December 23, 2009

Louis Guntrum 2006 Dry Riesling

For whatever reason, I don't like German or Spanish wines quite as much as others. That's a generalization of course, but hey, it usually holds true. A Spanish wine rated 90 would probably be an 86 or 87 to me. This German wine probably fits in with that - I have a feeling others would like this more than me.

That said, I find this "dry" riesling not too dry - maybe a 2 - and it almost has a cork taint even though it's a screwtop. Lemon-straw coloured and a musty nose, it sort of tastes like that too: musty, lemony straw. What else can I say: not my favorite. Drinkable, but not much more.

83 points.

December 2, 2009

Santa Rita 120 Chardonnay 2008

Very nice, not great but no real weaknesses and quite drinkable. This is a slightly buttery, medium oaked chardonnay with a sort of musky melon and fruit (pear?) character. I find the acidity a little out of balance but not overpowering. I can see how the muskiness might turn some people off. It's not a subtle wine.

This would be perfect with shellfish. Use it to cook mussels mariniere with garlic, and serve it cold along side. It would probably go equally well with blue cheese, or even a coconut curry. Decent value, good to have in the bottom of the fridge.

86 points. $11.

November 29, 2009

C.R.O.W.N. 2

Cheap Wine Night has been rebranded as "Cheap Red or White Night", aka C.R.O.W.N. The second one was set for April 25th, which is ANZAC Day so the theme was Australia and New Zealand. Due to scheduling problems we had to change the date to April 18th, but kept the theme anyway. Couples were asked to bring two bottles with a maximum budget of $40 combined.

Without further ado, the results:

1 - Nugan Estate Durif Petit Syrah 2007 (Riverina, NSW) $14.00
2 - Thorn Clarke Shotfire Shiraz 2006 (Barossa Valley) $27.99
3 - Peter Lehmann Shiraz 2006 (Barossa Valley) $17.00
4 - Heartland Stickleback Red 2007 (South Australia) $15.70
5 - Main Divide Riesling 2007 (Waipara Valley, NZ) $25.95
6 - Nugan Estate Pinot Grigio 2008 (King Valley, Victoria) $13.99
7 - Hardys Riesling Gewurtztraminer 2008 (South Australia) $10.99
8 - Angove Nine Vines Shiraz Viognier 2007 (South Australia) $15.99
9 - Roy's Hill Merlot 2006 (Hawkes Bay, NZ) $20.95
10 - Bleasedale Potts' Catch Verdelho 2008 (Langhorne Creek, South Australia) $15.95
11 - Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Semillon Chardonnay 2007 (Barossa Valley) $13.79
12 - Tempus Two Wilde Chardonnay 2007 (Adelaide) $14.99

This time I ranked the results based on how each person rated a wine compared to their own rankings. In other words, for each person I took the score and assigned a ranking of 1 to the top score down to 12 for their lowest. This way it doesn't matter if somebody's scoring system is out of scale with others, as long as they are consistent within themselves. Interestingly, the #1 wine was only ranked #1 by one individual, but was the second choice of almost everyone else. Wines 2-5 had more first-place votes than the Nugan Durif.

Next time we'll probably do away with scores altogether, and just have people rank their own list 1-12. Also, I just noticed a slight calculation error: the Angove Shiraz Viognier should have been one spot higher. Well, I had tasted twelve wines prior to doing up the spreadsheet that night, so a little human error is to be expected. I suppose next time I could spit out the wine to stay sharp (OK, that's not going to happen).

The two Nugan Estates were a revelation: both were excellent and great value at 14 bucks each. The Shotfire was a close second, and Peter Lehmann was another fine wine for a decent price.

November 27, 2009

Cono Sur Merlot 2008

So: for a merlot this is fairly rich (maybe courtesy of the aerator - that's a whole other post), nice deep violet garnet colour, and an interesting, earthy nose. I get plum and blackberry, strong but not overwhelming, and maybe even a little citrus acidity. This is drinkable on its own and would be a good match for lasagna and crusty garlic bread on a chilly fall evening.

Cono Sur is turning into another Lindemans for me: pretty much anything with that name on the label is a great value, always an above-average wine and sometimes even outstanding.

87 points. Probably about 12 bucks.

May 29, 2009

Spring Wine Festival 2009

I surprised Kris on her birthday a few years ago with a trip to the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival. Three days with just the two of us and as many wineries as we could handle. It was terrific.

So terrific in fact that we've gone back almost every year. I think this was our 4th or 5th time. We stayed in a rental condo in Okanagan Falls, which has a not too glamorous reputation but is actually quite nice. We're headed back there to the same condo complex with the kids this summer. Apart from being quite comfortable and reasonably priced, it is strategically located about ten minutes south of Penticton in the centre of the wine trail for maximum tasting accessibility.

We must have gone to at least 40 wineries and tasted God knows how many wines. As always, I wish I wrote them down. I'll need to confer with Kris and post some reviews. Honestly, we drank one last night that we brought back which I don't even remember going to the winery. (My wife of course was reminding me of what colour shirt the proprietor was wearing while we were there.) So it was a bit of a whirlwind, but a blast as always. I hope we get to do this every year.

I'll try to get some specific wines posted, but my lasting impressions are that anything from Wild Goose or LaFrenz is outstanding and worth the money. See Ya Later was, for the first time, a disappointment. Generally, the quality in the valley continues to improve, and the prices seemed to be going up as well. I'd like to get back to the Similkameen - there's about 6 or 7 wineries out there - but we didn't find time this trip as usual. We did make it to a few Kelowna locations which were mostly excellent and worth the effort.

Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2007

I'm back. Sorry for the delay.

This one I'd never heard of, just happened to see it on the shelf with a fancy "90" around the neck of the bottles. The 2006 was apparently one of DeVines' best sellers.

A deep purple colour, this Malbec needs a little time out in the open, as advertised. Nice earthy and alcohol-ey bouquet, I get a lot of plum taste. Would go well with, well, I'm not sure... a rare steak, pasta with a tomato sauce, lamb maybe. Quite dry with slightly aggressive tannins. If you do buy a bottle of this you really have to look at the colour, it's quite dark and unique. A very nice Malbec once it breathes.

89 points. About $18 at DeVines.

February 13, 2009

Cheap Wine Night

Well, cheap wine night has come and gone, and basically we all had a blast. Ten people blind tasting ten bottles of wine, all under $20. We scored them on a 100-point scale, but some of us had a larger range of scoring than is usual for rating wine; this isn't a problem, since each person ranked consistently. But it does mean that the average scores might be a couple of points lower as there were a few 60's and even a 50 out there, which you wouldn't normally see.

Here are the results by average score:

87.3 - Finca Los Primos Malbec 2007 (Argentina) $9.99
84.6 - Peter Lehmann Shiraz 2005 (Australia) $16
83.3 - Henry of Pelham Baco Noir 2001 (Canada) $17.44
82.3 - Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (USA) $19.69
80.9 - Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (New Zealand) $19.99
78.0 - Lagarde Altas Cumbres Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2007 (Argentina) $10.99
74.8 - Montecillo Crianza Rioja 2005 (Spain) $13.99
74.1 - Calona Artist Series Merlot (Canada) $7.99
73.7 - Peller Estates Proprietor's Reserve Dry White Wine (Canada) $6.49
71.6 - Santa Rita 120 Chardonnay 2007 (Chile) $8.99

Hopefully we'll have another wine tasting night sometime soon. Some suggestions for the future are (a) have a more focused theme - say a specific varietal or country, (b) be less strict on the price, but perhaps set a total budget for each couple to spend, such as $40 max for two bottles, and (c) pour less - this ensures nobody is overserved, and more left over after the unbagging to share depending on who is driving and who liked which wine better.

February 4, 2009

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

This one wasn't on our list, but was recommended highly by the lady at Grapes and Grains where we ducked into between periods of the Oilers game. (We shouldn't have hurried back. Fire MacTavish.)

I think this wine really needs a little breathing time. Our first reaction was that it was a little too fruity, heavy on the plum or maybe some grape jelly. But after about half an hour out in the fresh air it seem to settle into a more mature, even powerful wine. Fantastic aroma - deep and rich. It's a pretty assertive cab sauv, not a superstar but an Ales Hemsky of a wine: very, very good. We drank some with chicken dinner tonight, but it would really click with red meats or pasta. Or some sharp Dubliner cheese.

We agreed on 88, but I got the last glass and it's turned into 89 points. $13.23 at Grapes and Grains.

January 31, 2009

Cono Sur Organic Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

They seem to be quite proud of the bicycle thing at Cono Sur - it's the way their workers get to the vineyard, apparently. Ties in with the organic philosophy / marketing spin; I guess their vines are treated humanely and allowed to roam free across the valle central. Not like those bastards over at Concha y Toro, who must drive their gas-guzzlers into the vineyard to spray chemicals on grapes that are cruelly tied up for their entire life until brutally crushed to death. My conscience feels better already.

But apart from the political correctness, the wine is actually fantastic. It's mature and earthy but supple, with balanced tannins and great confident black berry and cherry flavours and a long, slightly peppery finish. We had this for dinner with pasta and a simple tomato sauce, and it didn't stand a chance. This would be great to taste on its own, and would be great with all kinds of meat and savory dishes.

I picked this up at the Wine Cellar, but I'm guessing you can find it for around ten bucks somewhere else. The merlot is rated highly. I'm definitely going to try more from Cono Sur. And I don't care whether the workers go home by bike or Hummer.

90 points (a bit of a reach, but I stand by it). $13.95 at the Wine Cellar.

January 30, 2009

Bodegas Piqueras Marques de Rojas 2007

Love the label, and the back has an equally good story: "Almansa in the South East of Spain was a Republican stronghold duning the Spanish civil war where the local women who took up the struggle were known as 'Las Rojas'. Many of the vines survive from this era...."

Now then, the wine itself is 100% grenache ("garnacha") and is bold, plummy with a great balance and structure. Actually it would make a kick-ass sangria. It smells a lot like port but is not overpowering to drink. I have to admit, it's not my favorite, probably more because of the varietal that the winemaker, but it does grow on you a bit. It's a little too sour for my taste to really get a top grade (I'm finding too much acidity is a real turn-off these days for some reason). I'd probably not buy it again if it were $18, but for half that it's a good value and will probably show up again on our shelf. At that price, I don't even feel bad about using it for sangria, which has traditionally been reserved for our crappiest wines (really, an undrinkable red wine makes great sangria - try it!).

86 points. $8.99

January 20, 2009

M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2006

We bought this one because I was looking for the white version which was highly recommended by Wine Access magazine (89 points, under $20, available in Alberta - perfect). We haven't found that one yet, but since this was on the shelf we gave it a try.

The red Maison Chapoutier is a blend of grenache and syrah, and is not too full bodied, all of which is I think typical for a Côtes du Rhône. It is fairly acidic, too much for my taste which keeps me from giving it top marks, but not very tannic and it's a little meatier than most from the region (where, I just learned, they have been making wine for over 2000 years). I'm sure this would complement lamb or game dishes. Quite nice, and a pretty good value as well. We may have to bring this to a dinner tomorrow night hosted by a friend who (a) usually serves us roast lamb, and (b) almost exclusively drinks French wine. Definitely a step up from the cat on the egg.

86 points. $14.79 at Superstore.

Catena Malbec 2006

Here's a wine that demonstrates why you need to taste it yourself and trust your own instincts. Both the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator give it 91 points, going on about how well layered it is and its long fleshy finish. I liked it, but thought it tasted a lot like sour cherry juice. Maybe the pros give more consideration as to how a wine will age, although they didn't say that and one review even noted explicitly to "drink now". I am by no means an expert on what a wine will be like a year or two from now based on how it tastes today, but IMHO this malbec will likely be better down the road when it's a little mellower and less acidic.

All in all it was pretty good, but not - in our view - outstanding. It would probably go best with a somewhat spicy meal with strong flavours like jambalaya or even fajitas. Have to make a mental note to come back to this one for a retaste to see if we still differ from the experts, or if we just had an off night.

On a totally unrelated note, the label reminds me of the Mayan pyramids that my daughters and their grandfather built on the beach in Mexico last year. Check it out:

86 points. $16.99

January 17, 2009

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2008

In a word - wow. This New Zealand malborough reminds me of Oyster Bay, but with perfectly balanced acid, aroma and flavour. It also reminds me of a couple of Okanagan favorites: Greata Ranch Ehrenfelser, and Wild Goose God's Head Reisling. This one has the same fruity bouquet but is more restrained. Some lime, grapefruit and violet I think. I wish it was summer and I had a bottle of this on ice in the cooler on the patio.

Kris thinks this may be the best white she's ever tasted. That's quite possible.

92 points. $19.99 at Superstore.

January 16, 2009

Penfold's Rawson's Retreat Shiraz Cabernet 2007

So, I left the rest of the Finca for Kris to try, and opened another bottle instead. We've had this one before - I always thought it was pretty good. But after that last malbec, it seems very ordinary. No bouquet, not much taste - some pepper and currant - and little sustain. Considering Australians are usually bold, juicy and full of flavour, this is fairly bland. A good table wine, but not a great one.

83 points. $9.79 at Superstore (we seem to be spending a lot of time there).

Finca Los Primos Malbec 2007

OK, we're getting serious about this Cheap Wine Night. I have a list of over 200 top-rated wines that cost under $20, although a lot of those are from an American wine website and are probably (a) more expensive here or (b) not available anyway. Also making up the list are selections from the Canadian magazine Wine Access feature "Best Wines under $25", but of those wines only some are available in Alberta. But, there are still enough to make for a decent scavenger hunt. We had a fun night last night slowly picking through the aisles in a couple of liquor stores, cross-checking our printed lists.

This malbec rated quite highly, so we were happy to find it at Superstore under ten bucks. It's delicious. The first thing that hits me is its earthiness. It's what I think of when Paul Giamatti's character in Sideways refers to a wine's character as "ancient". That was part of the big Pinot Noir soliloquy, but I think it applies here. The Finca has a purply plum colour and some plum flavour, all extremely well balanced with good character and unfortunately little finish. The wine is great for sipping on its own, but would be great with red meat dishes. Complex and drinkable.

Given the price, I would get this fantastic malbec again in a heartbeat.

90 points. $9.99 at Superstore.

January 9, 2009

Chat-en-Oeuf "Red" 2006

Kind of fitting that the first French wine in here has a cartoon of a cat on the label. If I can't get a free gift hanging around the neck of the bottle when I buy wine, then I go for the cartoon label next. This one is from the Cotes du Ventoux appellation in the Rhone region, not far from Chateauneuf-du-Pape as you may have guessed from the name of the wine. If you like this type of humour, then you'll love "Goats do Roam" and "Bored Doe".

Chat-en-Oeuf is made with grenache and syrah, which are typical for the region. I actually opened this last night and had a glass, but I was too tired and just went to bed. I thought it was better last night, maybe it doesn't oxidize well even though I screwed the cap on tight. The back label promotes itself with lots of adjectives like "mouth-filling" and "juicy", but it's fairly thin and ordinary to me. I would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this one and a Sonora Ranch red. Mostly earthy and a little heavy on tannin, and practically no nose or finish. Maybe a little more complex, but honestly a bit disappointing. We don't drink a lot of French wines, but the ones we do - the ones Robert Parker doesn't get to - have been underwhelming. Despite the non-snooty marketing and bargain bin price, I'd pass on this next time. Well, maybe I'd try it once more and drink it fresh just to make sure.

81 points. $9.89 at Superstore.

Cheap Wine Night!

We've decided to host a cheap wine tasting evening in a couple of weeks. We've asked five couples to bring two bottles: one under $20 and one under $10. We plan a blind tasting with a couple of prizes for best-in-show and best value. We've never hosted such a thing before, let alone attended one, so it should be interesting.

So, as we do our "research" (wink wink) for this event, we'll be restricting ourselves to the $20 and under categories for a little while. Even more than usual.