Telmo’s Spanish dream

An afternoon with winemaker Telmo Rodríguez and Lifford Wines

\'Pasero\' detail, Competa, Malaga, September 2007

“Pasero” detail, Competa, Malaga, September 2007; “In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.”
Photo: Telmo Rodríguez

as seen on canada.com

Telmo Rodríguez the company is a small wine producer fashioning meager quantities from more DOs (and DOCAs) than can fit into a 620 x 400 jpeg. Telmo Rodríguez the man finds himself at the 20th anniversary year crossroads in celebrating the outgrowth of his dream. This critical juncture requires travel, evangelism and conceit, qualities the laser-focused, frank and facund winemaker possesses in spades.

Telmo Rodríguez tasting at Archive Wine Bar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Telmo Rodríguez tasting at Archive Wine Bar

“We created a (not mass market) Spanish category of wines available at a good price,” says Rodríguez, “a human type of category.” Spain, according to the flying oenologist, is a passionate country with gastronomic clubs, where people cook and eat, to foster a crazy love of local ingredients. Within a 100 km radius around Basque country, “you have the best available products anywhere in Europe,” he boasts. But, he complains, wine has gone in the other direction. He laments the overuse of international grapes, monosyllabic styling and a disappearance of regional character. Wine as fast food.

Telmo Rodríguez sites

PHOTO: telmorodriguez.com
Telmo Rodríguez sites

Rodríguez did not want to make wine from international varieties or from recipes. He wanted to make wine from places and their landscapes. After studying in France (Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley) he returned, not wanting to make wine in France, not wanting to emulate France. So began the terroir journey, from Rioja to Galicia, from Ribera to Rueda.

“In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.” So he makes wines without the suffocating slings and arrows of outrageous, appellative fortune; no Crianza, no Reserva, no Gran Reserva. “No designations to help the bad producer,” he quips. Tell us how you really feel Telmo.

All the Rodríguez vineyards are organic, but this is something matter of fact, not a literature littered calling card. “We prefer to be known as a good producer. We don’t give too much importance on the winemaker, but more on the place, with respect and with respect for the land. We don’t move grapes from one place to the other.” This is the import of the most parochial of winemakers. Here are tasting notes on a selection of eight wines chosen from across the vast Spanish Telmo Rodríguez portfolio.

From left: Basa Blanco 2012, Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, and Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011

From left: Basa Blanco 2012, Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, and Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011

Basa Blanco 2012, Rueda, Spain (SAQ, 10264018, $15.95, B.C. 586016, $18.99, WineAlign)

Verdejo so often reached by walking the flat earth is here circumnavigating a more complex world. Smells a bit like Sauvignon Blanc and Telmo Rodríguez admits “it’s the only mistake I made in my life.” Commercial confessional though it leads the way around a round earth. Cool and full of tang with a heavy emphasis on herbiage and metallurgy. Enticing example full of instant gratification.  88  Tasted February 2014

Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, Do Valdeorras, Spain (SAQ, 11896113, $17.85, WineAlign)

From Valdeorras, “gold country,” here Godello exhales its perfume in waves of gaseous fumes, rushes, meadow wildflowers, lemon thyme and balm. Viscous and nearly chewy, with a slight oxidative note breathing over dry patina hard candy. Stainless steel imagining itself as green oak and Mediterranean salinity combine to give an aura of Galician warmth. Sea, sun, wood and mineral.  88  Tasted February 2014

Mountain Blanco 2012, Málaga, Spain ($25.95)

“I didn’t want to produce this wine because Malaga was all about sweet, related to the past, to the ancestors, to something very deep. It took 10 years to decide to make this wine.” Sun-baked, trenchant, scorched Muscat. Liquid adobe cake from the brown slate soils, between 600 and 900 metres. Antique of a dry white, tinny, sharp, caramelizing, like the crust on a pork loin. Lengthy mountain jam makes you want to eat a peach. Reminiscent of Auxerrois, though certainly more southerly, Moorish even. Pure sec, 100 per cent Muscatel.  87  Tasted February 2014

Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011, Do Valdeorras, Spain (SAQ, 11861771, $18.00, WineAlign)

The most Atlantic-influenced wine of the tasting, this fluid, medium-rare red. Rodriguez’ base and necessary expression for the “the freshness of Galicia.” Shares an aromatic commonality with Cabernet Franc though its gait is more Northern Rhône Syrah. Anti-serious, easy wine, existing as “a link to the past.” Like going back in time to Valdeorras’ past, into a beautiful home with all its contents having sat untouched and unharmed for 100 years. Fermented in tank so though it may be unprocessed it has that underlay of mineral and grit. Nothing oxy, flashy or large-scale about it. To have wide but not mass appeal. Beneficial length. Increases in approachability as it lays in glass. A taste of chewing crushed granite and plump plum. Honest and humble Mencía.  89  Tasted February 2014

From left: M2 Matallana 2010, Lanzaga 2008, and Altos de Lanzaga 2004

From left: M2 Matallana 2010, Lanzaga 2008, and Altos de Lanzaga 2004

M2 Matallana 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($42.95, WineAlign)

M2 is 100 per cent Tinto Fino 14 months, aged half in new, half in second use barrels. A Tempranillo of dialect specific to place, just as Pinot would be in Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée or Volnay. Telmo not necessarily making Tempranillo, but rather Rodriguez making Ribera, or more specifically, a Tinto Fino gathering from Los Guijarros, Los Hundidos, Carrahoyales, Los Apriscales and La Pirileja. Blatant are the chalk and mineral intertwines, in marbled goodness. Makes quicker work than the Riojas, sheds its skin, peels away its oak and lets the fruit, soil and rock come forth.  92  Tasted February 2014

Lanzaga 2008, Rioja, Spain (SAQ, 11157151, $28.50, WineAlign)

Tempranillo with Graciano and Garnacha. From Rioja Alavesa, vines water-stressed to survive on shallow soil, digging in to Miocene sandstone strata. Begs for protein and development from an unforgiving, stony, calcareous and silty textured land. Fermented in large cement casks, allowing the fruit, which is nearly unparalleled for Rioja, to shine in all its ripe glory. A wind of perfume, a mistral espléndido. Finishes with chalk and ropy grain. Immense length.  92  Tasted February 2014

Altos de Lanzaga 2010, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)

Composed of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha, 3,000 bottles are made of this ‘Grand Cru’ of Lanzaga. Rodríguez here wants to “try to go as far as possible in the quality of the wine,” a notion that begins and ends with place. “There has to be a rare, exceptional vineyard or it does not make sense to produce a wine like this.” Fermented and aged in the old cellar, in large Foudres, for two years, “to bring back what once was, a long time ago,” with indigenous (wild) yeasts found in that cellar. Here Telmo reinventing the past, the old Rioja, hinting at something exceptional. There is an elevated sweetness that fades into flowers. Rodríguez feels that Rioja must have been a wine made with many different varieties, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Thus the use of the three grapes. Layer upon layer, thin transparent sheets that become one.  93  Tasted February 2014

Altos de Lanzaga 2004, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)

From 65-80 year old vines, 10 years on showing barely discernible age. This wine was an early step in developing the “field blend” dream, of combining several Riojan varieties, “to present the taste, idea and feel of what Rioja used to be.” This wine chases down Telmo’s dream of being a present day, sophisticated winemaker set in an 18th century vintners mind. Altos sets the bar high, in trying to make an exceptional wine, which they would not have been doing then. First and foremost, does this prove or disprove his theory that wine should never be masked by oak?  94  Tasted February 2014

Good to go!

Gripping wines from Spain and Italy

Europe

How can winemaking trump terroir?
Photo: 1xpert/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?

The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.

Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.

A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

Ribera Del Duero

The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.

The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

CEPA 21 HITO 2010, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (360503, $17.95, WineAlign)

Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years.  89  Tasted December 2013  @DrinkRibera

ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (355099, $21.95, WineAlign)

Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection.  89  Tasted December 2013  @EuroVinatage

RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain  (355107, $31.95, WineAlign)

Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole.  90  Tasted December 2013

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

Abruzzo

The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.

The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.

CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, Abruzzo, Italy (663939, $17.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless.  90  Tasted September 2013 and January 2014  @TheLivingVine

Chianti

The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.

The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.

CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (680496, $22.95, WineAlign)

Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.”  89  Tasted December 2013  @ChiantiClassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Priorat

The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.

The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, Priorat, Spain, (314559, $24.95, WineAlign)

Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize.  89  Tasted December 2013

Rioja

The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.

The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004, Rioja, Spain (725895, $25.95, WineAlign)

The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano.  91  Tasted December 2013  @TandemSelection

Good to go!

A resolution to drink honest wine

Heart wine

What is honest wine? Above all else it is made by the grower who sleeps with the grapes.
Photo: Aleksandr Volkov/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

When the book closed on the Gregorian calendar year for 2012, I made the most basic of wine resolutions for 2013. Drink better wine. That I did. A year on, with thousands more wines tasted and contemplated under my belt, an unconquerable will to seek acts of volition compels me to declare this. Let 2014 be the year to drink honest wine.

If wine were considered as a Roman anagram, the Latin quid est veritas, translated as “what is truth,” should prompt the response, “why, this honest wine.” Try this instead, Est vir qui adest, in other words, “it is this man here.” The winemaker, the vintner, the cooperative, the winery working for the man. It matters not who you are. To be successful in 2014 you must make honest wine.

What is honest wine? Above all else it is made by the grower who sleeps with the grapes. Not literally and not with the fishes, but greatness comes from the farmer who spend more hours walking the rows then the halls of the home. Soul love. By extension or shoulder to shoulder the high-minded winemaker knows “all I have is my love of love and love is not loving.”

Honest wine is juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life. Aromas and flavours emotive of the stages of the fruit’s history, its components; seed, pulp, skin and stem. The greatest wines, judged to make use of the entire fruit for best results, consider the parts as members of the whole.

For a bottle of wine to be on the up and up it must not be disguised by the unnatural ways of artificial intervention nor should it make itself so available as to be obvious. Fruit should reside in the realm of the sequestered and the sacred. The emotional response to sipping on fermented grapes can only be true if the juice offers no precise parameters. A fear of knowing and not knowing is key. Forbidden aromas and flavours are emotive because they are forbidden and they are forbidden because they are emotive.

Real wine elicits all of this and more. I am not alone in hoping for table wines to be stirring, gripping, unsweetened and unencumbered by an excessive coat of oak. My hard-earned dollars should earn the right to be stimulated and provoked to think in ways verging on stream of consciousness.

So welcome to 2014. The year of drinking honest wine. The more you seek it out, the more it will be made. Here are 10 current releases to get you going in the right direction.

From left: DE SOUSA SEASONS RESERVE MERITAGE 2011, QUINTA DAS CAMÉLIAS RESERVA 2010, 13TH STREET MERLOT 2010, and SEVEN FALLS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010

From left: DE SOUSA SEASONS RESERVE MERITAGE 2011, QUINTA DAS CAMÉLIAS RESERVA 2010, 13TH STREET MERLOT 2010, and SEVEN FALLS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010

DE SOUSA SEASONS RESERVE MERITAGE 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (315911, $14.95, WineAlign)

Aromatically drippy, reductive and heavy-handed in its oak soak but the concentration is really well-judged. Remains loyal and close to its Escarpment origins and walks the ridge point on a plane. Spice cupboard of scents dominate the basic, easy-going fruit. Proper and realistic use of its Bordeaux-derived, Cartesian coordinates. Worth a stroll through its Euclidean space.  87  Tasted December 2013  @DiamondEstates

QUINTA DAS CAMÉLIAS RESERVA 2010, Doc  Dão, Portugal (305334, $14.95, WineAlign)

Here comes another sure thing, best buy Portuguese red, this time from the rising star that is the Dão. Paradigmatic local combination of Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheiro. Modern but tight, brooding and juicy, approachable yet nearly, severely tannic. A Dão pulled in two directions by monster trucks, holding ground in bonded, erudite fashion, firmly in the middle. All thanks to a terrific combination of dark fruit and gritty, chunky grain. To this Dão I say, “I hope you appreciate the magnitude of your impending good fortune.”  88  Tasted December 2013  @NokhrinWines

13TH STREET MERLOT 2010, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, (270504, $17.95, WineAlign)

I’m just going to say three words to you baby.” Statu-tory buy. Can’t recommend it enough. What we have here is a really fine vintage for a Creek Shores appellation’s unique bottling. Merlot of shining bifid complexity, despite being a product of deep clay it’s dusty but not kicking up dust. There is palpable fruit but fruit does not lead the way. More so licorice and a lush crush of vinous allotropy. Solid wall of tannin will stand for 5-7 years and then crumble effortlessly, willingly, submissively. Add another notch on the Creek Shores chart for Merlot alongside fellow obvious variety, Cabernet Franc.  89  Tasted December 2013  @13thStreetWines

MAISON ROCHE DE BELLENE CUVÉE RÉSERVE BOURGOGNE 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (299859, $17.95, WineAlign)

In light of its entry-level Bourgogne nature, this boasts a notable if unconventional, charming, candied nose. Pronounced dried cherries and currants are emphatic, categorically atypical of this Pinot Noir. More like Oregon, or even Prince Edward County, in pomegranate and earth. That said, this RDB is not overtly or overly earthy. Sharp yet piercing though only just beneath the surface. A late injection of astringency is expected and keeps this Pinot grounded. Really quite exceptional at $18 by (Canadian) winemaker Matt Chittick. Could this be an indicator of brilliance to come for the ’11s? Looks to be.  89  Tasted December 2013  @RochedeBellene

SEVEN FALLS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Wahluke Slope, Washington, U.S.A.  (360222, $18.95, WineAlign)

A friable feeling from this Chateau Ste. Michelle proposal submits to ripe plum and sourish pomegranate falling effortlessly from their trees. Affable, convenient, well-made Giling Basah, not overly extracted or justified. Mulberry kicked-up Arabica, wet-hulled, reminding of Merlot, or at least as stiff support to a Cabernet blend. Gotta be. Warming, gentle tannins, like Oz, without the jam.  88  Tasted December 2013  @SteMichelle

From left: MALIVOIRE GUILTY MEN CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, CUSUMANO NOÀ 2010, PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIÈRE VACQUEYRAS 2011, ADARO 2009, and KISTLER PINOT NOIR 2011

From left: MALIVOIRE GUILTY MEN CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, CUSUMANO NOÀ 2010, PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIÈRE VACQUEYRAS 2011, ADARO 2009, and KISTLER PINOT NOIR 2011

MALIVOIRE GUILTY MEN CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (186247, $19.95, WineAlign)

A gritty, layered effort, carried forth by transcendental blues. Offers up the strange sensation of a P, B and J sandwich with kudos to (winemaker) Shiraz Mottiar for nut putting chocolate in the peanut butter. “Careful what you ask for, you don’t know ’til you try.” Roasted, semi-confected and counterintuitive in circulatory acidity and juicy madness. Might be Bordeaux blend-inspired but this leans Loire-ish because “back roads never carry you where you want ‘em to.” Speaks loud and clear with a practiced oration of place, in rocks, stones, clay and the aggregate of it all.  88  Tasted December 2013  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

CUSUMANO NOÀ 2010, Sicily, Italy (109512, $19.95, WineAlign)

A bodacious, Jethro, flaunting display is shown by this Sicilian blend of 40 per cent Nero D’Avola, 30 Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 Merlot. Fig cake, thick as a brick, drizzled over by good quality aged balsamic. Fruit from young-ish (12 year-old) vines coached by the barrel states flatly, “I may make you feel but I can’t make you think.” Splinters the tongue, coats the insides and raises the roof. Leaves the vines behind, soothes the beast by flute and focuses on what comes later, of course. “The elastic retreat rings the close of play as the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.”  88  Tasted December 2013  @SpeckBros

PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIÈRE VACQUEYRAS 2011, AC, Rhône, France (76398, $19.95, WineAlign)

Merde, if only a whiff, just a whiff, bumps into lush, red berry fruit and is then carried away with the mistral. Really fine cherry and tangy raspberry, bit by the subterranean soil mineral I must have in my Rhône. Oak spoken in Franco-Provençal, Occitan not as profound, intrusive or demanding. Delish Vaq, with a good middle palate and solid grasp on the dry finish, not long, but there in spirit.  90  Tasted December 2013

ADARO 2009, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (345686, $29.95, WineAlign)

This 100% Tempranillo from the Real Sitio de la Ventosilla Estate has that something other. The no sé lo que of Ribera, a liqueur nose that won’t overwhelm the liquor of pressed, squeezed and juiced flowers. Compact in luxurious flavours, like Napa Cabernet Cassis or Kirsch in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For the price this is so much more interesting than the comparative mythologies of those other terroirs. Beware the wood shavings soaked to the bone. Adult red licorice.  92  Tasted December 2013  @Noble_Estates

KISTLER PINOT NOIR 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (330274, $79.00, WineAlign)

Such a musical display in assemblage, this soundtrack of aptitude and wisdom, bringing together a selection of barrels that form an attitude to tell a Russian River Valley Pinot story. Though Chardonnay is Kistler’s claim to fame, this Pinot rises above so many others. It could be told “you’ll meet them all again on the long journey to the middle.” Nary a barrel intrusion, smokeless and without char, though there is a leathery component. Viscous but not jammy, sharp but not pointed, sweet but never cloying. Absolutely California with warm bands of black cherry, almost plum famous but all in balance. ”It’s all happening.”  93  Tasted December 2013  @TheVine_RobGroh

Good to go!

All I want for Christmas is a big red wine

Red wine

If you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you.
Photo: 7artman/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The three of you who read my bi/tri-weekly column must have noticed by now that I am diplomatic, almost to a fault, to be as inclusive as possible. I certainly make a point to unearth and make public the best Canadian wines that I can find, especially when they originate so close to home.

Old world, new world, rosé, Sparkling, red wine, and an increasing focus on white wine may have some of you running for the hills but spreading the wealth is the name of the game. Diversity is my keeper but there comes a time when logic and proportion need a break. All I want for Christmas, and for those of you who know me that’s a ridiculous thing to say, is a great big ole’ bottle of red wine.

Who doesn’t? If you have missed the last 25 or so recommendations I’ve laid at your gift giving feet, if you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you. Or, you can buy them all, seven reds for $250 and change. Not too shabby.

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, North Coast, California (356113, $19.95, WineAlign)

This 2010 is a new let’s groove label from the somewhat ambiguously defined North Coast appellation of California. An area of three million acres that includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. Dusty entry, peppery finish. In between there is distilled cooler red fruit which sweet-heat spikes if only temporarily and ultimately settles into a fine balance of earth, wind and fire. Gifts an admirable sense of wood restraint. Simply “let this groove, set in your shoes” and enjoy its simple pleasures. Available in small quantities for a limited time.  87  Tasted December 2013  @hk_Canada

BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain (350215, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Iberian cousin to the North Coast Cabernet an ocean away likewise enters the fray dusty and flecked by white pepper. What gives it immediate density identity is the juicy, just picked cherry flesh and pencil lead minerality. A sweet blueberry flavour gets lift from edgy tannins so as you ponder this Tempranillo you will note that ”it’s gonna take you years to find out” what it’s all about. But there’s hope, however presently buried, in the descendent nature of its roots.  88  Tasted November 2013

ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (930966, $21.95, WineAlign)

One of the most reliable Tuscan houses offers no apology for this CCR’s flamboyance and it works a great vintage for the genre to maximum advantage. There is an intoxicating, exotic soaking of teak, vine stem and bhang counterbalanced by a berry sweetness that cannot be denied. In the end there’s the expected enunciation in modern Italian verse. Like a Tuscan-treated Gaja, gorgeous and tough.  89  Tasted November 2013  @roccadellemacie

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (48579, $26.95, WineAlign)

Behold the utter pitchy Barossan, privileged by full-on extraction in as much fruit this amount of money can buy. Tempered by a cool centre, complimented by a tangy finish. The coverall make-up is in high fashion and the big red lives to tell a passionate story after 22 months maturity in oak. Lifted by temperate zest and though it’s more Barossa than Cabernet per se, there is a fortune to be won in the bottle.  89  Tasted November 2013  @SaltramWines

WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, Napa Valley, Califonia (357723, $49.95, WineAlign)

A curious magnum of this highly underrated Napa Cabernet appeared for tasting. Really delicate and already maturing savoury/sweet florals lengthened by a chain of vanilla grain. Fruit looming large, with a Gershwin summertime grace and Holiday ”unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity.”  Cool, soulful, jazzy Cabernet, loaded with pepper and phite. Lady Day Easy Living90  Tasted November 2013  @WhiteOakWinery

LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, Rhône, France (700922, $57.95, WineAlign)

Following a string of excellent vintages from 2003 to 2010, this clumsy Donjon could be dismissed as not up to par but I beg to differ. Such distinct aromatics can only come from a Donjon. Redolent red berry musk, exotic spices from islands east and west, metal replicate and a brush of vineyard funk. Though it thistle-stings the palate and is presently held back by a tannic core, this CdP has the track record and muscle memory for moving forward. Gathers anise, more funk and so much fruit as it aerates but clearly so much time is needed to settle it down. Look to patience in the requiem realm of 10+ years.  92  Tasted November 2013

BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010, British Columbia, Canada (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Good to go!

Ancient, state of the art Spanish wine

Barrels of wine are pictured in a cellar PHOTO: A.B.G./FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Argument suggests that the cradle of wine civilization, borne of Levant and of Mesopotamia should rightfully translate to talk of global influence and relevance as emanating from Greece and the Middle East. Not so much. The epicentre lies further west. A commonality shared by the modern romantic, European wine-producing nations is a mojo modus constructed of the most complex declensions. The language of the big three, France, Italy and Spain, inflects in case and number, the benchmark for fine and designed wine.

Spain’s vinous history stretches about as far back as that of its Western European neighbours and though it so often plays kissing cousin, Spanish winemakers do not pussyfoot in producing superannuated yet contemporary wine. My tastings over the previous two years of western (Latin) Europe’s 2009 and 2010 vintages have somewhat and hopefully only temporarily soured my palate for beloved southern Rhônes, especially from the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Up until a year ago I would have put CdP up against any global comparatives for quality and value in the $30-50 range. So many current examples, especially those 2010′s, are hot, over-extracted and completely out of balance. That feeling is also coming out of Piedmont (in particular from a virus of cheap, under $35, traipsing and awkwardly ambling Barolo), but also newly endemic in a hyperbolic convoy of flamboyant and trashy-sexy Tuscan IGT and Brunello. This, sniff, from my first wine love.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013

Winemakers in Spain (and zooming in more specifically) from Ribera del DueroRioja and Montsant are more careful not to fall into modish vinification traps like sugar and spice wood splintering (France) or terroir-void, vinous compost (Italy). They are masters of their wine technique domains, in control of reductive aromas and in deft touch with acidification. Don’t misunderstand me. France and Italy are blessed with brilliant wines and winemakers. Conversely, there are plenty of examples out there these days in high-octane, alcohol elevated, barrel age-leveraging in ultra-modern Spanish wine. There are also wine making superstars. Red and white wine heroes. Matias Calleja, Juan Carlos Vizcarra, Maria Barúa, Luisa Freire and Alvaro Palacios all achieve Iberian nirvana by striking a balance between old and new world, antediluvian and 21st century, all the while making large quantities of commercially successful wine.

Bodegas Beronia talks of their “commitment to quality wine that expresses the personality of theterroir.” Their goal? “A philosophy based on respect for the environment and an ability to adapt to new market trends, maintaining the essence of Rioja.” Matías Calleja defines it: ”We combine art technology with traditional methods of production.”

According to their Ontario agent, Woodman Wines and Spirits, “if anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain”, it is Alvaro Palacios.” It has not been much more than 20 years since he took control of the esteemed empire built by his father, Jose Palacios Remondo, but Alvaro Palacios has already become one of Spain’s most famous and well-respected winemakers.

Here are 10 perfect Spanish wines to pour, ponder and debate the popularity vs. quality discussion and to open the door to ancient, state of the art Spanish wine.

From left: Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011, Lan Gran Reserva 2005, Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010, Beronia Crianza 2009, and Beronia Gran Reserva 2006

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011 (216291, $22.95) is composed from 50 per cent Samsó (Carinena), 40 per cent Garnacha and a 10 per cent split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A child of young vines, ready to roll Spanish charmer with a mingling floral nose, in barberry and bursting blueberry. Outlined by notes of pencil and charcoal. Timely acidity helps ease the heavy alcohol with some essential balancing grace. Stealth, arid ride through calcareous rock, deciduous oak and viburnum. There is something historical here, crafted yet serious.  91

Lan Gran Reserva 2005 (928622, $27.95) and its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja.  92  @BodegasLan

Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010 (214650, $28.95) while 100 per cent Tempranillo could understandably be confused for Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Wood driven to be sure, shrouded in tobacco, vanilla, coconut and the prevailing, hedonistic attributes of the Left Bank or the Rhône. Bounding in berries and liqueur with a hit of phite. JC works because it comes together by adhering to Tempranillo’s early ripening, Cabernet-like, savoury chain of command. Compliments all around to an under $30 powerful yet beauteous Ribera, all out contempo, flaunting and billowing gorgeous. Wow times ten for flavour, if a bit too much of a good thing.  91 @DrinkRibera

Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013

presented by Woodman Wines and Spirits, (416) 767-5114, @WoodmanWines @BodegasBeronia

Beronia Viura 2012 (Coming to VINTAGES January 18th, 2014 – 190801, $14.95) exsufflates super ripe, fresh picked pear and emollient herbiage in pure, angled control. One hundred per cent, quick macerated and cold stabilized Viura of aromatics locked in tight. A pour that leads to a starburst of flavour. Complexity reaches the sea in an underlying tide of salinity.  89

Beronia Tempranillo 2010 (LCBO, 243055, $11.65) is a warm, tempered, six months in Sherry cask-driven “one-half Crianza” but not classified as such. Specifically crafted for the North American market, the oak is the protagonist, while the Tempranillo lies in macerated cherry state. At $12 it’s a no-brainer, crafted by a conscientious and forward-thinking vintner.  86

Beronia Crianza 2009 (Consignment, $16.95, Barque Smokehouse) offers more terroir and less barrel interference, in pursuit of a fruit/tension equilibrium. Redolent as if berries, cherries and plums were on the crush pad, with a touch of modernity as a result of both new and used barrels. Classic style (1970′s) Rioja, a five to seven-year wine.  89

Beronia Gran Reserva 1973 is both the dawn of a first vintage pathfinder and fountain of youth. Fast forward from the pre-disco vintage to ubiquitous 90′s soul-searching structure and know it was clearly there with untested confidence back in the beginning. Earth, Spanish bramble and aged expertly in barrel, you can ”tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree” with this genesis of Rioja. Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo and five per cent Viura. Twenty minutes in the glass and still so alive. Old school with the proviso to entertain.  93

Beronia Gran Reserva 1982 is highly evolved, gone milky, breaking down as by proteolytic enzyme. A study in caramel, fruit removed, out of tension, past. A second bottle not tasted was purportedly sound, though not corroborated.  NR

Beronia Gran Reserva 1994 spent 34 months in new and used barrels. The bridge from past to future, definitive for Rioja in every pertinent way. Fragrant in licorice, iron and bigarreau cherry. American oak to see a 2020 future in shag, snuff, tea and forest compost.  94

Beronia Gran Reserva 2006 (VINTAGES, Release date TBD – 940965, $34.95) is so youthful it actually gives me bubble gum and dark black cherry from just a swirl. American vanillin oak and terrible tannins in a frightfully tough to assess wine Calleja says “will maintain this intensity for four to six years.” Oh, and then “will continue to evolve for 20-25 more,” slowly modulating as a result of its natural acidity. Judgment currently reserved though the future looks extremely promising.  92

Good to go!

Mother’s Day barbecue wines

Barque Smokehouse Dry-Rub Ribs PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

One year ago to the day, I extolled the virtues of Chardonnay and why it was the wine of choice to drink with mom on Mother’s Day. I would be skirting the channeling of my inner, anti-ABC if that universal variety was left out this coming weekend so click here for an unoaked beauty in stores right now.

Related – more current releases

The sudden dramatic shift in the weather has had an immediate and necessary impact, with all points leading to barbecue. In order to please everyone involved, including mom, dad and carnivorous kin, a range of wines will be needed this coming Sunday afternoon. Being the wine consuming and recommending diplomat that I am, here are four white, rosé and red wines to share time in the proverbial sun and to assist with what comes from the kitchen, off the grill or out of the Mother’s Day smoker.

From left: Muga Rosé 2012, Colaneri Estate Riesling ”Stellucha” 2009, Balbas Reserva 2001, and Domaine Thomas & Fils Cuvée Grand Chaille Sancerre 2011

The grapes: Garnacha, Tempranillo and Viura

The history: Rioja winery so famous for its rich, red wine tradition

The lowdown: Perennial quality in Spanish rosé always priced to please

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Smoked Shrimp, Smoked Salmon, Bacon and Eggs Tapas

Muga Rosé 2012 (603795, $12.95) offers up honest to goodness, straightforward value. Pale pink grapefruit, gentle spice and dried roses marked by juicy acidity. “It can’t be too grand,” just as it shouldn’t be. No dinosaur here, no disguise, no bones, just simple, tasty and amenable. Afternoon sipper.  87  @bodegasmuga

Barque Smokehouse Smoked Shrimp, Smoked Salmon, Bacon and Eggs Tapas (Photo: Jill Chen/freestylefarm.ca)

The grape: Riesling

The history: Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski is a Niagara pioneer in Appassimento-styled wines, made by adding modified kiln-dried grapes to the ferment

The lowdown: Was worth the price of admission at $15.95 upon release. Now it’s a steal. This is quite full-bodied for Riesling but low in alcohol (11.3 per cent)

The food match: Scallop Ceviche, grapefruit, orange, pickled wild leek, basil, olive oil

Colaneri Estate Riesling ”Stellucha” 2009 (279778, $13.15) is built on 70% (John Howard) Beamsville Bench and 30% (estate) Niagara-on-the-Lake fruit. Exceeds expectations, acting as bridge from day to night. Works the midnight sky in a passion momento while a “shimmering crescent moon recedes into working dawn.” Faint apple, peach pit, high in citrus and a fulgor accent of lit kiln. Time has been and will continue to be a friend to this lily of the midnight sky.  89 @ColaneriWinery

Scallop Ceviche, grapefruit, orange, pickled wild leek, basil, olive oil (Photos: Michael Godel)

The grapes: Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Founded in 1777, this may be the oldest winery in Ribera Del Duero with the most modern approach to winemaking

The lowdown: A $20 bottle of wine in a $40 suit. This is without a doubt the best deal in Spanish wine since the December 7th, 2001 VINTAGES release of the Montecillo Gran Reserva 1991 at $18.95

The food match: Chicken Breast and Top Sirloin Shish Kebabs, cremini mushroom, wild leek pesto marinade

Balbas Reserva 2001 (85183, $20.95) while mature is so alive and grooved by a Beckian beat you would be hard pressed to blindly consider it 12-years old. Deep purple fruit with a hint of caramel, cedar and cigar. Qué onda Duero? I’ll tell you what’s happening. Aged Ribera, structured, in balance and very much alive for $21. Makes me want to “sing a banda macho chorus.” Screaming value.  91  @DrinkRibera

Chicken Breast and Top Sirloin Shish Kebabs, cremini mushroom, wild leek pesto marinade

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: True SB from the southern Loire Valley run by a ninth generation husband and wife team, Jean and Ginette Thomas

The lowdown: Limestone, clay and silica form a flint and sand mixture known as silex, making these Loire vineyards one of the premier growing soils in the world

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Dry-Rub Ribs

Domaine Thomas & Fils Cuvée Grand Chaille Sancerre 2011 (320242, $28.95) begs for significance and presents a ritual immersion by virtue of its base representation of ideal Sauvignon Blanc. Walks the flint and rocks of two Loire vineyards, marries them, then talks the caulk and chalk of those sites. If just a touch reserved at the moment, the Grand Chaille will grow out of its acidic twang five years forward to realize itself as excellent Sauvignon Blanc.  92 @LoireValleyWine

Good to go!

Video and selling wine online

PHOTO: STRIXCODE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

When Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced on New Year’s Eve the government plans to open 10 wine/liquor stores in select supermarkets, the Twitter chiming and column-riling was heard loud and clear. My take was a relatively benign one, having visited many a supermarket and trailer hitch “LCBO” in the smallest of Ontario’s northern hamlets. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

The proposal is misleading and really has little to do with Tim Hudak’s variety store beer and wine plan. The NP’s Chris Selley was clear in noting that LCBO, small town “Agency” stores have been employing private citizens in the business of peddling alcohol for decades. If Mindemoya, Ontario adds a few mass market wines and VINTAGES Essentials to its roped-off cubby within the local Foodland, how does that change anything?

The announcement that the VINTAGES cache of wine will soon be available for purchase online, now that would be something. Even I would have to be a fool today to argue against private wine stores, an issue the Wine Council of Ontario has addressed with mywineshop.ca. That movement continues to generate interest and support and needs to be taken to the next level. But what about wine online? The VINTAGES model has seen very little to modest success. There have been some very good wines available (though few and far between) but other than a few thousand (maybe) wine geeks, who even knows how and when they are released? This gorgeous Spanish red from Priorat is available right now through the VINTAGES Online website’s January 10th, 2013 release.

VINTAGES release
Cesca Vicent Lo Piot 2006; Nigl Grüner Veltliner Gärtling 2011; Bodegas Briego Reserva 2004

Cesca Vicent Lo Piot 2006 (243493, $29) is sweet, sweet Garnacha. Hugely concentrated but hangs on to a thread of mineral decency and resists going over the top. That rocky earth will extend its life by two to three years but the quarry of recklessness means drink up. Modernity thy name is Priorat.  91

Many have argued against slaughtering trees and think the VINTAGES Classics Catalogue should become an exclusive, online only direct sale. I would agree but this too misses the big point. If nothing else, why shouldn’t Ontario consumers be able to buy all available VINTAGES wines online? Simply set a realistic minimum order and charge for delivery. Social responsibility being compromised I imagine would be the argument put forth by the Hudsucker Proxy. All those under age teenagers signing for UPS delivered $75 Napa Cabernets would surely lead to anarchy.

A good number of Ontario wine agents and some specialist online e-tailers sell by the case, which they have to, but that niche is directed at wines not available for purchase at the LCBO. Dial-A-Bottle outfits can deliver single bottles but the strict rules and delivery charges make it cost prohibitive. Bordeaux Futures must be purchased in minimum sets of three. It’s time to change the playing field. Consumers want to shop online. We’re not talking about a non-starter here. VINTAGES, I have an idea for you. Put up some video to increase interest in the wines you sell. I recently filmed such a video:

Here are my tasting notes on the two wines:

Nigl Grüner Veltliner Gärtling 2011 ($22.54) is a strange animal to many, mistakenly considered a Riesling follower but, “something inside reveals you’re magical.” This one goes Niederösterreich green apple and even more parochial with Kremstal’s, micro-climate mineral and floral salinity. Built of solid weight and body but Grüner’s subtlety is certainly the fulcrum of its appeal. Please don’t let it be misunderstood. On the card at Barque.  88

Bodegas Briego Reserva 2004 ($32.95) the gregarious Ribera Del Duero trips the purple light fantastic. Rigorous, vibrant fruit for a Tempranillo caged four years in barrel and a further four in bottle. Currently dances in a cool, complex, mineral-rich, vanilla and plum wheelhouse of optimum fruit excellence. Modern for Ribera and very young at heart.  90

Good to go!

Wine is the new coffee

Photographs by peshkova (left) and Igor Klimov, Fotolia.com

Photographs by peshkova (left) and Igor Klimov, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Coffee, the object of reverential and religious affection. Prayed to by the addict, the aficionado, the connoisseur. They sniff, they swirl and they savour their brews like First Growth Bordeaux or 50-year old Auslese.

If  Starbucks acted as harbinger to the North American phenomenon and found itself relegated to chain status then the torch has been passed. Proof lies in the extreme world that is the specialty coffee industry. Ezra Braves, owner of two Toronto boutique coffee destinations called Ezra’s Pound, recently commented , “we’re not re-inventing the wheel, but we just really embrace the cafe culture here.” Today your cup of Joe will likely be organic, fair-trade, responsibly grown, bio dynamic, Eco-friendly, a bag of ethical beans, bird-friendly, shade-grown and even triple-certified. It’s no wonder your red wine smells and tastes like coffee. It’s hip, it’s trending and it sells.

Wine geeks and critics have spent the last 10-15 years coming to terms with so much of their wine smelling and tasting of coffee, or variations thereof. The consumer can’t get enough of the stuff, even if they’re not sure why. The question is increasingly becoming one of secret consternation for the masses. Are wine makers infusing red wines with essence of, or actual brewed coffee?

The answer is no but more red wines than not these days will whiff or indicate a flavour profile that might include black coffee, espresso, cappuccino or mocha java. The use of new French oak and sometimes barrels that have been deliberately charred will impart coffee characteristics into red wine.

Bio dynamics and sustainable practices are now mainstream in the world of wine but in contrast to the coffee universe, many vineyards don’t necessarily feel the need to shout it out. The subliminal or vainglorious addition of coffee notes is far more effective for a ka-ching effect at the cash register. Modern vintners have so many progressive and manipulative techniques at their disposal so making “coffee wine” has become commonplace.

Iconic red wines from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Napa Valley and Burgundy are heavily influenced by the barrels that house megalitres of famous juice, but for the most part, the premier or grand cru grape ferment is up to the splintered task. Value wine faces a much greater challenge.  Still, there are terrific examples out there that find the correct balance of fruit, oak and acidity. Here are five arriving VINTAGES releases that gracefully walk that fine line.

VINTAGES November 10th, 2012 Release

The grape: Malbec

The history: Blender of Bordeaux and ‘black” knight of Cahors in southern France

The lowdown: Mom and pop Mendoza outfit sells to big corporation but maintains parochial integrity

The food match: Pot Roast, roasted root vegetables

La Posta Angel Paulucci Vineyard Malbec 2010 (75515, $15.95) faintly hits at a mocha milkshake mentality. Smoking cedar boughs inside and blossoming purple Jacaranda outside. Volcanic and pitchy like Cahors or Etna. Mocha flavour finish brings it all full circle.  88

The grape: Montepulciano D’Abruzzo

The history: Not to be confused with Tuscany’s Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, this one comes from Abruzzo

The lowdown: MD’A’s are making use of new oak like never before. Crowds of new wine lovers are embracing the sweet and concentrated elixirs as go to value drinkers

The food match: Spaghetti with Veal Ragu, reggiano parmesan

Talamonti Tre Saggi Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2008  (204016, $15.95) is representative of the new age in Italian wine. A crooning Tommy that resides “here in my deep purple dreams.” Rich, lush, deep violet berry, oak-inspired MD’A. So much wine for $16 if a bit scary to a fruit dinosaur.  88

The grapes: Grenache and Syrah

The history: Typical southern Rhône blend, 80% G and 20% S

The lowdown: The Amadieu family has a storied history in the region dating back to the 1920′s, and are the owners of this incredible Cru vineyard

The food match: Hand Made Ravioli, mushroom filling, white truffles

Pierre Amadieu La Grangelière Vacqueyras 2010 (76398, $19.95) first seeps as a black and red fruit Texas tisane but before long the toasted oak turns the tea to coffee with a hint of balsamic wood. Complex from AA to ZZ but not over the top. Some astringent, chalky tannin and talcy acidity is conquerable because the fruit is so lush. “Have mercy, a haw, haw, haw, haw, a haw.”  89

The grape: Barbera

The history: One of Barolo’s historic houses, this Barbera represents an avante-garde shift for the house style

The lowdown: Modern but nothing revolutionary about it. Nothing but a little bit of oak

The food match: Osso Bucco, gremolata, polenta

Giacomo Borgogno Barbera D’Alba Superiore 2010 (285486, $19.95, SAQ 10388088, $19.40) screams simply wow, this is not what I expected from the ancient winery. When I think of Borgogno I envision Barolo circa 1985, red rose rusty and opaque like weak tea. This one is purple pretty, black cherry pie yet retains a dry Piemontese attitude in search of braised shanks. Best Barbera.  90

The Splurge

The grape: Tempranillo

The history: Alejandro Fernandez has convinced the world that entry-level can mean $27

The lowdown: This could be Ribera Del Duero’s finest Crianza

The food match: Braised Lamb Shank, shiitake mushrooms

Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2009 (341461, $26.95, SAQ 10273109, $26.35) is the shocking blue Venus of Ribera Del Duero, round, voluptuous, smooth and let me tell you, “she’s got it.” Licorice liqueur, blue plum, citrus and laser acidity for a red wine. Always spot on.  90

Good to go!

The hunt for red October wine

Photo courtesy Kiowaman

as seen on canada.com

With the ides of October nearly upon us and cold winds blowing stronger out of the great white north, wine thoughts turn simply red. I’ve no plans to re-create the ancient Roman practice of the October Horse but I do intend to sacrifice a few slumbering bottles from the cellar. After all, there’s no point holding back the years.

Caution horses be weary you don’t crack open too many, not quite ready, aging wines. In order to defend that cellar, now is the time to get on the horse and pursue current release, bold bottles to fortify against the chill of impending inclement weather. Here are five rich reds to look for this coming weekend.

Related – VINTAGES October 13th, 2012 Release

redoctwines1 The hunt for red October wine

The grape: Petit Verdot

The history: Used in smallish quantities to round out Bordeaux blends. Has for more than a decade appeared as a single varietal species in Australia and now more recently, here in Chile

The lowdown: Something other varietal by way of Lontué Valley, a wine-producing sub-region of the Curico Valley, in the center of Chile

The food match: Chicken Liver Paté, french baguette, maldon salt

Korta Barrel Selection Reserve Petit Verdot 2010 (296608, $14.95,) like Carmenère pours a glass of tar and toast but here sidesteps green bell pepper and herb stem. In fact, this PV is  so polished the grape needs no blending as it is both the wine’s anchor and sail. Achieves a ripe fruit/briny olive dichotomy, where la figue meets les Lucques and la mûre connects with les Picholines88

The grapes: Carinena, Garnacha and Syrah

The history: Montsant lies in the province of Tarragona, forming a horseshoe around it’s more famous neighbour Priorat

The lowdown: Produced By The Can Blau Estate out of Catalunya, don’t expect a re-working of the wheel, but for the price at the gate, go to the show

The food match: Grilled Lamb Chops, mint, rosemary, garlic, olive oil

Bula 2009 (292094, $17.95, SAQ 11666852, $19.00) trots out of the stable of new wave Montsant blends at a lope. Poised, purposed and purple pretty. Ligneous influence to anodyne effect in coffee liqueur. Smooth and blended until everything has agreed to become red wine. Waves of flavour and makes evident that textural reconsideration can be your best friend.  89

Photo courtesy Kiowaman

The grape: Sangiovese

The history: Tuscany defined, Sangiovese is Chianti to the core

The lowdown: Make no mistake. Castello di Fonterutoli is going full throttle, international styling here and it’s just so damn irresistible

The food match: Braised Beef Short Rib Croquette, sangiovese jus

Mazzei Ser Lapo Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 (288530, $24.95) may cause intellectual and physical moiety due to a bold, morning mug of mocha driven, piazza juice but I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating biscotti. Say what you will but the Lapo displays a striking, Italianate, strada strut. A wine expansive and adorned as if she were the duchessa of an embellished palazzo90

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Burgundy’s heartbreak grape found true love in the Willamette Valley but Umpqua Valley is something other

The lowdown: Not fully tested southern climate for Pinot in Oregon increases the subtlety and  intrigue factors

The food match: Smoked Duck Confit, bliny, fig jam

Brandborg Bench Lands Pinot Noir 2008 (295238, $28.95) is bred from a locale not known for its speed out of the gate but when she spooks, she can pass any horse in the ring. Base and natural like bare hands and feet grazing the pasture. Cinnamon heart candy red and spice meets herbal, licorice twizzler. Perfect libation for the bright lights, social hour. “A festival every week, if this is what you seek.”  90

The hunt for red October wine. Photo courtesy Kiowaman

The Splurge

The grape: Tempranillo

The history: The greatest expression of the grape has to be in Spain’s Ribera Del Duero, bar none

The lowdown: Alejandro Fernández may be the wine world’s greatest unsung hero. His “basic” Crianza wines can age beautifully for 10-15 years. The Reservas? Forget about it

The food match: Braised Beef Brisket, caramelized onion, tempranillo gravy

Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2008 (323345, $39.95) ramps up the garriga tierra quotient. Savoury and spicy, flanked by chalky, grainy tannin and a pulchritudinous, primordial tobacco aroma that tendrils around, as tobacco smell will. Sickle hocked, over at the knee, toes in. Inviolable Tempranillo.  92

Good to go!

Bodegas Roda – Raven of Rioja

Mideastro Yorkville

Mideastro Yorkville

 April 17, 2012

Mideastro, 27 Yorkville Ave, 416.477.2427, Chef Benny Cohen

http://wp.me/p1N3EI-cvj

The Spanish Wine Society and Halpern Enterprises precipitated a four-course, eight-wine pairing by way of Chef Cohen and Bodegas Roda. Chef”s Italian/Israeli/Mediterranean inspired fusion holds food sacred to stimulate the brain. Plates as Modigliani canvas, sauces of the fruitful earth, proteins enriched deeply by herb and flora. Bodegas Roda matches the culinary caws with wines possessed of stunning clarity, consistency and the subtlest of variance from the lowly Sela through to Roda’s Unico challenger, the Cirison. For Agustín Santolaya, playing winemaker at Roda must be a dream, like Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe. Here his wines one through eight, including two from Ribera del Duero (Corimbo and Corimbo 1), all Malena Costa beauties of viscous, long-legged concentration. Barcelona FC’s Carles Puyol is likely drowning his sorrows in a Roda vertical after this past weekend’s crushing loss to Real Madrid and the fading memories of his one time, raven-haired, Mallorcan model girlfriend.

Loud shout out to Doble B, the Marxist (as in Brothers) Spanish Wine Society maestro Barry Brown for an afternoon tasting at the Yorkville eatery. Roda’s eight great were presented dissertation style by the Bodega’s Export Manager, Gonzalo Lainez. Later that evening by member’s invitation, in flights, as guest to my liege AZ for comida and comedia.

Bodegas Roda at Mideastro

Bodegas Roda at Mideastro

 

Confit Quail, watermelon, spinach, red onion, with a light touch of ruby grapefruit vinaigrette and wild oregano, dauro olive oil

  1. Sela 2009 ($34) the new kid on the Roda of Haro block combines Hibiscus spiced charcoal, tar and roses from 89% Tempranillo with sherry, scented, savoury caramel apples of 11% Graciano. Gracious me.  88
  2. Corimbo, La Horra 2010 ($41) of ever red catholic fruit and pine tar migrates to a spice of an exotic edge. Floral and radiant Riberan of indeterminate florescence. High tide of Caribbean funk and vanillin fudge.  100% Tempranillo.  89 

 

Roasted Veal Sirloin, three colour potato, vermouth porcini jus

  1. Roda Reserva 2006 ($56) aligns velveteen, well-rounded Garnacha with smokey Tempranillo and thoughtfully astringent Graciano. Adds up to a promising future because at present this may be the most backward wine of the lot.  Shut down line built for a long playoff run.  91
  2. Roda Reserva 2007 ($51) the pensieve of reductive tomato and juiced violets has the most tang for the buck. Flirts with the vermouth porcini jus at night and runs away with the veal.  90

 

Tempranillo Braised Lamb Cheek, pomegranate risotto, zucchini papardelle, aubocassa olive oil

  1. Roda 1 Reserva 2005 ($90) is a tale of two bottles. First one slightly oxidized, second absolutely stunning. Mr. Lainez’s commentary, “fruit must play a prominent role and the oak is supporting actor” is evidenced by this ’05. Acidity and freshness incarnate.  93
  2. Roda Reserva 1 2006 ($80) like its ’06 brethren exemplifies the anthropomorphic personification of the vines polymer. Sweeping tannins on the loose, hexagonal, hooked tongue and cheek. A local anaesthetic in the mouth, syrupy, needing carne 92
  3. Cirison 2009 ($292) according to Gonzalo is “the best wine we have ever made.” Impeccable balance, perfect polymer, fruity, smooth. “The ultimate Tempranillo,” says Roda man. Whereas the rest of the portfolio are rotating single vineyard entities, the Cirison is made from the best bunches of grapes from Roda’s holdings. Expensive, refined, delicious.  94

Assortment of Artisan Spanish Cheeses, manchego, picón, mahon

  1. Corimbo 1 2009 ($80) is sweet thistle pie. A cracker jack Tempranillo and nothing but Tempranillo. Candy coated with red licorice and an inexplicable apple flower sensation as if molecular gastronomy of the Ferran Adrià or Heston Blumenthal kind. Exotic and spicy, seeing through me, it “knows my name but calls me ginger.”   95

 

 

Good to go!