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On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Two Guys Talking Wine : Two Thumbs Up - December 2019

03 Dec 2019

This month we launch our very first "Two Thumbs Up", an homage to film reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, where we simplify the wine reviewing process to a couple of thumbs, or in some cases just one single thumb up, as a way of scoring wines ... you can listen to the accompanying podcast here - or read the notes below:

2018 Henry of Pelham Bin 106 Baco Noir - $29.95
THUMBS UP - André - I am firmly in the category of Baco Noir skeptic - that being said the Speck brothers know what they are doing. This delivers rich mexican vanilla caressing juicy blue fruit - a must have for Baco lovers, and lovers of Ontario Wine at large.
THUMBS UP - Michael - I’m even more skeptical than you are when it comes to Baco and I hate to encourage this grape being made into wine; that said I agree that the Speck boys do have a handle on it, it’s the other 90% of the stuff being made in Ontario that shouldn’t be.

2017 Thirty Bench Red - $24.95
THUMBS DOWN - A - There is nothing really wrong with this wine - but for twenty five dollars from Ontario, in this style, I was expecting more. Given that I have better places to put my twenty five bucks from Ontario I am going to do just that.
THUMBS UP - M - Wow, Mr. Curmudgeon, this is one of the better and more approachable Thirty Bench Reds that has come out in quite some time, and it will age for a number of years to come, I think anyone who buys it now will be even happier they did in 2025.

2017 Featherstone Joy Brut Rosé - $29.95
THUMBS UP - A - I am a big fan of Pinot Noir sparkling made traditional method with a short time on lees - it manages to preserve the freshness of the red fruit and mates it with the zippy acid you expect from a great bottle of sparkling.
THUMBS UP - M - But just barely, I know you’re a fan of this wine, as I am, but they have made such stellar version in the past that I find this one just passable, but not up to the calibre it has been.

2017 Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay - $44.95
THUMBS UP - A - I first tasted this in July of 2018 - I have been fortunate enough to revisit this every few months since that first glimpse - the wine is drinking great right now but it’s exciting to see Le Clos Jordanne is back and this is only the beginning.
THUMBS DOWN - M - Not enough to give it a failing grade on my website but I was not as thrilled with this version as you are, but then again we all know for you if it says Chardonnay you are all over it … this just lacked the kind of finesse I expect for a $45 Chardonnay - it might come around but it’s not there yet.

2015 Hinterland Les Etoiles - $43.00
THUMBS UP - A - by far the most approachable Les Etoiles made to date - but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to guzzle any bottle you can get your hands on, thanks to a short crop there are very few of these bottles available.
THUMBS UP - M - Jonas sure knows what he is doing with his bubbly program and he never fails to impress with what he puts in the bottle - and while this one is more pricey than the Featherstone in comparison it delivers when compared to past versions of the wine.

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs NV - $29.95
THUMBS UP - M - My thumb could not shoot up fast enough when we tasted this, easily one of the most under-rated bubbly in the province, and don’t let Cave Spring know it’s also under-priced, especially with your Champagne comparison … you’re not going to get any argument from me there, I just want to make sure I get a few bottles into my cellar before our review makes it sell out.
THUMBS UP - A - STOP TELLING WINERIES WHEN THEIR GOODS ARE UNDERPRICED - while it may be true - I don’t want the people at the winery to get any ideas, especially given that the quality in this bottle pushes into entry level Champagne quality easily.

2016 Louis M Martini Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - $39.95
THUMBS UP - M - What’s that word you keep using, “sessionable”, hell this Cali-Cab has all the ear-marks of that: juicy, red fruit, currants, black cherry, hints of vanilla - focused and well-balanced; I was impressed.
THUMBS UP - A - Sessionable is a great way to describe this wine - and given that I have been known to grab the odd bottle pushing north of fifty dollars I end up feeling guilty when I realize how quickly the wine disappears. I realize this is asking a lot for a mid week sipper - but if you want to see what the fuss is all about in Napa but haven’t wanted to make the investment in more expensive bottles start here.

2017 Ferox Rosé - $24.80
THUMBS UP - A - Bright confected fruit, and there is a bit of spritz to boot - this is easy drinking and a bit of bottled summer for the cold months to come.
THUMBS DOWN - M - Once again your love of Rosee gets in the way of reason, confected is a good word here, and the effervescent threw me off, sure it has some strawberry and floral notes and has a pretty pink grapefruit finish, but that fizz is a killer for me because I’m not sure it’s not a fault.


Report from : New York & Ohio Winery Visits

22 Nov 2019


A quick trip to visit and spend time with friends in Ohio who annually hold a rosé party brought me into contact with three wineries along the road, one in New York and two in Ohio ... what I discovered can best be described as: Good, Very Good and Ugly. Let me recount it for you here:

New York …Johnson Estate 1

Our first visit was to Johnson Estate (established 1961 – “New York’s oldest estate winery") located very close to the Pennsylvania border, so close in fact that as we took back roads to get back onto the interstate highway we missed the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign or the “State Line” marker. Johnson started as a mixed fruit farm in 1911 and in 1929 the family began making wine, the winery officially opened in 1961. They have a 300 acre farm with 110 of it planted to grapes (13 varieties) of which Concord and Riesling are the most planted. We tasted a number of wines, these were my top selections:

click on wine name for full review
2017 Toasted Oak Chardonnay … (*** ½+)
2017 Pinot Noir … (*** ½)
2017 Bright Steel Chardonnay … (***)

Result: Good

Ohio …

As we cross into Ohio we begin to look for one of the two wineries suggested to us. One came highly recommended and has even been made aware of our arrival – the other also comes with a seal of approval from my Ohio contact, but without the benefit of the introduction. I’ll start this piece with my pop-in visit to M Cellars. M Cellars 1

Owned and operated by husband and wife team Tara and Matt Meineke (no relation to Meineke Mufflers, though Matt comes from an automotive background). They acquired the land where the winery sits in 2007 and planted the vineyard between the years of 2008/2009. Now 31 acres in total of which 19 are planted to grapes, Cabernet Franc being the biggest planting (6 acres), but they are also expanding their Champagne clones for sparkling wine (Chardonnay / Pinot Noir / Pinot Meunier) - and their sparkling was a bright spot in their portfolio, nice to see traditional method being made and tasting so good. They are not ashamed to admit they model themselves after the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Ontario (and have plenty of dealings and visits under their belt to Niagara to gauge where they sit on that bar); what came as a surprise was that they also consult with a Niagara winemaker. Nine varieties are planted on the farm including Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Petit Verdot and Gruner Veltliner – and you can probably guess the rest. We were able to taste through most, if not all of their estate grown wines, many of which were impressive – here’s my list of the best of the best, the good news is there is some length to this list.

click on wine name for full review
2017 Brut Rosé … (*** ½+)
2018 Chardonnay … (*** ½)
2017 Chardonnay Reserve … (*** ½)
2016 Pinot Noir … (*** ½)
2017 Pinot Noir Reserve … (*** ½+)
2018 Gewurztraminer … (*** ½+)
2017 Meritage … (****)
2018 Rosé … (*** ½+)

Result: Very Good

Buoyed by what we saw and tasted at M Cellars we enthusiastically drove to our next stop, Laurentia Winery – who had been given a heads up about our arrival, but we were not given a name to ask for because, according to my friend and wine club member there "looks like you are on your own" because their tasting room manager was un-helpful setting up a tasting for us ... that said I still identified myself at the tasting bar and yet we were provided terrible service (afraid to find out how others are treated). Our server gave us little to no information about the wines we were trying – at one point she was actually reading the tasting notes out loud to me instead of providing me with the technical information I was asking about (length of time in barrel, type of wood, varieties in the wine, etc.), she also never asked anyone for help in finding out the information I was requesting. Five wines were tasted and no more were offered up due to tasting “guidelines”, rules, and finally, I was not paying their outlandish prices for a tasting, considering I was spitting every drop. I also decided I only wanted to taste wines made with estate grown grapes - my server was not very helpful with that aspect of the tasting either. As I said I as only able to taste 5 wines, I found the concrete aged Chardonnay (ie: Beton) was bland, the Pinot Noir / Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé was not refreshing, the “Lees Chardonnay” had an off-putting finish … there were two bright spots, these two wines were the “best” of a bad lot.

click on wine name for full review
2017 Pinot Noir … (*** ½)
2016 Cabernet Franc … (***+)

Result: Ugly

My contact says that if you are a club member you get the top end wines of the estate, but after the tasting I received I’m not sure you could get me to the point of even talking about wine club membership.  My takeaway here was that this is a classic case of the Emperor having no clothes – the property and drive up are beautiful (reminds me of that late 70's TV show Dallas) with sweeping tree lines and roads through the woods to the “chalet” style winery; it is by surrounding themselves with this vista they are hoping people won’t notice there is nothing underneath the facade, give them a show and we can baffle them with the bullshit we spew. And while the food and the show might be nice (there seemed to be a place to sit and eat), their reason to be there, the wine, was less than impressive and the service matched; in my humble opinion. My friend has given me a bottle of “wine club only” Cabernet Franc, I’ll taste it later, when I don’t have such a bad taste in my mouth, and see if the wine club is actually getting better wines than the public off the street.

But let’s finish this on a high note … when in Ohio I recommend hitting up M Cellars – if it wasn’t for them I am sure my opinion of Ohio wine would be to never go back – but right now I am looking forward to visiting them again and seeing what heights they are able to hit. I also found out they have a back patio, might be nice to crack a bottle of bubbles out there and enjoy a loungy afternoon, and if the Rose is any indication I bet many people do, might be hard to get a seat on a warm summer day, best get there early.


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