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 - Uncover Australia - Sept. 27, 2006

03 Jan 2007
On Wednesday September 27, I attended the Uncover Australia Event at The MaRS Centre in Toronto, to find out what I could uncover about Australian wines. And man are the Australians doing it right – but I bet you already knew that because Canada has recently become Australia’s third largest export market; which means we Canadians are drinking a lot of Australian wine.

Over 70 wineries were on hand, pouring over 400 different wines, everything from Shiraz (as you’d expect) to Tempranillo (?) and Zinfandel (??) in reds and Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, Chardonnay in whites. The show was spread out over 2 levels and colour coded to help designate the different regions of Australia: New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

Highlights of the show were as follows.

Best Value White: Redbank “The Long Paddock” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($12.80) available now at the LCBO in the general list section. Great grapefruit and gooseberry nose, low in acidity but with great tart and sweet fruit in the mouth. Like a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade (you know the ones they make at those summertime festivals in the big lemon stands), only better.

Best Value Red: Nepenthe 2004 “Tryst” Cabernet Tempranillo Zinfandel … at $13.95 it’s a steal for those who like their wines with some spicy nuances in both the nose and the taste. I’m told it will be available in Vintages come the new year, so keep your eyes open for it. Nepenthe is slowly becoming one of my favourite Australian producers. Their ‘Rogue’ was in the Vintages section a few months back and is a delicious blend of Cabernet-Merlot-and-Shiraz … we should see it again next year.

Other wines of note are:
The Banrock Station 2002 Reserve Petit Verdot ($18.95) – this one should be available in Vintages spring of 2007; not just a curiousity, but a very good wine for everyday occasions.
Speaking of being curious, for those curious about Australian Zinfandel there’s a wonderful Nepenthe version that was in Vintages these past few months, a little pricey at $24.95 but quite tasty. Keep checking back as the LCBO should be ordering more.
Pangkerra 2005 Grenache, which should see Vintages’ shelves come February 2007 and is priced reasonably at $18.95. It’s smooth and easy drinking and ready for consumption now.

Finally, there were two sweet wines that were absolutely stunning. Now I have to admit when I think of Australia I do not think about sweet wine. Where we here in Ontario make our most famous sweet wine based on the cold temperature (icewine) the Australians use Noble Rot (Botrytis affected berries) … those in the know, know that this makes a very intense flavourful wine when done right; if you do not know, I would suggest finding yourself some of these wines and really enjoy something special. First there’s the Wolf Blass 2004 Gold Label Botrytis Affected Semillon ($19.95) – sweet apricot and apple with a honeyed fruit finish … it’s available right now in Vintages. The second, and my favourite wine of the afternoon event, will be in Vintages February of 2007 for the same price as the Blass, but with more complex candied fruit and honey flavours. Lillypilly 2002 Noble Blend ($19.95) is 80% Sauvignon Blanc; 10% Semillon; 5% Muscat of Alexandria and 5% Riesling – all having been affected by Botrytis and the complexity of both the nose and taste is amazing. Unfortunately, totally indescribable unless you’ve tasted it, especially, in the confines of this small, but growing, article. The best things I can say are that it lingers long and luscious in the mouth … a wine remembered long after the last sip has been taken and the bottle totally consumed. Come February 7th you’ll be seeing me lined up outside the door of my local LCBO location first thing in the morning – it’s that darn good. I may not even share it with anyone.

Australia is doing some amazing stuff beyond the usual Shiraz and have been for years. You’ll notice in this report I did not mention any Shiraz’s; that’s because we all know the Australians are doing that right – it’s what they made their name from – I was interested to see what else they were doing right … and as this show showed, Australia is a lot more than just the one trick pony of Shiraz, a lot more.

Report from - The Chilean Wine Fair – Oct. 4, 2006

03 Jan 2007
I like to call this venture “Checking on Chile” … another of my reports where I look in on other countries (“the competition”) to see what they’re doing. Now I’m sure you’ve read, somewhere on this site, that Chile is where my love for red wine started. I have never been to Chile, but would love to go (I’ll even squeeze into your suitcase if need be); but many years ago I was out for dinner with a friend, who claimed she loved Chilean Merlot, not wanting to appear daft or contrary I said I like them too. We each got a glass and my love for red wine, and especially with Chilean Merlot, began. So to attend this show was an enormous thrill for the palate.

Chilean wine is some for the best value wine you can find. It’s still one of the few countries still making top-notch wine for under $10, and some of the greatest deals happen between 10 and 15 dollars. Here are some of my top finds at this year’s show:

Best Value Wines: Chile is one of those country’s that really doesn’t have to worry about their weather, cause it’s pretty must the same every year, therefore they do not have to rank their vintages like we do here in Canada (or in France for that matter). This means that their consistency year-to-year is pretty much the same, but my palate still has to like it and I still pay close attention to the year on the bottle. Tarapaca has been one of those wineries that sits just below my radar, some of their wines are great, some are ust shy of excellent, while others are take it or leave it. That said, the two best value wines at the show were both from Vina Tarapaca, their 2005 Merlot: smooth, easy drinking, delicious yet still ageable, while their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is lovely and smooth with great red fruit and chocolate notes … both wines are a steal at $9.45 and $9.50 respectively. Having tried both the ’04 and ’05 of both wines (4 wines in total) those are my recommendations … so pay attention to the vintage date.

Other wines of note:
I’ll start with the runner up for the best value wine, Cono Sur 2006 Pinot Noir is light and lively with a sweetness on the palate that is quite enjoyable ($10.95 – available now at the LCBO).

Best Packaging of the Day goes to Vina Camina Real Los Portones de San Francisco 2005 Merlot – it’s gonna be general list at the LCBO soon and retail for about $10.05 … you’ll recognize it by the burlap sack it’s wrapped in.

Vina Cousino Macul who consistently make great low priced wine ($11 – $14 bottle) has a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend called Finis Terrae 2003 coming to Vintages at $24.70, which is worth the price.

Dropping down the price ladder: Vina La Rosa’s La Capitane Merlot has great chocolate notes and is available for $15.95 at Vintages now.

Vina Morande’s Vitisterra Merlot 2004 was the best Merlot of the day … a reasonable $17.95 and it should also be seeing LCBO shelves soon.

Carmenere has become Chile’s signature grape, so every winery makes at least one, but for my money some of the best wines are blends, which include this grape in the mix. From the northern part of Chile in the Lamari Valley, there’s Vina Tabali 2004 Espeical Red Reserva. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Shiraz (35%), Carmenere (9%) and Merlot (6%) great mouth-feel and taste, fabulous nose and it’s $21.95 price tag will seem like a steal once you lay it down for a few years and it matures. Vina Veramonte’s 2004 Primus ($20.00 - Carmenere/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon) is quite impressive tasting, with some tannin that scream “lay me down”. This should see Vintage’s shelves around April or May. Alright, how about one last blend recommendation, with no Carmenere added: Via Wines, coming March 2007, have a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah blend that’s a perfect every day quaffer and at $12.95 you can make it you every day wine.

Chile continues to impress with good quality and reasonable prices; although with quality and recognition comes the inevitable price increase. But to raise prices from under $10 to $15 isn’t that huge a jump – I just hope it remains gradual. Chile remains one of the biggest competitors to our homegrown wines. I have heard on many occasions people ask “Why would I buy an Ontario Merlot for $20 when I can pick up a Chilean one for $12”, and I, instead of getting into some kind of socio-economic discussion, answer simply “personal taste”. What Yours?

If your interest in the wines and regions of Chile goes beyond tastings in your own backyard, check out this little trip being planned by fellow wine writer Edward Finstein: www.winedoctor.ca - click on the Special Events section.

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