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.

Report from - Toronto Wine and Cheese Show 2007

26 Mar 2007
Toronto is in a very lucky position.  They get all those country/region specific wine shows and fairs that making the tour of the country (or at least the big city centers), like Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, California – you name it Toronto gets it.  If you’re a fan of any specific country’s wine sooner or later, and each year, Toronto will have a show dedicated to your country of choice and it’s wines.  Of course this spells doom and gloom for the Toronto Wine and Cheese show’s attendance.  Many have asked me “why would I go to a show that features everything when I only like [put your favourite winemaking country here]’s wine?”  And I’ll say to you that you have just answered your own question – it’s a show that features everything, a way for you to find something new.  The Toronto Wine and Cheese Show is a great event for people who want to experience wine on a global scale.  If you’re a lover of wine it is one show you should attend.  Whether you think of yourself as an Oz-ophile, a Kiwi-junkie, a Cali-lover, a New York-denizen, a Spain aficianado, a South African inspired drinker or an Italy-loving-totaler … you can find so much more at the show, and you might be surprised to find out what else you like.  And best of all it gives you the chance to try before you buy.  Instead of spending that $15 on a South African Pinotage give it a go for 2 tickets … Love Australian Shiraz, don’t just paint yourself with that one single stroke, try the Chilean version for another 2 tickets and broaden your stroke … Adore California but only know it for White Zinfandel, try a full-bodied red version for another 2.  There is so much to taste and try.  Let’s see what tickled my tongue this year and see if we can’t reform your way of thinking.

Best of Show:

Every year I try to pick a few wonderful wines that really get me anticipating their arrival at the LCBO (sometimes they’re already there as a hidden gems).  This year, hands down, a wine from a California winery took the crown:  Folie a Deux 2005 Menage a Trois (#665158 – Vintages July 21, 2007 - $18.95) – a fun little name for a fun wine.  A blend of three grapes, and one of the few times you’ll see Zinfandel as one of those grapes:  Zin, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Great fruit flavours and smells, mainly plum and cherry and just a hint of perceived sweetness on the finish – which I am sure come from the jammy-fruited Zin flexing its muscles.  This is a fun, friendly and wonderful wine I’d be happy to serve anywhere … it’s not pretentious and snooty, it’s just plain good and well priced.

A Couple of Other Show Stoppers:

Delheim 2004 Pinotage (#714253 - $19.95) with a great cherry-vanilla nose and raspberry-leather taste (South Africa).  De Bortoli’s new release at the LCBO is Deen Vat 9 Cabernet (#17467 - $14.95) which is a good value Cabernet, smooth, easy drinking with black fruit, vanilla and some cinnamon flavours (Australia).

Closer to Home:

The Wine and Cheese Show is also a great way to discover wineries that may be right in your own backyard.  Lailey Vineyards (Niagara-on-the-Lake) 2004 Cabernet ($19.95 – winery only) is drinking wonderfully right now, but could probably sit a few more years, if you are so inclined to wait.  Downey’s, a fruit winery on the outskirts of Brampton, has made the leap to maple syrup wines with Maple “Gold” (375ml - $26.95 / 200ml - $14.95); not too sweet, surprising, considering its maple – but otherwise it retains all the characteristics of maple.  This is a wine for dessert in very small glass – as Brylcream would claim “a little dabble-do-ya”.  Mastronardi, from out Lake Erie North Shore way, gave me a tasting of 3 new, value priced, wines:  a good fruit driven 2005 barrel-aged Chardonnay ($16); a stainless steel 2005 Zweigelt ($13) a flavour profile of rhubarb, spice and plum – very smooth; and finally, their 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($18), lots of spice with a mingling of red and black fruit.

Not Just Wine:

Beer is also a big part of the show and two Ontario breweries have some big news.  The Robert Simpson Brewing Company of Barrie is launching “SugarBush”, a lighter (4.5%) beer that has great fruit forwardness, some apparent sweetness (from the fruitiness), with a nice, clean, nutty finish – this’ll be a hit at your local pub; someone made mention that it tastes comparable to South American beers, not surprising since the yeast was sourced from Mexico.

Prince Edward County’s Glenora Springs Brewery is sportin’ a new name, a new look and a new location.  Barley Days Brewery, soon to be relocated more inland (closer to Picton), have shucked their usual big bottled beers for the more standard size bottle … though the beer inside has not changed (just the name of some of them).  Al Sager, sales and marketing manager, told me it’s to make it more accessible, “the LCBO likes that size bottle” – that way Barley Days beer can be enjoyed outside the County more readily by those who visit and enjoy the product.

Home Grown Hero:

Speaking of the County, one of these days I’ll get around to writing up Huff Estates in a winery review, because they truly are becoming one of the star winemaking establishments of the County in their ultra-modern building and state of the art facility.  At the show I was treated to 5 of their wines from the just released to the up-and-coming.  Here are my top 3, in ascending order (3 to 1):  The 2006 Riesling Off-Dry ($14.95) with good peach and citrus on both the nose and taste; the 2005 Gamay ($14.95), spicy with some cherry undertones; and the soon-to-be-released, just in time for summer (June) 2006 Cabernet Franc Rose ($10.95) which has a wonderful pink grapefruit nose, good acidity and a medium finish … this is an amazing thirst quencher which I could have sworn was a pink Sauvignon Blanc had you served it to me blind.  Bubbling under the top 3 is the Reserve Gamay ($32.95), it’s 16 months in French oak has brought out some wonderful flavours like vanilla, nutmeg and cherry on the nose following through on the palate with vanilla and cedar notes, all finished off with some great robust cherry tones.

Finishing Off:

Looking for something to end your day or meal?  I am a big fan of port, but if you are looking for something a little lighter but still on the sweet side to finish off that wonderful Easter meal, special dinner or even just a snip of something to end the week or day off, try a Mavrodaphe of Patras (Greece - #208413 - $10.95).  This truly is a steal of a wine … not too sweet (sugar code 13) but easy drinking and it leaves the mouth sweetened just enough to be comfortable without cloying it up.  Good port like aromas, but lighter – heck I bought two.


I would say the Wine and Cheese Show was very successful if for nothing else I found some great wine world finds … why go to the Wine and Cheese Show you ask – because you can’t allow yourself to be caught in a one country, one grape wine-rut when there is so much out there to try … some might say there’s a glut of good wine.  Say goodbye to the Rut and hello to the Glut.

Report from - Nights 1 & 2 Baco Challenge (Feb 5/12, 2007)

14 Mar 2007
Night 1 – Feb. 5, 2007

The night was cold, the fire was hot and the barrel cellar was cozy, as 15 of us filed in for the first night of this four-night event.  Tonight was all about young, or regular, Baco Noir, 9 wines were selected from the 18 entrants into this part of the competition … picked and poured completely at random.  Mostly 2005 and 2004 vintage wines, with a 2002 thrown in for good measure.  In fact, 2 of the wines entered in this category pre-dated the 2004 vintage – a 2002 and a 2001.  These wines were split up between the two nights that hosted regular Baco.  The stipulation for all wines and wineries was that the wine had to be available for purchase as of March 2007, which meant that some entrants were barrel samples, while others had just been bottled and were released to us prior to going on store shelves.  All three major regions of Ontario were represented.  On this night, the line-up was:  Peller, Harbour, Hernder, Rockway, Vineland, and Caroline from Niagara; Black Prince and Sandbanks from Prince Edward County; and Aleksander from the Lake Erie North Shore region.

All wines were uncorked at 6:45pm, poured at 7:00pm and the tasting began at 7:30pm.  By 8:30 all the tasting was done and the votes and comments were put to paper (wines were rated for taste/nose and likelihood to buy, not knowing the price).  It was time for the price-reveal, where I told the tasters the price of the wine and asked them to judge the value with regards to the taste (the third criteria).  After all the scores were marked down, then, and only then, were the identities of the wine revealed.

Night 1 saw Vineland’s 2005 Baco Noir take home the highest rating for taste/nose, Sandbanks’ second bottling of their 2005 Baco Noir took the likelihood to purchase site unseen crown, while Hernder’s 2002 Baco Noir, on the strength of their best value status took Overall Best Baco of the evening.  Their bottle of ’02 is available at both the winery and the LCBO for a mere tuppence ($7.95).  Their value status may have vaulted them into first place but they also ranked high in the other two categories, placing 2nd for taste and 3rd in likelihood to buy.  Those in attendance could not believe is was so readily available, and so “cheap”.  Second place of the night went to Vineland’s 2005 while third was quietly taken by Peller’s Heritage Series Baco Noir ’05.

Night 2 – Feb. 12, 2007

A larger crowd assembled for this evening, no doubt word had spread and interest had been peaked.  This was night two of the young (regular) Baco category, with another 9 wines grouped at random.  Those in attendance the previous night commented that the tastes were more earthy in this grouping, while those from grouping one were more dark fruit oriented.  I assured them that the grouping was purely random and the tasting similarities were freak chance.  Night two’s scores were lower than on night one.  I attribute that to the larger crowd, hence more diverse opinions.  The procedure for wine opening, pouring and tasting was the same as described on night one.  As for the wines being poured, representing Niagara were Mountain Road, 20 Bees, Rockway, Konzelmann, Birchwood, and Henry of Pelham; Prince Edward County had Waupoos and Black Prince in their corner; while the lone Lake Erie wine was from Erie Shore Vineyard.

Once again, the scores were spread out over the three categories with no conclusive winner, number crunching was definitely in order.  Top rated for nose/taste was again one of the oldest entries, the Mountain Road Wine Company 2001 Baco Noir; likelihood to purchase site-unseen went to Henry of Pelham’s 2005, and the value win was notched by Niagara’s only co-op, 20 Bees – which was surprisingly the same price as Pelham ($12.95), yet took 6th for taste.  That being said, the top 6 rated for taste were only separated by .74, so it was a very close battle for the tastebuds of the samplers.  Night two’s overall winner was Henry of Pelham’s 2005 Baco Noir, squeaking by Mountain Road’s 2001 by .04.  Henry also took 2nd for taste, 1st for likelihood to buy and third for value.  Rounding out the top three was the 20 Bees 2005 offering.

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