Archive for the 'Merlot' Category

2001 Mayacamas Vineyards Merlot, Napa Valley

God knows I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Merlot. I’m pretty much there with Miles from “Sideways“. When I hear “Merlot”, I think a bit of cherry fruit, bland, vanilla and pretty much nothing else. There’s a lot of that floating around this province, produced here and elsewhere, that fit that description perfectly.

Here’s how I happened to pick this bottle up at Marquis Wine Cellars the other night. I was headed out for a long road cycling workout the next day and hadn’t soaked up much iron in my diet in the last week, so I thought a steak would be a great choice for dinner. With that in my mind, I headed into Marquis and was looking for the classic steak pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon. While scanning the Cali section, my eyes landed on this bottle. 2001. From Mayacamas. A Merlot, I know, but I was thinking a Mayacamas Merlot should fit the bill quite nicely.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call this an Old World style New World wine, but I guess I will. It’s got a funky edge to it that most California producers seemingly try to avoid. Instead of a manipulated and polished vanilla-ness, this wine tastes of the grapes and that’s  good thing. Its colour is a dark brick-ish red that doesn’t show any age-driven mellowing around the edges. The nose is an intriguing mix of black olives, tea, plum and dark cherry.

The flavours? Wow. The flavours amplify the slightly bitter edge of the dark cherry and finish off with tea-edged dark plum. The finish goes on for minutes. I had it with that steak and experienced one of those happy food-wine moments I wanted to last and last.

If you want to try an old-school California approach to Merlot that won’t have you longing for less oak and more flavour, give this a try.

$49.90 at Marquis Wine Cellars here in Vancouver.

4    1/2 stars

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Tasting – Marquis Wine Cellars presents Buty Winery at C Restaurant

First things first… I’d like to thank John Clerides and the staff at Marquis Wine Cellars for putting on this great tasting. The food and wine pairings at C Restaurant made my day.

From the left, that’s Graham, Caleb (the winemaker and co-proprietor at Buty), John and me (sporting a bit of a winter beard).

Last summer, when Graham and I were down in Walla Walla for the Wine Bloggers’ Conference, we ran into John and as I’ve already written, he said, “Do you guys want to taste something great? Come with me.” We headed out to Walla Walla’s airport wine area and made our way into Buty Winery’s tasting room. What we tasted were some of the highlights of the weekend.

So, when John decided to bring some of the Buty wines into his shop I was pretty stoked. I’ve grabbed a few bottles of the Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and  Muscadelle blend over the last month or so.

I’ll run through what was being poured, with a bit of a review of each wine. So, let’s go. Here’s they are:

  • 2009 Beast Sphinx Semillon
    This was the surprise of the tasting for me. It was a medium-bodied mouthful of honeyed lemon and mineral. So tasty. (4 stars – $24.99)
  • 2009 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc/Muscadelle
    Personally, I love this wine. It has a crisp acidity that makes it a great food pairing wine along with beautiful melon, noney, citrus and stone flavours. What’s not to love? (4-4.5 stars – $31.99)
  • 2009 Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay
    Wow. This was another surprise for me – and was a perfect pairing for the delicious C Restaurant-prepared lobster. It had a really nice citrus-edged crispness with nice tropical and stone minerals on the finish. More Chablis than slutty Chardonnay. Very nice. (4-4.5 – $45.99)
  • 2008 Beast Wildebeest Red Wine
    This blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah and 10% Malbec adds up to a really tasty deep cherry, berry fruit-driven wine with a pepper-edged mineral finish. Nice. (3.5-4 stars – $32.99)
  • 2009 Merlot & Cabernet Franc
    Well now… another surprise. I really liked this. It had wonderful dark fruit and a flintiness on the finish that I find really appealing, especially on elegant Washington State reds. (4.5 stars – $48.99)
  • 2008 Columbia Redviva
    Wow. This is the winner. This blend of 52% Syrah and 48% Cabernet Sauvignon was definitely the standout of the tasting for me. In a word, this wine is elegant. It has a tonne of dark red fruit, but not in an over-ripe sort of way. The berry fruit is almost perfect. So good! (4.5 – $59.99)
  • 2009 Redviva of the Stones
    This wine is a blend of 79% Syrah and 21% Cabernet Sauvignon. To me, this one needed a bit of time. It was pretty closed up. I’m thinking in a year or so its dark fruit and minerality will be more in balance. (4-4.5 stars – $59.99)

It was great to see Caleb again. I always love seeing talented folks who are passionate about what they’re doing. All wines are of course available for purchase or order from Marquis Wine Cellars. Head on over to their site for the contact information.

The folks at C Restaurant deserve a special mention for the fabulous food. Everything was delicious and reminded me that I should head there soon for my seafood fix. Amazing stuff.

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Summerhill Winery Cipes Pinot Noir Rose NV and 2007 Robert Bateman Organic ‘Get To Know’ Merlot

Summerhill Winery Cipes Pinot Noir Rose NV

It’s that time of year – when you may be looking to have  glass of celebratory bubbly, but don’t want to break your newly minted 2011 budget. Well, there are a number of decent sparkling wines out there in the under-$30 range that can fit the bill. If you’re a fan of rosé wines, this one may just be the ticket.

Summerhill Winery, near Kelowna, crafts this wine from certified organic 100% Pinot Noir grapes. In the glass, this has a nice salmon-rosé colour, with a nose of light strawberry and citrus. A sip has a mouthful of fine bubbles and light berry fruit with a crisp citrus/green apple edge to the finish.

Hmmm, it’s quite nice. What we have here is actually a pretty solid sparkler for the money. It has more depth to its flavours than some of the cheaper Cavas from Spain or Proseccos from Italy – as well it should, as it costs ~ $10 more.

$29.95 and according to the winery, it’s available at private BC wine stores and restaurants, Alberta wine stores and restaurants, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba in limited quantities.

3 1/2 stars

2007 Robert Bateman Organic ‘Get To Know’ Merlot

OK, so here it goes. I’m a bit torn on how I feel about this wine. To be honest, I expected to not like it… and at first I didn’t. It’s a bit too full and round for me. It feels like the wine has been tampered with to achieve a too-full level of ripeness and booze (it clocks in at 15%) – but if the winery is to be believed, it was made with, “Minimal intervention winemaking…”.

If that’s true, then this is a decent BC Merlot, made with 100% organic grapes grown in Kaleden, which is south of Penticton in BC’s Okanagan valley. The nose is full of blackberry, currant and vanilla. The flavours are a robust and full mix of what the nose hinted at.

I’m guessing there are plenty of folks out there who would really like this. For me, it’s a bit too far on the ripe side. It needs a bit more complexity to keep my mouth interested. Having said that, it is a full-bodied red with ripe fruit and some nice tannins on the finish that would allow it to pair quite nicely with some hard cheeses or a good steak.

$29.95 and it’s available at private BC wine stores and restaurants, Alberta wine stores and restaurants, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba in limited quantities.

3 stars

Note: $1 donation with the sale of each of these for every bottle sold supports ‘Get to Know your Wild Neighbours’ non‐profit organization. I received both these bottles as samples.

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Tasting Mexican Wine: San Lorenzo and Monte Xanic

Mexican wine is something I haven’t devoted much time to up to this point in my wine journey. Over the years, I have tasted a few of the LA Cetto wines, but that had pretty much been it. So, when I received an email through this site from Eduardo Ramirez asking if I’d like to try a few Mexican wines, I jumped at the chance. I met Eduardo a while later to chat about the wines he represents and to accept 4 samples.

The first two represent the value line from Casa Madero, which at close to 500 years old, is apparently the oldest operating winery in the Western hemisphere. These value wines are named for the original San Lorenzo Winery, which was founded in its current location in Central Mexico in 1597.

Here’s what I tasted:

2009 San Lorenzo Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay & Colombard: This is an interesting blend of 50% Chenin Blanc, 25% Chardonnay, and 25% Colombard. The nose is a mix of lemon, apricot and flinty stone, which lead to a really nice mix of flavours that finish with the whole citrus-melon-flinty stone thing going on. It’s a very nice sipper and went really well with a simple dish of grilled halibut with lemon. It’s a solid value at $17-20 here in Vancouver.
3 1/2 stars

2008 San Lorenzo Cabernet Sauvignon – Tempranillo: This is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Tempranillo. It has a nose that gives up a bit of red cherry/berry fruit, and a bit of tar and mineral. A sip had me thinking of dusty dark cherries and an earthy bitterness that led out to a medium finish with decent tannins. Not complex, but a nice sipper, especially for the money ($19.90 here in BC).
3 stars

Now onto the Monte Xanic wines. According to their site, the name, “Xanic” originates with the Cora Indians who continue to inhabit parts of Nayarit on Mexico’s Pacific coast, and means, “Flower which blooms after the first rain.” The winery was founded in 1987 in response to the recent opening of the border to foreign wines, which many deemed superior to Mexican wine. The owners of Monte Xanic set out to prove they could make wines to compete with any of the wines from outside Mexico.

While they may not be up there with the world’s best wines, they are doing a respectable job.

2008 Monte Xanic Chenin Colombard The nose has a honeyed edge to lemony citrus and pear and is a blend of 95% Chenin Blanc and 5% Colombard. The flavours are all about exactly what the nose hinted at… the medium-bodied pear and lemon have a light coating of honey and the finish goes on for a minute with a crisp and flinty minerality that I really like. This is a very tasty and well-made wine. I think it would be delicious with some grilled salmon. It retails in Vancouver for $24.
4 stars

2006 Monte Xanic Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot: This one is a blend of 60% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec. To me, the nose on this wine is a bit like sniffing the venerable “oak monster” itself. It mellows with some air, but this is definitely a case of a wine-maker choosing the new oak route. The nose has powerful vanilla, mocha and berry aromas – more a sign of the oak than the grapes. The flavours of the grapes do come through with delicious dark berries along with the oak-influenced vanilla spice. I liked it, but would like to see less of the new oak. In Vancouver, it retails for $36.
3 1/2 stars

All in all, I would say that I was both surprised and impressed by the wines – surprised that a white blend was my pick of the group and impressed with the overall quality of the wine. Check them out if you feel like trying a few of the wines of Mexico.

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Tasting the Averill Creek Vineyards Line-up

While I was at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival last month, I stopped by Averill Creek‘s table to say, “Hi” to Denis Chen, who I know from Kitsilano Wine Cellars. Well, it turned out he was also the VP Sales and Marketing for the winery and was at the festival pouring their wines. I had a taste and came away impressed. After my chat with Denis, he promised to set up a sample pack for me to review, so here we are.

Let’s get you some information about the winery. Its owner, Andy Johnston is a British-born doctor who had a practice in Alberta for around 30 years. He prepared for his gig as a winery owner and winemaker by apprenticing in the vineyards of Italy, France, Australia, and New Zealand. After retirement he bought his Cowichan Valley property in 2001.

Averill Creek is definitely an estate producer only. They have roughly 30,000 vines on a 30-acre vineyard in the Cowichan Valley north of Duncan on Vancouver Island. All of Averill Creek’s wines are estate grown and come from this vineyard.

I was supplied with what turned out to be most of their current line-up and have tasted them over the last week or so. Here are my thoughts:

  • 2007 Pinot Gris: A sniff gave up lemon and ripe peach juice drizzled on a rock. The flavours showed some really nice lip-smackingly crisp acidity along with mouth-filling lemon-peach flavours. This, folks, is a really nice food wine, but would also make for a great aperitif on a sunny patio. It’s a solid value ($18). 4 stars
  • 2009 Pinot Grigio: This 100% stainless-steel fermented version is the crisp, quaff-able wine of the portfolio. It’s got a schwack of bracing acidity along with the nice fruit and flinty minerality. You know when you buy a really nice bunch of green grapes, take them home and really enjoy stuffing one after another into your mouth? This is the vinous equivalent ($18). 3.5 stars
  • 2009 Gewurztraminer: This was a very pleasing light and crisp Gewurz. It had soft rose petal and lychee flavours followed up by a honey-edged citrus acidity and a nice mineral edge to the finish. Very nice and another really solid value ($18). 4 stars
  • 2007 Pinot Noir: This is really nice, in that ripe kinda’ way. Think blackberry tea with Chinese all-spice on the finish. The tannins are medium-soft, so this is a bit more of a quaffer than a food-pairing wine. I really enjoyed it though, especially for the price ($28). 4 stars
  • 2007 Prevost: On the nose, I got smoked bacon with a sour cherry edge. That pretty much followed up in the flavours that finished with a peppery edge ($18). 3 stars
  • 2009 Foch’eh: This wine was made using carbonic maceration, which kept the fruit cool and fresh and makes for a very Gamay-like wine, with its really nice bright cherry and strawberry fruit. A very nice simple sipper for summer. Cool it down a touch and enjoy on the patio. Again, another solid value ($18). 3.5 stars
  • 2008 Cowichan Black: This is made from 100% Vancouver Island blackberries and comes in at 16% booze. All in all, it was a bit puzzling to me. A sniff gave me sour, yeasty light berry fruit, but a sip showed some of the ripe blackberry flavours I was expecting… with a bit of a green edge to the finish. It’s decent, but a bit of a novelty wine in an otherwise solid lineup ($18 for 375 ml). 2.5 stars

Overall, I was fairly impressed. If anything, the wines pleasantly surprised me. The line-up is definitely geared towards providing value and they’re really hitting the mark, especially with the Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir. Would I buy them? Yes, I would.

If you’ve never tried wines from Vancouver Island and you want to support the BC wine industry, you should give them a try. They can be found at various wine shops around Vancouver (and the province of BC).

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A visit to Hester Creek Estate Winery

A couple of weeks ago, I received a pretty tempting invite – to fly with a few other writers up to the Okanagan Valley for the day to visit, tour and taste at Oliver’s Hester Creek Estate Winery. It’s not often that offers like that come along, so I jumped at the chance. I thought it would be great to check out the new winery they had built and to taste the wines they’ve been turning out.

Hester Creek has an interesting story. The winery’s 75 acres is located on the Golden Mile near Oliver, where hot days and cool nights present almost perfect growing conditions for grapes. It was Joe Busnardo, an Italian immigrant who first planted grapes on the site 1968. Oddly enough, he chose Trebbiano as the first varietal to go into the ground – and some of those original plantings are still around in the winery’s vineyard. They’re thick and gnarled, but turn out a surprisingly tasty wine (more on that in a bit). Joe sold the winery in 1996 and relocated the Divino Estate Winery to the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

From 1996 to 2002, the winery was owned by a local group, headed by winemaker Frank Supernak. They renamed the winery after a creek flowing on the border of the winery’s land. The vineyards had been left in pretty rough shape, but the group did its best over the next 6 years to make a go of it. Unfortunately, they ran out of money and the winery ended up in receivership. Quite the tale for such a good piece of land.

To make a relatively long story a bit shorter, in 2004 the winery was acquired while in receivership by BC businessman, Curt Garland – and the turnaround began. Mr. Garland set about making the winery live up to its potential. He hired wine-maker Rob Summers in 2006, planted new vines in the vineyards, replaced old overhead systems with drip irrigation, constructed a new winery building and tasting room and really rounded out the project by building B&B style villas on the hill overlooking the winery and vineyards. The place is pretty state-of-the-art… and beautiful.

A lot of our visit was spent in winery’s main building. Here’s a summary of what we did:

  • We ate a beautiful Vegetable Pave (paired with the 2008 Pinot Gris), crafted by Chef Roger Planiden in their modern demonstration kitchen. This was built to hold cooking classes and small events at the winery.
    • 2008 Pinot Gris ($16.99) – very nice with a light minerality to the crisp citrus and peach flavours. It paired very well with the Pave. 3.5 stars
  • We then moved to their dining room, where we had an incredibly tasty meal of prosciutto-wrapped chicken in a blackberry reduction.
    • 2008 Cabernet/Merlot Blend ($15.99) -velvety cherry and berry flavours made this a surprisingly good pairing with the meal. 3.5 stars
  • Dessert was a delicious Chocolate Crème Brûlée with berries.
    • 2006 Reserve Merlot ($25.99) – very herbal, with nice ripe cherry/berry and coffee flavours. Silky tannins finish things off. 4 stars

After a tour of the winery’s inner workings, we ended up in the upstairs Board Room, where we tasted through much of the current Hester Creek line-up:

  • 2008 Trebbiano ($18.99) – this really surprised me. I didn’t expect to like it, but I did. A lot. It’s the perfect light summer aperitif wine that has enough zippy citrus acidity to stand up to olives and other light fare. I’ve since bought a bottle to enjoy at home. 4 stars
  • 2008 Pinot Blanc ($15.99) – another solid white. This food-friendly PB has really nice acidity to its peach, melon and apple flavours. 3.5 – 4 stars
  • 2008 Semillon/Chardonnay ($15.99) – this 50/50 blend offers up better than expected flavours of grapefruit, melon, apple and honey. It had a nice long mineral-edged finish. 3.5 stars
  • 2008 Merlot ($16.99) – soft tannins edged the ripe red cherry/berry fruit. 3.5 stars
  • 2006 Reserve Merlot ($25.99) – see the notes above…
  • 2006 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($25.99) – this proved to be my favourite of the reds we tasted. The nose had an herbal edge to the coffee, leather and dark cherry aromas. A sip showed ripe cherry, earth, dark chocolate and firm tannins to the herbal finish. I’ve since had another chance to taste it and liked it both times. 4 stars
  • We also had the chance to taste the 2008 vintage of what the folks at the winery refer to as “Italian Merlot“. They currently use it for blending, but we tasted a sample of it for interest’s sake. I really liked it. I thought it was Dolcetto-like in its earthy and herbal ripe red berry nose and in its flavours which gave me ripe and earthy red berry fruit with a long and mineral and pepper-edged finish. 4 stars

After the more formal tasting in the Board Room, a few of us were joined by wine-maker, Rob Summers at the counter in the tasting room. He started opening bottles (and boxes) for us to try. He’s an enthusiastic guy – and that rubs off. He wanted to share with us what he had been up to at the winery. It was cool to taste the difference between the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, made by wine-making consultant Eric von Krosigk and the 2006, made by Rob. The 2005 was extremely vegetal. The 2006 had a much fruitier edge. Having said that, they’ll no longer be making a single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead, those grapes will be used for blending.

All in all, I was quite impressed. It had been years since I had tried a wine from Hester Creek – and there was a reason for that. I hadn’t liked the wine that had come from there. Not so any more. With the new facilities and plantings, it’s now up to the wine-making team to run with it and show what they can do. Fortunately, from what I tasted, they’re well on their way.

If what they’re trying to do is position themselves as a value winery with approachable wines for the everyday consumer, I’d have to say that they’re hitting the mark. The wines are not necessarily ones that you would choose to sit in your cellar, but they are very affordable and approachable wines to drink today.

They definitely sit on some good land and from what I heard last Wednesday, could be aiming at the higher market some time in the near future with a smaller production Reserve wine… and let’s hope that wine-maker Rob Summers makes that happen. It would be fun to see what they could do with the resources they have.

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Napa/Sonoma trip – Day 2 in Sonoma Valley

Our second day in California’s wine country got off to a lazy start at my new favourite coffee spot in Santa Rosa, Flying Goat Coffee. After taking a leisurely stroll around Santa Rosa’s historic Railroad Square, we hopped in the car and headed toward our first stop of the day – Mazzocco Winery, near Healdsburg.

I had been emailing back and forth with Mazzocco for a while regarding a sample bottle they wanted to send me. Because of British Columbia’s antiquated and ridiculous liquor laws, it’s next to impossible to receive wine as samples in our province (I know – go figure)… so, while I was down in the area, it made sense to drop by, pick up the sample and taste the rest of the current releases.

Mazzocco Winery
It was Saturday, so that meant that both the parking lot and tasting room were chock full of Mazzocco wine fans. Candace and I made our way in and found a little corner at the tasting bar. I’ve liked pretty much everything I’ve tried from Mazzocco, so I was looking forward to trying their new wines. I’ll give something away here – I wasn’t disappointed. At all.

Here’s what we tasted:

  • 2007 Stuhlmuller Reserve Chardonnay ($36)
    Nice notes of vanilla, butter, caramel and citrus lead to a balanced and crisp finish.
    4 stars
  • 2004 “Inheritance” Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)
    5 years in oak produced a smoothly balanced wine with a lot of vanilla and licorice spice to the dark currant flavours.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2005 Merlot – Dry Creek Valley ($28)
    This had a nice vanilla edge and some cracked pepper and a tonne of dark cherry/berry fruit with a long finish.
    4 stars
  • 2005 Aguilera Petite Sirah ($35)
    This was very firm and tannic, yet approachable with its licorice and black cherry/berry flavours.
    4 – 4.5 stars

The Zinfandels:

  • 2007 Briar Zinfandel ($29)
    This was the first Zin of the tasting and wow – the pure fruit that Mazzocco gets out of their Zins is so good. This had big ripe blackberry syrup with a vanilla bean edge. The finish lasted minutes.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Stone Zinfandel ($29)
    Big, delicious ripe red berry fruit with a syrupy edge and a long, long finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2007 Warm Springs Zinfandel ($32)
    A dose of Petite Sirah added some tannic heft to this full-bodied dark berry bomb. So good.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Smith Orchard Reserve Zinfandel ($50)
    Wow. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but… again – this wine has outstanding dark berry with a syrupy edge to its long and pleasantly tannic finish.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Maple Reserve Zinfandel ($60)
    Mmmmmmm… the Maple Reserve. I really liked this (though I have to say that I really liked all their Zins). This one stayed with me just a little bit more. It had a dusty edge to its dark berry fruit with a touch of brown sugar to the long finish. Outstanding.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Antoine Philippe Reserve Zinfandel ($120)
    The winemaker’s personal reserve. Ever wonder what an over-$100 Zinfandel tastes like? Like this… or this is what that should taste like. When I reviewed the 2006, I called it “possibly the best Zinfandel I’ve ever tasted.” Well this may have surpassed it. Although the previous wines were great Zins, this was just a step above. Firm, but fine tannins cap the delicious dark fruit. Wow. Just wow.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Kenneth Carl Reserve Zinfandel ($150)
    This is just about right up there with the Antoine Philippe. This is the personal reserve chosen by the winery’s owner, Ken (Kenneth Carl) Wilson. It’s immense, with blackberry, black pepper and licorice. The finish just keeps on going. Another amazing effort.
    4.5 stars

I’d like to give a shout to Bernie (that’s her with me in the pic above), who despite having a packed tasting room, manged to keep the samples coming and was kind enough to fill me in on every wine we tasted and even showed me pics from the different vineyards.

The Zinfandels that Mazzocco turn out really hit my palate in all the right ways. They’ve got big and balanced fruit flavours with a briary edge to the firm, but not too firm tannins. Candace agreed. She picked these as her favourite wines of the trip.

Mauritson Wines
After leaving Mazzocco, I chose to drop in at nearby Mauritson Wines. Last summer, while in the area for ZAP, I had picked up a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County from them and was curious as to what their other wines might be like.

Here’s what we tasted:

  • 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley ($17)
    This had crisp citrus fruit and a nice mineral edge to the finish. Very refreshing.
    3.5 – 4 stars
  • 2007 Chardonnay Alexander Valley Valley ($25)
    I really liked this. It had a crisp citrus edge to its tropical fruit that led to a long finish. A very nice effort – only 457 cases were produced.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($27)
    There was an almost meaty edge to the pepper and dark berry/cherry fruit. Very tasty.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($35)
    This had refined and tasty black currant fruit with a vanilla edge. The tannins were fine, but firm and the finish lasted minutes. This could definitely benefit from some time in your cellar.
    4.5 stars

The Rockpile Zinfandels:
These are the wines for which Mauritson is best-known. I hadn’t really tried them before and have to say that I was very impressed. They were very well-balanced with loads of spice and dark fruit.

  • 2007 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel ($35)
    Tasty jammy ripe red berry fruit with black pepper and really nice mineral-edged tannins on the finish. Really good stuff.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Rockpile Jack’s Cabin Vineyard Zinfandel ($37)
    This really grabbed me. I picked up flavours of black pepper, licorice, dark chocolate and juicy dark berries.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Rockpile Westphall Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel ($37)
    I got a bit of a meaty edge to the nose of this wine… but the flavours were all about the dark berry fruit along with licorice. Wow – a very tasty Zin.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Rockpile Cemetary Vineyard Zinfandel ($39)
    This is a bit of a monster – it’s got all the beautiful dark Zinfandel fruit, but with layers of complexity and a load of tannins on the finish. This is the one I tasted that could sit in your cellar for a while. Very, very good.
    4.5 stars

There were a few other wineries I would have liked to have visited on Saturday, but quality should always win out over quantity. I would whole-heartedly recommend visits to both wineries. The folks manning the tasting rooms were unbelievably friendly and the wines… well, there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. Check them out. Your taste buds will thank you.

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Napa/Sonoma trip – Day 1 in Napa Valley

Candace and I headed into the Napa Valley last Friday and I was really looking forward to the appointments I had set up. The weather was spring-warm perfect, the traffic was light and I was looking forward to tasting some of Napa’s Cabernet. First in line was the venerable Beaulieu Vineyard, located in Rutherford. The second appointment was set for 2pm at Whitehall Lane Winery and we were penciled in at Cuvaison Estate Wines in Calistoga for 4pm. It was going to be an afternoon full of (hopefully) good wine.

Beaulieu Vineyard:
I had only visited Beaulieu once before – way back in 1991. That was also my first visit to Napa Valley. What I really remember about the visit was that, back then, like many guys in their early 20’s I was into the whole Seattle music scene and had the hair to match. It was halfway down my back. I know… I know, but hey – it was the early 90’s. The point of mentioning this was that many of the wineries, upon seeing 4 long-haired musician-looking types headed their way, lived up to the much-feared wine snob stereotype – they treated us like crap. We were there to learn, sample and buy. They made that much less pleasant than it should have been.

Not Beaulieu. To this day, I have a soft spot for them because of the open and friendly way we were greeted and led through a wine sampling education. It was what a visit to a winery should be – FUN. They helped send me down the road to being the wine geek I am today. I don’t remember the names of the nice folks from that visit, but will fondly remember our tasting with Robert last Friday.

We were greeted at the door with a sample of their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and then made our way to their tasting bar and through their Maestro Collection and their Napa Valley Cabernets. Here’s a list and quick rating of what we tasted:

  • 2006 Maestro Petite Sirah ($32) – 3.5 – 4 stars
  • 2005 Maestro Ensemble Red ($27) – 4 stars
  • 2006 Maestro Zinfandel ($30) – 4 stars
  • (Unsure of the vintage) Tempranillo ($?) – 4 stars

The Cabernets:

  • 2006 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) – 4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2005 Reserve Maestro Cabernet No. 1 ($65) – 4.5 stars
  • 2005 Reserve Maestro Cabernet No. 2 ($65) – 4.5 stars (my favourite of this flight)
  • 2006 Reserve Maestro Cabernet No. 2 ($65) – 4.5 stars

After tasting these, Robert took us down to the members’ tasting lounge and seated us in front of 4 glasses. Into those he poured:

  • 2006 Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir ($45)
    Beautiful colour with elegant ripe plum and cherry flavours.
    4 stars
  • 2003 Tapestry Reserve ($? – a classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec)
    Balanced ripe fruit with firm yet silky mineral-laced tannins.
    4 stars
  • 2006 Tapestry Reserve ($60)
    Bigger and earthier with a toasty edge to the dark cherry, black currant and dark chocolate flavours. Lots of tannin. Very tasty.
    4.5 stars
  • 2006 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($115)
    Really good. Lots of complexity. I got licorice, blackberry, black currant and vanilla spice on the nose. The flavours showed all that along with some coffee. The finish lasted minutes and was very firm. It has the structure to last for quite a while and will be best in a few years.
    4.5 stars

Whitehall Lane Winery:
Next up was our 2pm appointment with Katie. This is a much smaller family operation compared to Beaulieu. It was bought by Tom Leonardini Sr. in 1993 and has seen extensive changes to the winery and the equipment since that time. The winery owns roughly 110 acres of vineyards in the Napa Valley including the Leonardini Vineyard in St. Helena and the Rutherford West Vineyard in, you guessed it, Rutherford.

Katie poured us a sample of their Chardonnay and led us out of the tasting room and into the winery. We watched them bottling their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and had a quick tour of the member’s lounge and a beautiful view of the surrounding vineyards from its deck. We then headed back to the tasting room to sample their wines. Here’s what we tasted:

  • 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($16)
    Crisp acidity and nice citrus and melon fruit.
    3.5 – 4 stars
  • 2007 Chardonnay, Carneros ($28)
    Again – nice and crisp with pear and citrus with some vanilla from the oak.
    3.5 – 4 stars
  • 2007 Pinot Noir, Carneros ($28)
    Very light with nice red cherry and a bit of citrus and spice.
    3.5 stars
  • 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley ($28)
    Black cherry and berry with a floral edge lead to nice vanilla and spice on the finish.
    4 stars
  • 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($40)
    Nice tannins edge the ripe blackberry and black currant fruit with earth and spice on the finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($60)
    This is a blend of fruit from both of their Cabernet vineyard sites in the Napa Valley. It really grabbed my taste buds with its ripe fruit and elegant balance. Flavours of black currant, dark cherry and berry led to a spicy vanilla-tinged finish from the oak. It’s still quite young and will be best in a year or so (or more).
    4.5 stars
  • 2006 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($60)
    This was Candace’s favourite wine of the day, with a really nice nose that hinted at the ripe fruit to come. A sip literally explodes in the mouth with jammy back currant and berry fruit, followed by a long and elegant finish with very firm tannins.
    4.5 stars
  • 2006 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($60)
    This wine was a very interesting counterpart to the St. Helena Cab. It tasted of the “Rutherford Dust” the area is known for. This also had really elegant fruit and a long spicy finish. I really liked this one.
    4.5 stars

All in all, I’d have to say that I really liked the Cabs we tasted. As a matter of fact, I liked them enough that I took a few with me when we left.

Cuvaison Estate Wines:
Last July when I was down in Napa and Sonoma for the Wine Blogger’s Conference, a mix-up left Graham, Shea and I standing in Cuvaison’s Calistoga parking lot wondering where the rest of the crew had disappeared to… only to realize that they had been bused down to Cuvaison’s newer Carneros facility. Well, I made a mental note to return to the cozy Calistoga tasting room the next time I was in the area – so with an appointment set up by my friend Paul Watkin of Seacove Wines (who represent Cuvaison in BC), here we were.

After a recent re-vamp, the room was not only cozy, but modern as well. We settled in at one of the tables and Gabe brought around the samples and filled us in on the geographical and winemaking facts for each wine. I was really impressed with what he poured:

  • 2007 S Block Chardonnay ($38)
    This had really gorgeous fruit – orange peel, melon and pineapple that led to a balanced and crisp finish. Very tasty.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 ATS Chardonnay ($54)
    Wow. There was an explosion of flavour on the finish of this wine – crème brulée, nut, apple and mineral-edged lemon. Initially, a sip gave peach, and citrus flavours, but man… that finish. Very good.
    4.5 stars
  • 2008 Mariafield Pinot Noir ($32)
    This Swiss clone gives bright purple cherry and cola flavours, with tonnes of spice and cherry cola on the finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2007 Block F5 Pinot Noir ($45)
    I really liked this wine. It was darker in colour than the Mariafield and struck me as having more going on. On the nose, there was blackberry and ripe red cherry. A sip gave me silky tannins that edged the black cherry cola, spice and floral flavours.
    4.5 stars
  • 2007 Zinfandel, Bald Mountain ($35)
    This wine surprised me. I know Cuvaison is known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but they also turn out a tasty Zinfandel. It had nice dark plum and berry on the nose. Flavours of ripe plum, dark berry led out to bramble spice and cracked pepper on the finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder ($45)
    Black pepper and ripe currant on the nose led to black pepper, currant and licorice flavours and a long finish.
    4 – 4.5 stars
  • 2006 Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder ($85)
    This really caught me off guard. Its’ delicious! The nose showed purple berry, vanilla and licorice spice. The flavours were big and balanced – ripe dark berry, black currant, licorice and spice on the long, long finish. Wow.
    4.5 stars

I have to say that this is the way to spend a day in Napa Valley. Make a few appointments and really spend the time going through each winery’s wines. There are a lot of great wineries in the valley, so take some time to check them out.

8 comments

2006 Marchesi di Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni, Toscana

So far this under-$30 thing is working for me. I’m 2 for 2 in finding wines I would happily sip at any price, let alone for under $30 CDN.

While I was in the Thurlow & Alberni specialty LDB store last week, I took a look at the Italian section. Knowing that 2006 was a phenomenal vintage for all things Tuscan, I spotted this 2006 and decided to give it a go. It’s a super-Tuscan blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Sangiovese and 21% Merlot that I had tasted, but not loved, a few times in the past.

Well, 2006 seems to have fixed that. For the money, I was really happy with this wine. After a bit of time in the glass, the nose was a sultry mix of ripe cherry, perfumed rose petals, tobacco and an earthy minerality. The flavours were equally seductive, offering up rich and ripe berry/cherry fruit, chocolate and a finish laced with floral notes and silky tannins.

This is a seriously tasty and enjoyable wine for $25 (CDN).

$24.99 at LDB stores here in BC.

4 stars

2 comments

Best Damn Tasting Ever! presented by the Seacove Group and New World Wines

OK, so I’ve been really bad with posting lately… and rightfully so. I’ve got a life and a full-time, outside wine job. I’ve been feeling badly about the lack of posts, so I’ve resolved to writing at least a few of ’em a week for the next while. Not only does that accomplish the more-posts-in-a-month goal, but it also makes me document the wine I drink, which was the original idea behind this site.

Well, now that that’s out there, I’ll get down to the task at hand. A few weeks ago, I received an invite from my friend Paul Watkin, who works with the Seacove Group, a wine agency in town for a tempting-sounding trade tasting being held at the Metropolitan Hotel.

The tasting was put on by the Seacove Group and the New World Wines agencies – and featured a diverse selection of wines from pretty much everywhere. There were wines from Italy, France, Spain, New Zealand, Portugal and the USA. Graham and I made our way around the room and I can honestly say there wasn’t a single wine we didn’t enjoy. Both agencies have some stunners, so I’m just going to give you our top 5’s from each.

Graham’s picks from Seacove:

  • Champagne de Venoge Brut Milliesime 1995 – Stunning length with beautiful citrus and lees.
  • Livon Braide Alte 2006 – Loved this wine.  Superbly crisp with nice pear and lime and solid mineral finish.  I imagined this with mussels or clams.  Mmmmm….
  • Egelhoff Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 – A gorgeous Napa Cab with great black fruit.  This wine was like someone ground a pepper mill over the glass.  Excellent stuff.
  • Chateau des Graviers AOC Margaux “Quintessence” 2001 – Delicious.  Great nose of tea, marker and ground coffee.  Finishes up with some nice graphite and green leaf.
  • Moncellior Pinot Noir 2008 – I really liked this one.  Nice full raspberry nose with great acidity and some nice green stalk on the finish.  This is a great value in the Otago Pinots for $35.

My picks from Seacove:

  • 1995 Champagne de Venoge Brut Millesièmme -Wow. Just wow. So graceful and tasty.
  • 2006 Signorello Winery Padrone – OK, it’s expensive, but it’s also really bloody tasty. Massive black fruit and pepper are followed by equally massive tannins. This one needs time.
  • 2005 Van Zeller Douro CV “Curriculum Vitae” – Elegant dark plum and berry fruit lead to a loooong finish. Pretty wonderful stuff.
  • 2003 Egelhoff Wines Cabernet Sauvignon – Great dark fruit and black pepper flavours made me want to go back for more.
  • 2006 Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional – Dark fruit and chocolate with a finish that lasted minutes. I love this wine.

Graham’s picks from New World Wines:

  • Barnett Vineyards Merlot Spring Mountain 2006 – Amazing spice on this wine.  Anise and Cinnamon with gorgeous red fruit.  Loved it.
  • Darioush Winery Signature Series Shiraz 2005 – Deep intense black fruit with nice black pepper and firm tannins.
  • DeLille Cellars D2 2006 – This was soft and sexy goodness.  Gorgeous red fruit and silky finish.
  • Betz Family Winery Clos de Betz 2006 – Beautiful dark chocolate, black fruit and some nice mint on the finish. – Loved it.
  • Flowers Vineyard & Winery  Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2006 – Elegant, with beautiful cranberry and currant.  Great length with a bit a brown sugar on the finish.

My picks from New World Wines:

  • 2005 Darioush Winery Signature Series Shiraz – So good! Immense dark fruit, dark chocolate and black tea flavours lead out to a long-long finish.
  • 2006 Barnett Vineyards Merlot Spring Mountain – Dark chocolate and plum fruit with a toasty edge. So good.
  • 2006 Betz Family Clos de Betz – It may be starting to sound like a record on repeat, but dark chocolate and blackberry flavours made me want more.
  • 2006 DeLille Cellars D2 – Mouth-filling dark fruit. Yum.
  • 2004 Lail Vineyards Blue Print – This had a hint of bell pepper to its dark fruit and spice. Bloody good.
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