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 - Ottawa Wine and Food Show - Friday Night, Nov. 3, 2006

03 Jan 2007
So here I am, first time in Ottawa … ever. Some people come to see the parliament buildings, tour around, marvel at the centre of power in Canada, seek their fortunes or try their hand at becoming politically inclined. Some come to call their ex a dog, while others come to line their pockets through sponsorship scandals … me, I came for the wine.

What? Wine, in Ottawa? You bet. The 21st Annual Ottawa Wine and Food Show draws thousands of people and it’s getting bigger and better every year. “I love this show,” Ian Hanna, of John Hanna and Sons Ltd. told me. “The people, the atmosphere, it’s just great.” On the other side of the coin I heard, “Not the best show for selling our wine – it’s more pour and go, especially as you get later in the day … Toronto is better because it’s less busy … but it gets our name out there and I love this city, so I really have no complaints.”

So, you ask, Grape Guy, how was the show? In one word, busy. I arrived Friday night about 6pm and already the line-up outside was around the corner and into the parking garage. Inside the cacophony of people at times was deafening, the throng – bigger than I have ever seen at any wine show, even in Toronto. Is that because Toronto rents out a bigger venue? In fact, I think the 2 rooms at the Congress Centre make for a bigger space than the one room that held the last major Toronto show I was at; and the booth sizes range from the massive (Yellow Tail) to the very small (Vina MontGras). But all the big names are there: Ironstone; Gallo; Inniskillin; Perrin & Fils, Mott’s Clamato; the little names are there: Caroline Cellars; Lailey Vineyards; Featherstone; La Face Cachee; and all the countries are represented: France, the U.S., Chile, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Canada, etc. And apart from the ringing in my ears from the mass of people, the slow shuffle to get where you’re going, and the array of choice that’s enough to boggle the mind – everyone, and I do mean everyone, has a smile on their face and a glass in their hand (all except the Policeman who confirmed that this is not his favourite gig – understandably).

Let’s move on to the finds of the first night and tomorrow we’ll sample some of the winners from the competition held in mid-October. The first night was about soaking in the atmosphere and trying some of the interesting wines and finds.

Lately I find myself on a Zinfandel kick, so I made my way over to California, home of those massive fruit, massive alcohol Zins. It was once not unusual to find 15 or 16% Zins that ripped at the throat and needed steak to help cut them down to size; but today we find California’s winemakers have scaled back their Zinful ways and are now making lighter, more palatable and lower (14%) Zin. Like Gallo’s $9.90 general list Zinfandel; Rancho Zabaco’s Dancing Bull Zinfandel (general list $15.95); or Fetzer’s (general list $9.95). All fruit forward affairs that drink well on their own, but will suit more simple pasta and pizza dinners quite nicely. But when it comes to Zin some of my favourites are of the ‘old vines’ variety – less fruit per vine, more concentrated flavours per berry … and there were a few that caught my eye and sang on my tongue. The Reserve Rancho Zabaco ($19.95) soon to be in Vintages (maybe January ’07); Delicato’s ‘Gnarly Head’ 2005 Old Vines Zinfandel ($19.75) which will find it’s way to Vintages store shelves around April. The ‘Gnarly Head’ is crafted from 35-80 year old vines and has a cute little story about its name on the back label of the bottle. Both of these Zins are as you’d expect, fruit forward with a little more oak punch then their less expensive counterparts – especially the robust and oaky Zabaco, which will need a few years on its side to settle down. My favourite Zin of the night was from Ironstone Vineyards – this $16.75 2005 ‘Old Vines’ Zinfandel (Vintages – Nov. 11) goes beyond description, but if you’re a red Zinfandel fan, or plan to be one, this one will do it for you. And just in case you can’t put you hands on this limited release Zin, and are still looking for something special in a Zin, check out the Ravenwood Zinfandel ($19.95 – Vintages essential) – it’s always available and always very good.

Worried that I would spend my whole night in California I decided to move on and check out a few other parts of the world in search of different tastes. Like the new taste combo from Brick Brewing Company and Mott’s Clamato called “Red Eye”. A combination of specially brewed lager and Mott’s Original Clamato juice … quite unique and very interesting.

My final stop of the evening, as the room was getting busier and busier as the night wore on, was to Creekside, where I got my first taste of their new Laura’s Blend White (49% Sauvignon Blanc, 48% Chardonnay, 3% Viognier) … the Laura’s Blend red is consistently one of my favourites so the white had some big shoes to follow in. This first time wine, and interesting blend (not seen often outside of Australia), is delicious, with great notes of grapefruit from the Sauv Blanc, fruitiness from the Chardonnay, with the Viognier adding that extra brightness to the fruity finish. I also tried a couple of young wines that will show well in a few years, like the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir ($30) – which needs a little more time in bottle, and the 2004 Reserve Shiraz ($29.95) from the St. David’s Bench area … great guts from the 50% new oak, and set for release in January of 2007 … but definitely not ready for prime-time, not yet anyway. This is also one that should be laid down for a while. Final wine of the evening was the 2004 Broken Press Shiraz (95% Shiraz, 5% Viognier - $32) – complete with interesting story. If not for the addition of the Viognier this one would also be tight, but the Viognier freshens the blend and makes it an interesting and welcome addition to the Creekside line of wines.

After all that tasting I went and had dinner at one of the local restaurants, and wouldn’t you know it – I left my souvenir glass on the table … guess I am going to have to go back tomorrow – shucks darn. Tomorrow we’ll taste some of those competition winners and see if they truly are worthy of their medals - until then goodnight.

Report from - Ottawa Wine and Food Show–Saturday Afternoon, Nov. 4, 2006

03 Jan 2007
For a different perspective of the show I decided to attend in the afternoon (2:00pm) … the throng was gone, there was more elbow room, the moving around was easier, and exhibitors had more time to talk about their wares. Many who had been there before informed me that this is the calm before the storm, “by 5 o’clock it’ll be crazier than last night; this show is amazing.” I was also informed that they had sold out on Friday night and were turning people away at the door – not surprising considering the lineup I saw the night before – and Saturday should be no different. When I left the show for the day two hours later, the lineup was already forming – it was gonna be another busy, but fun, night.

So what kinda finds were found on day two of the Ottawa Wine and Food Show. On Saturday afternoon I decided to focus in on the “Cellars of the World 2006 – International Wine Competition” winners and medallists (a full list of which can be found at http://www.playerexpo.com/WineShow/Visitors/Competition.htm). Canada placed extremely well in these competitions, let’s look at a few of the deserving winners.

Starting with the Gold Medal (outside of Canada) winner in the ‘Off-Dry White Wine (8.50-11.99)’ category, a delicious 2004 Mosseland Divinum Riesling ($11.95) with green apple aromas and citrus and apple on the taste … this wine ranks about a two-or-three on ye olde sugar code and is lovely. I tasted an array of Mosel and other regional German Riesling, but this one truly did stand out.

Back to Canada for the Gold medal winner in the ‘Off-Dry White Wine ($12 and over)’ category. Flat Rock Cellars continues to impress me and their 2005 Riesling ($16.95) is no exception. This wine is so true to Rieslings from Germany it’s amazing – wonderful exotic fruit nose with apple citrus tastes that linger in the mouth far longer than their German counterparts (which I had just tasted) – wonderful. I am told that their $19.95 Nadia Vineyards Riesling is even better; I’ll be off to the winery to try that one real soon and will report back to you on it.

Speaking of German wines and winemakers, Konzelmann (from Canada) told me a funny story about a lady who informed them she hated “that Canadian crap” but loved German wines – especially theirs. The sales rep proudly informed her that although their winemaker is German, the winery itself and the grapes they use are definitely Canadian – she slunk away quietly. But Konzelmann was not just sticking up for Canada at the show or “putting ignorant wine snobs in their place”, they took home a few awards themselves, the most impressive of which was their Gold for their 2004 Select Late Harvest Vidal ($22.95). Wonderful apricot, honey and pear on the nose with honey, pear, apple and cinnamon as it passes over your tongue – pure sweet enjoyment. A little pricey for a Late Harvest but very enjoyable – pick up a bottle for the holidays and enjoy it in front of the fire with friends.

Staying with the sweeties, a little place called La Face Cache out of Quebec was showcasing a wine they called “Neige” (snow). It’s an apple wine that they make in an icewine-style from Macintosh and Spartans. In a nutshell, the apples are picked in October and the juice is brought outside when it gets cold enough to freeze … thus crystallizing the water and leaving the pure sweet apple juice and sugars behind, which they then make the wine from. They have three varieties: stainless steel, oaked and December harvested (true to icewine standards) – made from special apples designed to hang longer on the tree. It is this (Frimas) that won best fruit wine in Canada at the recent Canadian Wine Awards from Wine Access Magazine and announced last month. Sounds like a must try (only the stainless steel Neige was available for sampling). They export their nectars to 16 countries – alas Ontario is not one of them (of course this is a play on words – being in Ottawa I thought it proper to make a political joke about Quebec wanting to be it’s own country). The LCBO has rejected them 3 times – I’d like to know why; this stuff is delicious.

Moving right along to the Silver Medallist of the ‘Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc ($12-19.99)’ category, Ironstone Vineyards 2003 Cabernet Franc ($16.95 – Vintages December 9, 2006) was much fruitier than expected, with good punch in the tannins department. Not your typical Niagara Franc, the green pepper is gone, replaced with red fruit, spiciness, nutmeg, cinnamon and oak flavours. This one is a must pick-up upon its release in December.

Time to move away from the medal winners to finds of the day. The wildly popular Perez Cruz winery out of Chile – who made a splash at the LCBO last year with their Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (now a Vintages Essential) is releasing 3 Reserva Limited Editions in late November through vintages … namely a Carmenere, Cot (Malbec), and Syrah – each retailing at $24.95. I tried the Syrah ($24.95 - #589812 – Nov. 25 Vintages) and it was wonderful. Blackberries, cassis and smoke on the nose, with dark fruit, chocolate and pepper on the plate.

But the real find of the day was the new winery venture from Paul Boutinot – a Frenchman who now lives in England who got tired of the same old same old from France. In his opinion French wines were “old, tired and boring” and needed not only a facelift on the bottle, but a tastelift inside. And to boot, good dollar value for decent quality wine (in his opinion there was nothing between the Piat D’or and the hundred dollar bottles that spoke to any kind of quality). Mr. Boutinot now owns 6 wineries around the globe and has so far been able to place approximately 10 wines on the LCBO general list … all at very reasonable prices, all of good quality and taste. Here are a few of those stars that you can pick up today: Bin 233 Merlot (#21162) and Bin 15a Shiraz (#21154) both $10.95 and bottled with Stelvin Screwcap. While I stood at the booth sampling these wines, two ladies came along and asked “When did the French get into the Bin Business with their wines?” It was explained that after years of being poked at by the Aussies, Kiwis, and South Africans, France has poked back. The Bin on the labels are pictures of trash receptacles in Manchester, England with numbers painted on them … a subtle(?) slap at the Aussies quality? But the wine in the bottle is far from garbage. The Merlot has a bit of bite, but goes down smooth and easy, while the Shiraz is fruity and peppery with some spice mingled in – and there is also age potential for both – maybe 2-3 years. Chat-En-Oeuf (#21113 - $12.95) – picturing a cat sitting on an egg, with its tail hanging down (making the egg look cracked) – is of course a play on words and a jab at the French themselves. This Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault blend has good tannin structure with some delicious fruit and spices … making this one a real winner, that can be shelved for another 3-4 years; and is the only wine in the line under cork. The Bishop’s Selection Cotes-du-Rhone Villages (#665596 - $10.95) is also quite delicious with pepper and red fruit, made in a light quaffing style. Finally, my favourite of the bunch (for taste and label) was the $12.95 Lazy Lizard Shiraz (#21188) – this is a seriously fun wine … even the Lazy Lizard pictured on the front label is wearing sunglasses. The lizard is also in reference to the vineyards’ little residents who run around eating the harmful bugs that would otherwise destroy the grapes – thus reducing reliance on pesticides. This light, refreshing, smooth wine has the merest hint of perceived sweetness, although it is ranked at a zero, it tastes like a one – and at that price it’s a steal. As the hours ticked by the crowds began to return and the time I could take with representatives of the wineries got shorter – so I high tailed it out of there before the jostling began.

All in all I would say the Ottawa Wine and Food Show was a rousing success for visitors, exhibitors and organizers. With sell out crowds both nights, great wines and the enthusiasm showed by everyone involved, makes this show a must go for wine and food fans alike – maybe next year I’ll remember to partake in the food aspect of it.

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