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An online TV network for wine-lovers

Date: Wed, Jun 6, 2007 Wine Tasting

Check out The Winery Channel.

(Via Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog.*)

*As opposed to The Willetts on Wine, which is currently more like a monthly wine blog. But we still hope to do better...

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Beringer Founders' Estate Merlot 2003

Date: Tue, May 8, 2007 Wine Tasting

This 2003 Beringer Founders' Estate Merlot had a lovely nose, both smoky and full of berry notes. In fact, we found the nose nicer than the taste, but that's not to say it didn't taste fine, because it did. Lots of apparent sweetness from the fruit, but good tannins, too, making it a well-balanced wine that was just what you'd expect from a good merlot.

We happened to be trying it with cheese from Regina's Bulk Cheese Warehouse, and found it went well with Blue Benedictine, especially at the back of the palate. It also went very well with Old Masters Gouda.

We'd definitely be willing to buy it again.

(Sorry for the poor-quality label shot: sometimes all you've got is your cellphone camera.)

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Co-operative wine glasses

Date: Wed, Apr 25, 2007 Wine Tasting

Drinking alone, they say, is a bad idea. These cooperative wine glasses force you to work together with your drinking partner to share a bottle of wine.

Although we suppose you could manage to drink on your own by holding one glass high in the air while drinking out of the other one...

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Cape Barren 2003 Old Vines Shiraz

Date: Fri, Apr 6, 2007 Wine Tasting

"Not a fruit bomb" was Margaret Anne's first comment on this Australian Cape Barren 2003 Old Vines Shiraz. It certainly has big flavour, but it's more in the leathery, smokey-oak sort of way. We didn't get the cloves/cinnamon flavours one expects from Shiraz, though the pepper was certainly there. We're not sure how much of that was from the grapes, though, and how much was from the extremely high alcohol content--15 percent. Maybe our tongues were just burning.

Quite possibly we drank this too young and it will become better balanced with age.

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Wine on tap?

Date: Sun, Apr 1, 2007 Wine Tasting

We don't host dinner parties of the size that would require this...

(Via Gizmodo.)

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Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home...

Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2007 Wine Tasting

...you're stinking up my wine:

Ladybugs may look pretty but they also have a dark side. In some places, the polka-dotted insects have become a nuisance by invading homes and crops, including some vineyards. To make matters worse, the bugs produce a foul-smelling liquid that, besides irritating homeowners, can be inadvertently processed along with grapes and taint the aroma and flavor of wine.


A growing number of winemakers say that their wines have an abnormal aroma and flavor, known as ‘ladybug taint,’ that resembles the bug’s characteristic odor. Winemakers report that there are more ladybugs in vineyards and on the grapes during harvest. Experts believe that the bugs accidentally become mixed into the juice during processing and fermentation, resulting in inferior wine.

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Forget about cooking with the good wine

Date: Sun, Mar 25, 2007 Wine Tasting

The cheap stuff works fine. Better, in fact, in many cases.

Which is a great relief to us, because we hate pouring a third of a bottle of excellent drinking wine into a boiling pot of something-or-other.

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Lindemans South Africa tasting

Date: Thu, Mar 22, 2007 Wine Tasting

Ed had the pleasure today of attending the local launch of Lindemans South Africa line of wines, put on at the Willow on Wascana restaurant by Lindemans Canadian representative, Fosters Wine Group Canada.

Lindemans's stated goal in expanding into South Africa is to bring South Africa wines to the attention of a broader swath of the wine-buying public, who are already familiar with Lindeman wines as being well-made, affordable and approachable.

All three terms certainly apply to the wines on tap (well, they weren't literally on tap, being in bottles, not kegs, but you know what we mean) at the Willow this afternoon.

Lindemans South Africa Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon were on display, and Ed liked all three of them. They were also well-matched with appetizers from the Willow.

The Chardonnay is friendly and fruit-forward, not oaky at all, with the usual tropical fruits (Ed particularly picked up on banana) and a nice mouth feel--a bit of that Chardonnay butteriness, but not the almost cloying oiliness of some Chardonnays. The wine was refreshing by itself and just as good with the appetizer, lemon-drop chicken, the lemon taste of the chicken somehow bringing out the matching tartness in the wine.

The Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon were both what Ed would typify as "drink-now wines"--fruity, friendly, un-intimidating, but well-made and well-balanced. The Cab had lots of berry flavours (strawberry in particular) and a good varietal nature to it: there was no doubt it was a Cab. It was good to drink on its own and also went well with coffee-roasted boar rib, should you happen to have some lying around.

The Shiraz featured chocolate and licorice flavours, and, again, lots of up-front fruit. It seemed a bit dead on the nose, but Ed still rated it as probably his favorite of the three wines, with the Chardonnay second and the Cabernet third. However, he liked them all and wouldn't hesitate to buy a bottle next time something food-friendly and ready-to-drink is called for, or to order a bottle in a restaurant.

Also on display today were the Pink and Yellow sparkling wines from Yellowglen, which are supposed to be the best-selling sparkling wines in Australia. They're both pleasant and perfectly reasonable $14.97 alternatives to more expensive bubbly, although our favorite sparkler from Australia continues to be the E & E Black Pepper Sparkling Shiraz. We previously tasted them at the opening of the Assiniboia Gallery's new home, and enjoyed them there. Ed thinks he likes the Pink a bit more than the Yellow, possibly, suggested the pourer, because of a hint of pinot noirishness about it.

Not a dud among the lot, today, and all worthy of future purchase.

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Two chardonnays, briefly

Date: Mon, Mar 19, 2007 Wine Tasting

We had occasion to try two Chardonnays over the weekend, the 2003 Liberty School Chardonnay Central Coast from California and the 2002 Inniskillin Founders' Reserve Chardonnay from the Okanagan. The first had lots of tropical fruit--we particularly noted pineapple--plus vanilla and oak. Very flavourful. However, we actually preferred the latter. We didn't make notes, but we did taste them side by side, and found the Inniskillin lighter--less aggressive, I guess. Which seemed to be what we were looking for.

For some reason we failed to take a picture of the Liberty School label. Oh, well.

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Kim Crawford Pinot Grigio 2004

Date: Mon, Mar 19, 2007 Wine Tasting

This 2004 Kim Crawford Pinot Grigio was a bit of a disappointment. Steely and minerally, without much fruit, and nothing that really struck us as particularly varietal. It reminded us of...well, of a couple of disappointing California sauvignon blancs (see previous post). They were pretty much interchangeable.

We wouldn't choose it again.

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And...we're back: Society for American Wines at Rock Creek Tap and Grill

Date: Thu, Mar 15, 2007 Wine Tasting

A long hiatus on this blog, we know, but...well, it's been a busy time.

But we're back, and what better way to start than with some comments about the most recent event of the Society of American Wines?

Tuesday's event was held at a new Regina restaurant out in the booming east end of town. The Rock Creek Tap and Grill isn't particularly Irish in feel or decor, but SAW decided to call the event a St. Patrick's Day winetasting anyway (although of course it wasn't actually held on St. Patrick's Day, either...)

No green wine was served, in any event. Instead we began with two California sauvignon blancs, one from Redwood Creek (we didn't catch the vintage) and one from Sutter Home (2002, in that case).

We didn't, unfortunately, care for either one of them. The Redwood Creek was...well, "simple" is what we wrote down. "Thin" was another word (and one which kept coming up over and over). The Sutter Home was marginally better. We suspect we've been spoiled by drinking too many Marlborough sauvignon blancs from New Zealand ("anything with Bay in the name!" is our motto). These two just weren't up to that standard.

The appetizers were very good, though: sirloin lollipops (skewered steaks covered with a crispy mashed-potato coating) and "tipsy scallop and potato galette with harissa chevre," which must have been good, because Ed ate his helping and helped someone else eat theirs, too.

Dinner itself kicked off with Guinness and Dubliner cheese soup (the most Irish thing on the menu); essentially an onion soup, but with chunks of potato and bread floating in it. The cheese was sufficient without being one of those choke-threatening masses one sometimes sees in onion soups in restaurants.

Accompanying it but not, alas, matching up with it in anyhing more than an adequte fashion was the 2002 Delicato Chardonnay. According to the Delicato website, this wine "has a soft nose of tropical aromas of pineapple, coconut and honeysuckle with hazelnut, oak and spice nuances. With layers of forward fruit on the palate, the wine opens up to flavors of green apples, bananas and hints of nectarine with a creamy texture."

We didn't get all of that, although Ed certainly noted the nice mouth feel and also picked up a lot of green apple in the taste, as advertised. (Bananas, though? Not so much.)

As a palate cleanser, strawberry key lime sorbet hit the spot (though it was perhaps a bit too sweet). Then came the main course, marinated beef rolled with seasoned vegetables over mashed potatoes. The wine was the only red of the evening, the Concannon Vineyards Central Coast Petit Syrah, 1998 vintage.

And there was that word again: "thin." The wine may well have been better when it was first released. But all we got was leather...maybe a little spice...and lots of woodiness. Not enough fruit to make it interesting. And we didn't find that the food improved it.

Actually, our favorite wine of the evening was probably the dessert wine, Quady Essensia 2004 Orange Muscat. Lots of orange flavor (natch), sweet but nicely balanced. It even worked pretty well with the dessert, pistachio mousse with caramel drizzle barnbrack (think bread pudding).

A great evening for food, for wine...not so much. But then, it's just as important to discover the wines you don't really care for as the ones you do, isn't it?

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Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages 2005

Date: Sat, Nov 18, 2006 Wine Tasting

We chose this 2005 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages to go with a specific chicken pot-pie recipe that called for a "young Beaujolais." (Actually, we looked for a Beaujolais Nouveau, but they had sold out quickly.) Gran Alice was struck by its "fruity and floral" character, and Margaret Anne agreed with the "fruity" part, but Ed found it neither particularly fruity or floral, but merely "another of those ordinary red wines the French do so well." (He may have just been in a bad mood.)

In any event, it went very nicely with the chicken pot-pie, the fruit "filling in the edges of the dish," in Margaret Anne's words, providing a nice contrast to the earthy, savory pot-pie.

We'd buy it again, especially for that meal, but wouldn't go out of the way to do so otherwise.

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The truth about terroir

Date: Tue, Oct 31, 2006 Wine Tasting

If there was a theme to this year’s Wine and Food Festival at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, from which my wife and I just returned (feeling very well wined and dined indeed, thank you very much) it was terroir.

Terroir is a French word which has no English equivalent (and the French like it that way). At Banff, Ruth Souroujon, vice-president of marketing for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, defined terroir as “the total natural growing environment of any viticultural site that allows a grape variety to uniquely express itself.”

Winemakers’ focus on terroir makes sense when you realize that the idea that the same grapes grown in different locations result in different-tasting wines is central to the entire wine industry. If there were nothing to terroir, then all wines from one region made from one particular grape would be indistinguishable from wines made from another region from the same grape—and people would pay as much (or as little) for Generic Red in a Jug as they do for Chateau Petrus.

Oddly enough—or not so oddly, if you’ve ever heard the near-worshipful way some people talk about wine—being scientific about terroir is controversial. Jamie Goode, author of the recent book Wine Science and holder of a Ph.D. in plant biology, says some people see terroir as a philosophy, as “a unifying theory encapsulating a certain approach to wine that encompasses the almost metaphysical circle of soil, nature, appellation and human activity.” But Goode, being scientifically minded (as am I) prefers to strip away the philosophy and focus on the scientific reasons the same variety of grapes grown in different plots of land taste different from each other.

In a Harpers Weekly article in September, 2003, he explored the “mechanisms of terroir.” He pointed out (and I think I heard some talk like this at Banff) that there is a long-standing belief among some winemakers that the mineral content of a vineyard’s soil affects the flavor of the wine made there: i.e., flinty soils impart a flinty taste, chalky soils impart a chalky taste. Goode (and the experts he consulted) found this implausible, to say the least.

Indeed, a French (yes, French) scientist, Gérard Seguin, surveyed the properties of soils in the Bordeaux region and could find no reliable link between chemical composition and wine character or quality. Instead, he found a connection between soil drainage and wine quality: the best terroirs, he found, were the ones where the soils are free draining, with water tables high enough to ensure a regular supply of water to the roots up until the time the berries change color (called veraison). After that, ideally, the water recedes, so that the vine stops growing and concentrates on ripening its fruit.

It’s possible, Goode pointed out in his article, that tiny variations in the minerals available in the soil affect the expression of certain genes within the plant, which might indeed impact the final flavor of the grape, but that’s a far cry from “a flinty taste comes from flinty soil.”

Soil type may affect grape growth in another way: dark soils retain heat and radiate it at night, while light soils reflect heat and sunlight immediately back onto the vines but don’t retain as much heat at night. Those effects would tie in with the overall microclimate of the vineyard, which varies with altitude, orientation and geography, and also affects the growth of the grapes.

The best way to get a feel for the effects of terroir is to taste several wines made from grapes grown on different plots of land but vinified by the same winemaker. Which is exactly the exercise Soujournon led us through at Banff: we tasted five Cabernet Sauvignons, each made from a specific plot (at altitudes from 401 to 2,204 feet above sea level, with varying aspects and varying kinds of soil), and then attempted to blend our own equivalent to Kendall Jackson’s signature (and quite expensive) Grand Reserve Cabernet.

I thought my resulting blend was quite successful, though alas I was not allowed to pour it into a bottle and sell it.

The exercise convincingly demonstrated that terroir—the scientific version of it—really does make a difference. It may not be as simple as the soil directly imparting flavors to the grapes, but considering Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, for one, suggests the spring application of manure to vineyards, that’s probably a good thing.

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