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Thirty Bench Riesling 2016

For the past year or so I have been slowly drinking my way through central France, metaphorically speaking, but occasionally I make the odd detour. This present selection is one I sampled at the Brasserie Metropolitain in Ottawa in March of this year.

This Riesling is a VQA (or Vinters Quality Alliance) wine produced by the Andrew Peller Estate on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, and more specifically the Beamsville Bench Sub-region of that wine production district. I do not recall the price I paid at the restaurant, but it retails for $22.95 at the LCBO and is listed, on the LCBO website, as having 11.1% Alcohol and a Sugar content of 20 g/L.

The body is fairly light with medium sweetness and a bright acidity that offsets the sugar quite decently. The nose features golden apples, dark honey and straw, and all these qualities are continued on the palate with green apple also coming through with notes of cedar. There is also a floral presence and another additional quality that makes the wine rather unique. Some reviews have noted a ‘petrol’ component in this vintage, which is not uncommon in Rieslings and reflects the presence of a chemical compound known as TDN, or Trimethyl Dihydronaphthalene. I did not get that here, but there was a very faint hint of formalin along with a stronger, and most curious hint of saffron. I very much enjoyed the effect and, overall, this was a very pleasant and interesting sipping wine.

UPDATE: One of my blogging friends Stefan, at Stefan’s Gourmet Blog, who has much more experise in wine than do I has informed me that “This type of Riesling is called Feinherb in Germany. It is all about the interplay between sugar and acidity.”

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Château Haut-Bages Monpelou Pauillac 2015

Château Haut-Bages Monpelou Pauillac 2015

Today’s wine is another ‘left-bank’ Bordeaux and I am featuring it because it turned out to be very nice, and something I will likely purchase again if I can. It is a bit expensive, running for $56.75 at SAQ in Montreal, but I was very happy with it thought it well worth the price.

As you may recall from previous posts, red wines from the so-called ‘left-bank’ region of Bordeaux are mostly blends, which mostly have Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary varietal. This particular wine is from the Paulliac AOC, in the famous Medoc wine-making district, and it is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with 27% Merlot, and the final 3% rounded out with Cabernet Franc. It is a dry wine, with just 2.1 grams per liter of residual sugar, and the alcohol level is about 13%.

The nose here is a bit muted with the fruit component being dark plum and blackcurrant. It has a very earthy quality, with a faint touch of the barnyard, and there are very strong mushroom notes interspersed with highlights of violet. On the palate, it is smooth and fully bodied with lively acidity and rich tannins, and the blackcurrant on the nose is supplanted with sour cherry against the plum. There are rich woody tones of both oak and cedar, with some spice in the finish, but what I really liked here were some interesting notes of ripe grains and light toast.

Overall, I found this a complex and very enjoyable sipping wine as is, but I am sure it has great prospects for becoming even better with a little more ageing. If I can lay my hands on a few more bottles on my next travels south, I will certainly ‘cellar’ at least one for a few years or so. The 2016 vintage is also supposed to have been a stunning one for Pauillac, so I will keep my eyes out for those as well…

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Wine: Château Bastor-Lamontagne Sauternes 2015

Château Bastor-Lamontagne Sauternes 2015

My last two wine posts have each featured examples of the red wine blends for which the famous French wine-growing region of Bordeaux is especially well known. There are also excellent white wines produced in Bordeaux, but they make up only around ten percent of the total wine yield. Like the reds, though, they are chiefly produced as blends, rather than single varietal wines, with the permitted grapes being Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle.

Some Bordeaux white blends are quite crisp and acidic (those will often have Sauvignon Blanc as the dominant varietal), but the region is especially renowned for its sweet desert wines with Sémillon as the primary grape. This varietal is susceptible to a fungus known as Botrytis cinerea, which the French call the ‘noble rot’, and this interesting fungus causes the grapes to wither like raisins and this concentrates the natural sugars to produce a very sweet wine with a very long ageing potential.

One of the wine making districts especially known for its sweet white Bordeaux blends is the Sauternes AOC. Indeed, this district is home to the world-famous Chateau d’Yqem, which has been producing wine since at least 1711. In 2011, one these famed sweet whites dating back to 1811 was sold for a staggering $117,000.00, which is, I think, still the most expensive bottle yet sold. Now, the Sauternes I am featuring today is not quite in the same class as that 1811 Chateau d’Yquem pricewise, but I paid $57.25 for my bottle and was a bit surprised, when it arrived, to discover it was a 375ml bottle rather than the standard 750ml size, which I believe makes it the most expensive wine I have ever purchased outside of a restaurant…

Anyway, this delightful wine contains a startling 120 grams of sugar per liter and is, as you can guess, exceedingly sweet, with only a low moderate acidity as an offset, and a very heavy, almost syrupy mouthfeel. The nose is very aromatic with golden apple, slightly sour apricot and raisin, honey, almond shells, light toast and a faint hint of sweet varnish. There was also a very faint hint of something I couldn’t quite identify, but which I can only describe as being a bit like well-aged Balsamic Vinegar, for want of any better comparison.

On the palate, there is Apricot jam, honey and barley sugar, along with a touch of lemon and almond and, on the whole, the effect is very rich and complex. I am not a big imbiber of desert wines, or very sweet wines of any sort usually, but I did not begrudge the price I paid for sampling a special wine from this prestigious AOC and I very much enjoyed the experience.

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Wine: Château Mondésir-Gazin Blaye 2014

Château Mondésir-Gazin Blaye 2014

In my last post, we had a brief discussion about the red wine blends of Bordeaux, and the differences between the so-called Left and Right banks regions. The wine I featured in that post was a Moulins de Citran Haut-Médoc 2009, and you may recall that it is a left-bank wine and that the dominant varietal in the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, our selection comes from the Blaye AOC, which surrounds the town of Blaye on the right bank of the Gironde River and, as such, it features a blend in which Merlot dominates. Unusually though, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is quite often the secondary varietal, in this wine, there is no Cabernet Sauvignon at all and the blend is an interesting 65% Merlot, with the remaining 35% being Malbec.

I bought my bottle for $29.75 from one of the SAQ stores in Montreal. It has an alcohol content of 14% and contains 1.7 grams of sugar per litre. It is very dry with moderate acidity, has a nice full-bodied silky texture, and a smoothly tannic finish. The nose is surprisingly aromatic with black plum and blackcurrant and floral highlights, and there is also a little cedar, some herbaceous notes, and just a faint touch of barnyard muskiness. This last may signal the influence of Brettanomyces but, if so, the effect is not pronounced enough to be considered a flaw and, in any event, did not seem to come through in the taste.

On the palate, the blackcurrant gives way to sour cherry and the faint floral notes on the nose resolve into a very definite violet quality, with the cedar being a little more pronounced. The herbaceous notes are less noticeable but there is a little peppery spice near the finish that is very pleasant. Overall, I thought this excellent for the price and I would say that it is a wine worth buying and aging for a bit in order to see what else develops.

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Wine: Moulins de Citran Haut-Médoc 2009

Moulins de Citran Haut-Médoc 2009

About seven or eight months ago, I began something of a virtual tour of the Bordeaux wine-making region. I say ‘virtual’ because, being several thousand miles away, I am restricted to just tasting the wines as I find them locally, but I have managed, thus far, to work my way through quite a few of the locales that feature in the Bordeaux naming control system.

I am not going to attempt a thorough explanation of the regional naming regime that exists in Bordeaux, as it is really quite complex, but will rather limit myself to saying that, generally, you can divide the wine-making regions into three separate areas… first, the so-called ‘Left-Bank’, being the western side of the Gironde Estuary and Garonne River, then the ‘Right-Bank’, which is to the east of the estuary and the Dordogne River, and final the ‘Entre-Deux-Mers’ region, which covers the area in between.

In Bordeaux, almost all the wines produced are blends and, on the Left-Bank, the red wines are blends in which Cabernet Sauvignon predominates, with some mix of Merlot, Cabernet-Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot being included as well. Today’s selection is a Left-Bank red from the Haut-Medoc AOC, and is a simple blend comprised of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 42% Merlot.

The wine is full-bodied and quite dry with a mere 2.7 grams of sugar per liter. It has a nice smooth mouthfeel with moderate acidity and fairly robust tannins. On the nose, the fruit is quite muted with some blackcurrant and a little cherry, along with notes of forest floor, dried grass and a faint floral quality. The palate is a little fruitier with plum and sour red cherry, and there are very nice woody notes of oak and cedar with some leather, dark toast and aromatic spices in the finish. Overall, it was very interesting, nicely rounded and pretty decent value at $29.95 from SAQ in Montreal.

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Wine: Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2013

Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2013

Those with a passing familiarity of Italian wines will tend to think of Chianti when the name Tuscany comes up (or perhaps one of the ‘Super Tuscans’), but a slightly lesser known, but just as prestigious,  group of wines from the region are those from the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita).

Like the Chianti’s the Brunello di Montalcinoi wines are based on the Sangiovese grape but, here,  the DOCG rules require that only Sangiovese be used.  Now, while I very much enjoy a good Chianti, and wouldn’t want to make any blanket comparisons, I have to say that this particular bottle has trumped any of the Chianti’s I have had thus far …

A certain level of quality was probably only to be expected given the almost $50 price tag, but one can easily be disappointed with a relatively expensive wine and that certainly wasn’t the case here. After I had sampled it, I read a few reviews and saw that several people recommended that the wine be decanted for at least a couple of hours and served slightly chilled. My sample was at a cool room temperature, and I only let it breather for about 30 minutes or so in a decanter, but I don’t think I lost much thereby.

The nose is very pleasant with raspberry and cherry for fruit, along with notes of strawberry jam, cream, cedar and vanilla, and some faint floral highlights. It is full-bodies, with a smooth, almost creamy texture, and a moderately high acidity, robust tannins, and a nice long finish. On the palate, the floral component is much more pronounced and the fruit tends to the sour red variety with a slightly unusual apple-cider quality towards the end. There is some spice and a slightly resinous woody effect that rounds out the other qualities nicely.

A few critics have suggested that a few more years will improve this vintage (and I can’t really do much more than guess on that point) but I felt this was a very nicely complex and interesting wine. It might be a bit tannic for some tastes, and probably suited only for pairing with very hearty dishes, but it makes a very different sipping wine if you are going to splurge just a little bit…

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Wine: A Vertical Tasting

Vertical Tasting 1

Today’s wine post will depart from the usual by sampling not one but three wines. Back when I did some reorganizing of my blog, I announced that, henceforth, I would only be reviewing wines that I thought were excellent, or otherwise particularly special. Neither of those things really apply to the see wines you see pictured above, however, and the reason that they are featured today is because I embarked on something that I have not done before and conducted what is known as a ‘vertical tasting’…

For those unfamiliar, wine tastings can come in different… well, flavors, as it were. In a regular old, run-of-the-mill variety, a group of people will come together and taste and evaluate a wide range of different wines. In what is known as a ‘horizontal tasting’ wines of a particular type, and of the same vintage, will be sampled and compared, but each wine will be from a different winery. I n a ‘vertical tasting’, however, the same type of wine will be tasted, but it will be different vintages from the same winery.

Anyway, for my ‘private vertical tasting, I had the three bottles you can see pictured above. All are Spanish, produced by Bodegas Navalon, in the Valdepeñas DO (Designation of Origin), they are all 100 percent Tempranillo grape and the three separate vintages I had were 2012, 2009 and 2007.

Now, I am not going to go into great deal of detail on their respective characteristics, especially, as I said above, none struck me as particularly noteworthy. All had a little sour cherry dominating, with mild tannins, and light floral notes, but what was interesting to me, from a vertical tasting perspective, was being able to see the acidity go from being brash to something more mellow and rounded with ageing. It was also possible to discern the texture going from hard-edged to much smoother, and see the complexity develop over time.

Some vertical tastings I have read about have investigated a dozen or more vintages from a single winery, which sounds like either a great way to see the evolution of a wine, or at the very least get cheerfully hammered. I would very much like to organize one where a sequential set of vintages could be sampled over 5 years or, more…. There was only me for this tasting of just three vintage… with more wines  I am going to have to dragoon a group of appreciative friends to assist me 😊

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Wine: Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2016

Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2016

Today’s wine selection is the last of a series of obscure wines I purchased at the end of last year, some of which I have featured in past posts already. This one is a little special as it is Croatian (and I have never had a wine from Croatia as yet), and also because the dominant grape in the blend is Teran, a new varietal to me. The other grapes in the blend are the familiar Merlot, and Borgonja, which, I believe, is just another name for Gamay. In any event, the blend works very nicely indeed…

The wine is a very dark ruby, and it is medium bodied with a silky mouthfeel. It is pretty dry, with bright acidity, smooth tannins and a finish that persists somewhat but weakens quite quickly. The nose is quite rich with dark berries and plum jam at the front, and there is dusty wood and some floral highlights over a faint forest floor quality, and some barnyard notes underneath.

The palate has plum, cherry and blackcurrant, with just a little citrus, and there some fairly aromatic floral notes and a little bit of wood and leather. This isn’t a hugely complex wine but, at $17.50, I thought it pretty good value for the price.

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Wine: Château Ksara Blanc de l’Observatoire 2016

château ksara blanc de l'observatoire 2016

For a while now, I have been doing something of a virtual tour of France by trying to sample my way through the huge number of wine AOC’s one by one. Just before Christmas, however, I took a little break and purchased a dozen or so bottles from the more obscure, or at least lesser known, wine regions of the world. I had just finished reading a book by a fellow who did an actual tour of some of these places and it really sparked my interest.

Now, Lebanon, I have to say, is one of those places that I have never ever associated with wine production, but, in fact, they have been at it over there for quite a spell now and wines from the region were being exported to Egypt some 4000 years ago. Today’s selection, is actually a good representative of the region as it is produced by Château Ksara, which is in the Beqaa Valley and is, I believe, the second oldest wine outfit in the region, having started production back in 1857.

This bottle cost me $15.00 from SAQ in Quebec and is a blend consisting of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, at 90%, with 5% each of Muscat and Clairette. I wasn’t expecting to be especially crazy about this choice as I am not usually terribly keen on Sauvignon Blanc wines, but this turned out to be very pleasant and interesting.

It is quite a dry wine, with very crisp acidity and the texture has a rather hard mineral quality. The nose, I have to say, is beautifully complex and very aromatic with golden apple with a little pear, banana, lychee and toffee. There are a few floral notes, a lovely underlying herbaceous quality, and just a hint of fennel pollen.

On the palate, you don’t get quite the same complexity as the nose, but there are some components to the overall profile that mark this as quite a bit different from other Sauvignon Blancs. The fruit is mostly sour apple with some highlights of tropical fruit, but there are also notes of straw and wood, and, most interestingly, hints of fresh tar and camphor. Those last two may sound a bit off-putting to some, but they actually give the overall wine a wonderful character and reminded me a little of some Greek wines. In any event, at this price you really are getting a very decent sipping wine and I recommend giving it a try.

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Wine: Masi Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012

masi costasera amarone della valpolicella classico 2012

Most people have at least heard the name ‘Valpolicella’ in connection with Italian wine before, and this is chiefly because the Valpolicella DOC ranks as only second behind the Chianti DOC in terms of total production for the entire country.  Within the general Valpolicella DOC, however, there are several smaller name-controlled areas, including the prestigious Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG.

Most of the wine from the whole Valpolicella region is typically a blend of the Corvina grape, along with Rondinella and Molinara. Today’s selection, a 2012 vintage from the Masi Costasera winery in Amarone della Valpolicella, is also one of these blends, but it is also augmented by a lesser known varietal known as Oselet. I picked up a bottle of this past October or November and I would have to say that this one of the nicest wines I tasted all year.

Amarones are known to be bold, very alcoholic, full bodied wines. This one is 15% alcohol, and actually quite dry at 11 grams of sugar per liter, while the body is indeed full, with an almost chewy texture. It is moderately acidic, thus offsetting the sweetness somewhat, with tannins that are bold, yet smooth, and last well into the finish.

On the nose, there are fresh dark berries with hints of blackberry jam, cedar, earth and musky notes of forest floor. The palate is every bit as rich and features dark plum, sweet tobacco, chocolate and woody notes with a curious, but very pleasant popcorn quality. At the very end, there are also grass and herb highlights which round out the overall effect very nicely. Generally, this is the sort of rich, robust wine that pairs well with strong, hearty dishes, but I found it to a truly lovely sipping wine all by itself…