red fruit and just hints of oak (if you wait long enough). Medium bodied, bright, sharp, sour cherries and subtle hits of vanilla. A simple, "OK" wine. You hardly notice the effects of "toasting" the heads (ends) of the barrels this wine is named for. Disppointing for $20. Ho-hum. Nice label though:

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Canadian Cedar

Can Canadian wines age? Very good question, there is little track record here. Several years ago we visited the Cedar Creek Winery in the Okanagan Valley of BC and were impressed with their Platinum Reserve series of wines. I brought several bottles back with me and thought it was time to check their development. The 2002 Merlot has a nice opaque purple colour. It is initially closed but after a 2 hour decant, plums mixed with cranberries come out. On the palate, in this stage of its development, I could mistake this wine for a Bordeaux (? is this a compliment - depends on your point of view). Well balanced, spritely and crunchy, beets and cranberries with a tart apple acidity thing going on. Overall more on the green side than fruity. So how's it ageing? It's lost its initial fruit driven mellow hedonistic side that was evident 3 years ago. But it's showing enough that it's worth waiting to see what happens in another few years. The verdict is still in the air... For value, this is a tough sell at $40.
Right. Now for a look at a marketing phenomenom. The best selling red wine in Ontario and a best seller in several other provinces is an Argentine wine simply known as "Fuzion". It costs about 8 bucks and when I last tried it a few years ago was actually quite drinkable. It looks like it was so successful that they decided to bottle a "premium" version for 3 bucks more. I thought I would compare this nicely packaged wine to a classic Argentine mid-priced wine to see how it stacked up. Well it took all of one second to realize this was a mismatch. The Fuzion, Alta, Malbec-Tempranillo, Reserva, 2008 is a dud. See-through wine in the glass. It smells like dubble bubble. One taste and I quickly spat it out. Cheap candy and gum. Totally fake wine. How do they get away with this? How dare they put "alta" (translation: "high") and "reserva" on the label? Who buys it? I returned it and got my money back. They can market this crap to someone else. Shame on you, famiglia Zuccardi.
OK, how's the other wine? Pretty good it turns out. The Bianchi, Malbec, 2007 is from San Rafael, about 200km south of Mendoza city. Dense purple colour, raw beef nose. A rustic full bodied wine - the tannins rough up the mouth a little bit. Pomegranate fruit. I have no problem drinking this or paying $17 for it.