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 - Churchill Cellars Portfolio Tasting - April 2, 2007

06 Apr 2007
Churchill Cellars puts on quite the spread during their annual portfolio tasting … not just wines, but cheeses, sandwiches and the best little shortbreads I’ve ever tasted (more on that later).  Held in the Barbara Frum Atrium at the CBC building, this invitation only event (you sign up for their newsletter and the invite comes sometime in February) is held annually to let consumers try what Churchill is offering through the LCBO, Vintages, restaurants and on consignment.  This year a few things struck me as great value, good wine and readily available.

Cheap and Cheerful to Darn Good:

The 2006 Banrock Station Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.00 - #603365) is a great red-fruit driven everyday drinker … parties, pizzas, you name it.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.90 - #392225) is another great drinker with black fruit, black cherry, cassis and a sweet cherry finish … this one is for more serious parties and patio get togethers.  For your next occasion you could do much worse than bringing Robert with as your date.

Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva was recently released into the LCBO Vintages section ($14.95 - #24679) – raspberry and strawberry throughout the smell and taste – red fruit dominated with a sweet and spicy finish – quite smooth and ready to go; well priced too.

D’Arenberg (from Australia) has become quite the staple on Vintage shelves … the Footbolt Shiraz ($20.95 - #984021) has really good spicy fruit in the glass; if you like your Shiraz with a kick you’ll love the jolt you get from the bolt.

Climbing the price ladder, the just released Ravenswood 2004 Sonoma Old Vines Zinfandel ($28.95 - #673798) has great nutmeg, spice and hints of oregano on the nose with a milk chocolate smooth finish and lots of fruitiness to boot.  I recommend holding onto it for 5 years and see what happens.  Staying with Ravenswood, their 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($31.95 - #25213) is black fruit dominated, smooth and lush in the mouth with great sweet fruit through the mid-palate.

The 2003 Simi Merlot ($30.95 - #30759) has spicy black fruit and chocolate tones.  Smooth as silk.  While the pre-Christmas expected 2004 Chateau Reynella Basket Pressed Shiraz ($35.00 - #510628) was stellar, with a sweet cherry nose, some mouth-drying tannin along with spicy black fruit and eucalyptus.

My need to finish the day off with something sweet drew me to the Port table where the chocolate, cherry and plum driven Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port [2000] ($16.95 - #613927) was being poured.  This is a total steal for Port lovers.

I promised you a tip on the best shortbread and here it is … Get your hands on ones made by M & G Kitchens.  They were sampling some of the most delicious shortbread I have ever wrapped my mouth around.  They make them in two varieties, which in total encompass 8 flavours:  Sweet and Savoury.  In the Savoury category you can choose from Herbes Provence; Moroccan Spice; Smoked Paprika and Coconut Curry.  My personal favourites were in the Sweet category, where you gets ones like Chai, Chocolate Hazelnut; Buttercrunch Pecan; and an utterly awesome Vanilla.  All are cut into bite sized cutes and go well with a variety of wines.  They may seem a little steep at $8 a box, but well worth it.  To check out where to buy them go to their website www.mgkitchen.ca.

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.

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